Nanaimo bars—ever heard of them? If you haven’t, you should. They’re no-bake bars made of a graham cracker-walnut-coconut cookie base, a custard middle layer, and a smooth chocolate top. They get their name from Nanaimo, a Canadian city right across the border from Washington. I don’t think it’d be a stretch at all to say that they’re my favorite thing Canada has contributed to the world (well, besides Neil Young. And Anne of Green Gables. And Katie, of course).
Anyway, despite the fact that these may be one of the most delicious treats that come out of my (mom’s) kitchen, I don’t make them too often. For one, they’re not the healthiest thing in the world. Obviously. Secondly, they’re almost a little bit too rich for me. As in, I have a bite of one, swoon and declare it to be the most delicious thing ever, then set it down for at least a good half hour until I can take another bite. This might actually be a good thing, considering what I just previously mentioned. Still, the point is that I don’t often have the appetite to make a whole batch of them most of the time.
Luckily I have a boyfriend who, though he can’t stand more than one serving of any type of cake, cookie, or pie, loves to devour these things. When he found out that some of his coworkers had never tried nanaimo bars before, he asked me to make him some to bring to work. I happily obliged, and happily (and somewhat selfishly) warmed inside when I heard the positive reviews from his coworkers that Waylon relayed back to me. Friends, if you want to please someone, make these treats.
And did I mention these are no-bake? While we’re all in the midst of weather that I honest-to-God wish occurred year-round, it’s a nice surprise when you don’t have to crank on the oven to make something. Furthermore, they don’t require much energy nor skill, and all they ask of you is a little time and patience. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with a batch of chilled bars with a taste that is pretty indescribable. All in one bite, you’ll get the flavors of coconut, graham crackers, walnuts, chocolate, vanilla, with the texture of this ice cream, in bar form. (That’s honestly the best I can do in terms of translating the wonder of these cookie-bars into a typed format.) Instead of trying to imagine how these taste, just go ahead and make them for yourself.
From Nordstrom’s Friends and Family Cookbook
Makes 16-20 2-inch square bars
In terms of brands, I like Baker’s sweetened flaked coconut—the kind you can find in the blue packet in your baking aisle. Custard powder is a little hard to find, but it should be in most better-stocked supermarkets and in specialty stores. I like Bird’s custard powder. Also, if you don’t have a 7 x 11 inch baking pan, an 8 x 8 inch one would work fine—you’ll just end up with thicker layers.
1/2 cup (113 g) butter, melted
1/4 cup (35 g) firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons (12 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 large egg whites
2 cups (200 g) graham cracker crumbs (about 25 crackers, processed until very fine)
1 cup (100 g) sweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 cups (225 g) powdered sugar
4 (55 g) tablespoons butter, softened but not melted
1/4 cup (80 g) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (16 g) custard powder
2/3 cup (115 g) semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons (55 g) butter
Line a 7 x 11 glass baking dish with a strip of parchment paper along the widest part to make a sling for easy lifting and removal of the finished dish. Butter any exposed parts of the baking dish. Set aside.
For the first layer, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, cocoa powder, egg whites, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and walnuts in a large bowl. Mix until everything looks pretty evenly distributed and all the graham cracker crumbs look lightly coated in butter. Press firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish, and place in the freezer to set for 30 minutes.
Once the first layer has set sufficiently, make the second layer. In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, butter, cream and custard powder with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. It should be pretty stiff and thick, but that’s just fine. It’ll translate to a sturdy middle layer once cooled. Spread evenly over the chilled first layer, and place to set in the fridge while making the final chocolate layer.
For the third layer, melt the chocolate chips and butter together by setting them in a medium bowl placed over a saucepan with an inch or two of simmering water (to form a double boiler). Once completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat and let cool slightly for a minute or two. Pour over the custard layer and, using the back of the spoon and working quickly, smooth evenly to create a top chocolate layer. Return to the fridge to set until cool, at least two hours.
Once chilled, use the parchment sling to remove the bars. Use a sharp knife to cut into 2-inch square bars and serve chilled. If the knife ever gets sticky or stuck with some of the layers, wipe clean for smoother cuts. Keep the leftover bars refrigerated, as they melt when at room temperature.
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