a batch of stunningly good Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars are quintessentially Canadian. They are to British Columbia what Butter Tarts are to Ontario, Flapper Pie is to the Prairies, Tarte au Sucre is to Quebec, and Figgy Duff is to Newfoundland: beloved and iconic. Essential pieces of our culinary history.

These delicious (gluten-free) Nanaimo Bars are from the beautiful food book, Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip. 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

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.


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.

 

 

 

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