Blog Nanaimo Bars
Vancouver, British Columbia will be in the limelight later this month, as viewers around the world tune their televisions in to the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Along with an estimated 2 billion people worldwide, I watched the fantastic opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and I'm curious to see if Vancouver will put on an equally breathtaking show. And I'm excited about the events, too; winter sports are an interesting combination of the sublime (like figure skating and ski jumping) and the slightly ridiculous, though no less impressive (luge and curling). If you're planning to have friends over to watch the Games, and want to serve Olympic-themed food, I can't think of a more appropriate (or decadent) dessert than the rich, chocolaty confections invented in, and named for, a city that's just across the Strait of Georgia on Vancouver Island—Nanaimo.
Nanaimo bars consist of three rich layers—a chocolate-graham cracker base embedded with coconut and nuts; a buttercream middle enriched with vanilla custard powder; and a smooth dark chocolate top. Although the filling lends itself to all kinds of variations, like peanut butter, mocha, or mint, you can't go wrong sticking to the original vanilla. Aside from using instant pudding mix in place of custard powder (a common substitution in the States), the recipe I use departs from tradition in a couple of ways: For the crumb layer, rather than just stirring the eggs into the butter, sugar, and cocoa, the mixture is heated in a double boiler until the mixture reaches 160 degrees. Since the bars aren't baked, this step ensures that the eggs are properly cooked. And for the topping, instead of simply melting chocolate and butter, this recipe also adds a small amount of cream, to make the chocolate layer easier to spread and cut.
Have I mentioned these bars are rich? The Olympic Rings cookie cutter makes a nice size for a dessert; if you are going to serve these as a snack, you could cut them into small squares.