Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Monday, March 22, 2010

Local (if you're Canadian) Sweets: The Legendary Nanaimo Bar

While in Mexico last week, DH and I befriended a couple of fellow travelers staying at our beyond fabulous secluded resort, Rancho Pescadero.   Marina and Nicole (below, l. to r.) not only excelled at my favorite sport --lounging poolside while sipping hibiscus martinis -- but they quickly became my new best friends when they created, by accident I'm sure, DH's new moniker -- Mr. Susan. 

These lovely ladies, both natives of Vancouver, though Marina now lives in Toronto, were intrigued by my blog (not really, but being polite -- or slightly inebriated -- they feigned interest) and told me of the delicious and legendary Nanaimo Bar, named for a city on Vancouver Island. 

As soon as I got back to New York, I set about to make some.  Below is the mise en place for the bottom layer.  All the ingredients are pretty universal except for Bird's Custard, a British import, which I used, with Nicole's blessing, in place of the custard powder called for in the recipe.  I've never seen custard powder here.

These three-layer treats involve a technique I'd never before encountered (adding a raw egg to the bottom layer ingredients and cooking it all atop a double-boiler), but I'll try anything once, even folk-dancing.  It's a fairly easy recipe, made much easier if you have a small offset spatula with which to spread the second layer over the bottom one.  And it doesn't require any baking --- just a bit of stove-top cooking and refrigeration -- making them an ideal summer dessert. 

Don't be intimidated by the need for a double-boiler.  Simply put some water in a saucepan and put a bowl on top (the bottom of the bowl must not touch the water) -- voila, your own custom double-boiler!  Below, is the one I created to melt butter and chocolate for the topping.

These bars are quite good, quite sweet and a bit unusual, so definitely worth the effort. 

Nicole kindly sent me a link to the official Nanaimo website, where I found the following history and recipe. 
The Legendary Nanaimo Bar

According to local legend about 35 years ago, a Nanaimo housewife entered her recipe for chocolate squares in a magazine contest. In a burst of civic pride, she chose to dub the entry not "Daphne's Delights" or "Mary's Munchies", but "Nanaimo Bars". The entry won a prize, thereby promoting the town as much as her cooking. Some American tourists claim sovereignty over the dessert, referred to as "New York Slice" which is sold in many other places in the world. Nanaimo residents refuse to accept this theory, however, believing that once you set foot on Vancouver Island, there are no other places in the world. The official Nanaimo Bar recipe was available as a handout as well as on quality tea towel and apron souvenirs.

In 1986, Nanaimo Mayor Graeme Roberts, in conjunction with Harbour Park Mall, initiated a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe. During the four-week long contest, almost 100 different variations of the famous confection were submitted. The winner: Joyce Hardcastle.

Nanaimo Bar Recipe

Bottom Layer

½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)

¼ cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs

½ c. finely chopped almonds

1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

Second Layer

½ cup unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder

2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer

4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.  (I sprinkled the tops of the bars with crushed almonds, only because I had some left over from the bottom layer.  Not necessary, but a nice touch.)


  1. Good job - looks delicious! You'll have to come visit and try a locally made bar... `Nicole

  2. Intimidating array of ingredients in that photo though the bars do look yummy. For me, LOL re the Mr Susan comment! ALLEN

  3. As one of Susan's fortunate tasters I must tell you all these bars are a diabetic’s nightmare and a person with a sweet tooth’s delight. Luckily I am the later ! Keep them coming. Mmmm so good.

  4. Those Nanaimo Bars are "sick"!! They should only be served with a warning label about addiction. :)-- ABA

  5. I've been thinking about that Bird's custard powder in relation to my bird dying this a.m. Is there a connection?
    mr. susan

  6. What luck to find this blog! I am a transplanted Canadian living in Brooklyn. A friend has requested my delicious Nanaimo bars for her birthday, but I haven't been able to find Bird's - or any other custard powder - ANYWHERE! Where did you find yours?

  7. @Melanie: Glad you found me and welcome to Brooklyn. I bought the Bird's at Fairway in Red Hook, but if you're anywhere near Park Slope, email me and I'll gladly give you my container. I can't imagine that I'll use it again.
    @Everyone else: Thanks for all the comments. I'm sad to report that another of Mr. Susan's birds died this morning. No relation to baking though, I assure you.