Last week a friend told me she was making Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream. What, I kindly asked, was a Nanaimo Bar? She had never heard of them either until recently she discovered that they are “Canada’s Favorite Confection.” If America shares over 5,000 miles of border with the Canucks, how had I never heard of these? Apparently Nanaimo Bars are to Canada what Apple Pie is to America. A three-layer (no bake) bar, with a graham cracker-coconut-chopped nut-cocoa base, with a vanilla/custard pudding center, and a hard chocolate shell on top.
Once I knew this was very nearly the national dessert of “America’s Hat,” I could hardly not try it.
With a little research I learned that Nanaimo Bars are named after the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia. Where better to get the recipe than from the Nanaimo City website? I printed the recipe and noted two things. 1) This recipe couldn’t be easier. 2) It called for a whopping 18 tablespoons of butter in an 8×8 pan.
I’m hardly butter-phobic, but in that quantity it could hardly be good for either my ticker or my tush. Furthermore, the recipe called for two cups of powdered sugar in the middle layer. Can we say, Out of control? I was determined to change this recipe.
Not so fast, counseled my mother, the ultimate recipe tester. Before you tinker with a recipe, she told me, it’s usually wise to make the original. Fair point. On Saturday afternoon I made the butter- and sugar-rich version. The Nanaimo Bars turned out perfectly—the three distinct layers of crunchy, creamy, chocolaty goodness made for total eye candy. At tea time we cut the 8×8 pan into 16 bars, then slivered one small bar into four half-inch pieces. We each ate just one bite. That was quite enough.
Now we were entitled to tinker.
So here’s our take on the Nanaimo Bar. First, Famous chocolate wafers stand in for the graham crackers and unsweetened cocoa powder in the original. We pulled the (raw) egg yolk, left in the almonds, but took the butter down a notch (6 tablespoons rather the original stick).
We replaced the original center layer (1 stick of butter, 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, and a couple of tablespoons of instant pudding powder) with an easy (and much lighter) homemade vanilla pudding and flavored it with the coconut that was originally in the crust. The topping remains the same, four ounces of bittersweet chocolate and two tablespoons of butter. We eliminated10 tablespoons of butter and a boatload of sugar but lost nothing in taste. Skeptics are invited to make both and compare. Actually, unless you prefer treacle, ours tastes even better. And, your ticker and tush will thank you