A return to blogging and a batch of stunningly good Nanaimo Bars

July 11, 2017

Finally. At long, long last. A return to blogging. And a batch of stunningly good Nanaimo Bars from Feast. (Details on Feast  below.)

I’m hanging on fast to the words of my friend Kerry Clare, author, editor, mother and blogger at Pickle Me This, who says, “Blog like no one is reading. It’s advice that is always useful, and never more so than during those times when no one is, in fact, reading.”

I took a breather to figure a few things out. It’s an interesting thing stepping away from a million commitments – self-imposed and otherwise. I’ve been through such a huge period of transition in my life for the past couple of years. I’ve gone from being a longtime university employee to being self-employed; from being a mother to becoming an empty-nester; from being part of a family to living on my own (with a big, shaggy dog) for the very first time in my life. Bumpy. It’s been seriously bumpy. Sometimes lonely, sometimes wonderful. Mostly, I’ve tried to sort myself out and keep moving.

I don’t cook the same way anymore. I miss those days. Not cooking for a family means I’m often eating up leftovers for days on end. There’s such joy in cooking for others and in sharing food.  Cooking for one isn’t the same. But I haven’t felt a whole lot like entertaining either. I don’t put the same thought into food that I used to. Eggs and toast will do. Or peanut butter and honey. Or strange combinations of things that need eating up like wilted organic greens and mushrooms served as a warm salad. Surprisingly fabulous actually, especially when served with a homemade black currant balsamic dressing. I’m always having to rescue vegetables before they permanently expire. Sometimes I’m wandering around my kitchen at midnight cooking things just to salvage them.

But the thing that really keeps me coming back over and over again, is baking. Because when all else fails, turning out a chocolate almond cake, or a pressed crust fruit flan, or slow-baked coffee meringues that melt on the tongue, is therapy.

I’ve made these delicious (gluten-free) Nanaimo Bars from the beautiful food book, Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip, so many times that the page is now smeared. A special kind of food book marginalia. If you’re not familiar with Nanaimo Bars, they’re a Canadian thing, named for Nanaimo, British Columbia, a city on Canada’s West Coast, perched on the Pacific Ocean. If you want to read my full review of Feast in the Kingston Whig-Standard, please click here.

Feast’s Nanaimo Bar recipe comes from Mon Petit Choux in Nanaimo, BC, where the squares take three days to make. Fortunately, the café came up with a version that can be made in a couple of hours. These are both a little less sweet and also, more intensely flavourful than regular Nanaimo Bars. The fact that they are gluten-free is a great added bonus. The filling requires a little serious effort. If you’re not confident about your ability to caramelise sugar, you could substitute a regular Nanaimo Bar filling or a browned butter frosting. Otherwise follow the filling recipe below exactly, paying particular attention to the timing and temperature while you are caramelising the sugar. Don’t be afraid! These are so well worth the effort. 

Mon Petit Choux's Nanaimo Bars

Photograph and recipe excerpted from Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip. Copyright © 2017 Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller. Published by Appetite by Random House® a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Ingredients

Base:

  • 1 ¼ cups (310 mL) rice cereal
  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted (NB. For simplicity’s sake I did not toast the coconut or nuts)
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) chopped almonds, toasted
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup (125 mL) white sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) water
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) white sugar
  • ¾ Tbsp (11 mL) vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp (90 mL) homemade or store bought prepared vanilla custard, such as Bird’s or Ambrosia Devon Custard
  • ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp (215 mL) icing sugar, sifted

Topping:

  • 2/3 cup (160 mL) coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) corn syrup
  • Flaky sea salt

Directions

Method

Modified for simplicity. Butter an 8 × 8-inch (20 × 20 cm) pan. Line it with parchment if desired.

Base:

Combine the rice cereal, coconut, nuts, and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. Stir until the butter is melted and the sugar and cocoa dissolve, about 2 to 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and vanilla together. Slowly pour the cocoa mixture into the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Return all to the saucepan. Heat over medium heat whisking continuously until the mixture comes to a gentle boil, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately.

Pour the cocoa mixture into the bowl containing the rice cereal mixture, and stir until well combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan and let it chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Filling:

Whisk the water and sugar in a medium pot until just combined, then cook over medium-high heat for 6 to 7 minutes (not stirring), until it turns a deep amber colour (watch carefully so it doesn’t burn). Remove from the heat and slowly pour in the vanilla—the mixture will bubble and spit, so stand back! Put back on low heat and stir to dissolve any caramel lumps.

