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
Amy from She Wears Many Hats says
I wonder if I might be part Canadian ’cause I may just pick these over apple pie if given the choice.
Yes, I would too! They are so good – the Famous Wafers and coconut pudding really knock ’em out of the park. And, they are so easy to make. We threw them together in about 15 minutes – love that they are no bake.
These are a family favorite of ours though truthfully my mom never knew where the recipe came from or how they became a mainstay on our cookie platter. I will definitely be trying the lighter version – while I’ve always loved the originals, I’m happy to do away with 10 TBSP (gasp!) of butter for the same (or better?!) taste.
dear Less buttah is better for the buttah,
I have never heard seen or tasted these that I remember. They do sound yummy though and I love trying new things!
Adventurous, but Apple pie still wins
I love that you lightened them up! What did you do with the rest of the butter and sugar-rich bars??
I took them to a potluck supper!
Lisa Avant says
Oh Good Lord. These look like something that I need right now. Too late to make today, but maybe this weekend. I, too, have never heard of these.
I dont like cocanut….but other than that these sound really good…i dont care for grahamcracker custs eaither so i was very pleased with the substtuting it w/ choc wafers ….do you think this would still be good with out the cocnut?
I always hate to tell someone a recipe will work without trying it first, but I think the bars would be fine without the coconut. Maybe increase the pudding by half to give it a little more volume.
You can use peppermint flavor in the middle layer if you don’t like coconut (just add more graham wafer crumbs to the bottom layer) and make them more of a minty decadant treat. This is one of Canada’s best kept secrets…but I guess the secret it out now. 😉
Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday says
I’m so surprised by the number of Americans that haven’t heard of Nanaimo Bars! They are quite possibly the best dessert ever.
Please don’t tell me you haven’t heard of butter tarts either. They rank a close second.