Add in one-third of the butter and stir until melted.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer, transfer the caramel to a bowl and whisk on medium speed until it thickens slightly and begins to cool, about 6 to 8 minutes. While still mixing, add in the remaining butter, a little bit at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the prepared custard and mix for 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed until fully combined, thoroughly scraping down the bowl as you go. Add the icing sugar and reduce the speed to low, mixing until the icing sugar is combined. Switch to high-speed and beat 2 to 3 minutes more. Spread the filling evenly over the prepared base and return to the refrigerator for 1 hour to set.

Topping:

In a saucepan, combine the whipping cream and corn syrup and heat until just simmering. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes. Stir slowly until no streaks of cream remain and the mixture has become thick and shiny.

Working quickly, pour the warm chocolate on top of the chilled filling. Quickly swirl the pan and spread to distribute the chocolate and create an even coating. Once the chocolate has cooled for a few minutes, sprinkle the top with some flaky sea salt. Place the bars in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or until set. When chilled, cut the bars into 16 squares. Cover and refrigerate to store.

 

 

 

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14 Comments

  • Reply theresakishkan July 11, 2017 at 10:27 am

    These look and sound delicious. My son recently made a batch using the 1952 Womens Institute recipe (supposedly the first recipe using the name) for the students in his B.C. History seminar at the University of Ottawa (lucky ducks). Nanaimo bars are the star attraction at bake sales in my small west coast village, still, though biscotti, etc. have appeared in recent years.

    • Reply Lindy July 11, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      So interesting. I was a Writers Festival recently where a man in the audience said his aunt was the original creator of the recipe and that it was published in a Women’s Institute cookbook. I wonder if this is the same recipe. Thanks for dropping by and great to meet you.

  • Reply apuginthekitchen July 11, 2017 at 10:41 am

    The bars look delicious and so glad you are back. I know how you are feeling, living alone with Percy it can be challenging especially the cooking end. I am simple to please and have to go outside the box to do something special, that is why I like cooking for others. Neighbors, friends it helps me to stay relevant I guess you could say. Welcome back and hope to see more posts from you.

    • Reply Lindy July 11, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      Suzanne – so happy to see your name here. Thank you! You’re so loyal – such a mark of friendship. I do feel like I’m through a few hurdles and back on track and look forward to more entertaining and more blogging and more really good food. I’ll check out what you’ve been up to – always an inspiration. xo

  • Reply Gerlinde & Sunnycovechef July 11, 2017 at 11:15 am

    I am so glad I found your blog. These bars look delicious, I have never heard them before. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Lindy July 11, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Thank you Gerlinde. I just spent some time on your beautiful, enticing blog and am so looking forward to following you.

  • Reply Amanda | What's Cooking July 11, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Such a beautiful and honest post. I too have been less consistent and enduring life’s inevitable changes (slightly different from yours) and I too cook differently now, more plant-based. It’s definitely hard to make that transition in a space where everyone knows you one way. And it’s hard to be passionately creative when you’re tending to more pressing needs, i.e. those changes. These bars look amazing and a celebration of adapting to the seasons of life.

    • Reply Lindy July 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Amanda, Amanda, how do I love thee… so many ways. Running off to a seed bank meeting. True story. Looking forward to spending some time visiting your blog later today. I’ve missed you. xo

  • Reply chef mimi July 11, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Wow. Your life has definitely changed. Sounds a little scary, especially the self-employed part, but also exciting. I think my best roomate, if I could only pick one, would be a dog. We’d do so well together. The bars are incredible. So nice to have you back.

    • Reply Lindy July 14, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Aw Mimi – thanks as always – for being there. Yes, so many changes. And you’re right – my dog Lola is a great roommate. She’s such a love!
      I am looking forward to a batch of your watermelon margaritas! xo

  • Reply Elly July 12, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    I’m glad you’re back to blogging – I love reading your posts and seeing your beautiful photos. <3 <3 <3

    • Reply Lindy July 14, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Elly my ❤ I will make you a batch of these when I get back from Lakefield! XOXO

  • Reply Tasty Eats Ronit Penso July 14, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Nice to see you back. The bars look so good!

    Life is indeed all about change… As for the food, just remind yourself you’re as important as anyone, and deserve the best.
    It helps to prepare foods that can be portioned and frozen, so even when you’re not into cooking, there are some good hearty and healthy foods in the freezer. 🙂

    • Reply Lindy July 14, 2017 at 10:19 pm

      Ronit, you’re so sweet! Thank you.

    I'd love to hear from you...

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