12 December, 2014

12 Days of Christmas, Day 12: Bonus Recipe 2: Nanaimo Bars

Our time in Canada was checkered with various experiences...  I almost died...three times, we had a beautiful little baby girl, I made wonderful friends, got told to "go the hell back where I came from" once, and ate my way through my 3 years there with mixed results.  One of my fondest food memories of Canada, however, was a little dessert shop in the downtown core of Ottawa.  It was a vegan shop that made everything from scones to cupcakes, cookies, and pies.  Another tasty morsel she recommended to me that I tried was something called a nanaimo bar.  Errrr me gerrrrrrshhhhh...

Nanaimo bars...  *scuse me...I'm having a moment.....*  Mmmm...

So, there is this place in British Columbia (a different province...provinces are like what we here in the states call a "state".) called Nanaimo.  Pronounced "na-nay-mo"....say it with me....na-nay-mo.  Get to know the name well, because you're going to have to tell people what it is that you just fed them that they fell in love with.  Trust me.  This bar won "best of" at a baking contest back in the day...after having tried it and becoming shamelessly addicted to it, I understand why the woman won and the predicament your friends are about to find themselves in once they try these.  You've been warned...

There are some discrepancies about the amounts of things that go into certain parts of this dessert.  One thing is for CERTAIN, the middle layer has to have Bird's custard in it.  There is no give on that.  I get my Bird's off of Amazon.com just like every other cotton pickin' thing on the planet that I can't find in local stores when I am stationed in certain places.  Every duty station has a problem like this with some item or another.  No place has been immune from it yet.  Don't skip the Bird's.  If you do...you didn't make a nanaimo bar.  You just didn't.  Some people have told me that I "could" make a passable pan of bars using vanilla pudding packet powder instead of Bird's but....I somehow doubt that.

Nanaimo Bars

1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder (I used Callebaut, I buy it on Amazon.com)
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. unsweetened coconut
1/2 c. crushed pecans or pecan meal

Custard Layer
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 T. + 2 tsp. heavy cream
2 T. Bird's custard powder
2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Chocolate Topping
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 T. unsalted butter

Line a 9 x 13 inch cake pan with aluminum foil, grease it with butter, and then set it aside.

*I used a 9 x 9 inch pan for my bars because I liked the thickness of them, but it is completely unnecessary to do that, and quite frankly they aren't easy to fit into your mouth when you make them that thick.  I have a pretty small mouth as adults go, so this may just be a personal problem.  But, if you want your friends and family to attempt their own version of cranial kinesis (what people call a snake "unhinging their jaw") in order to eat these bars...it is best to use a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Beat your egg in a medium sized bowl.  In a large sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa.  Whisk a small amount of the hot melted mixture into the beaten egg to temper it.  Then pour the tempered mixture into the sauce pan, whisking it constantly.  Cook and stir the mixture until it reaches 160 degrees and appears to begin to thicken.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs, crushed pecans, and the coconut.  Press the mixture into the foil lined pan and set it aside to cool completely.  Do NOT put the custard layer on the crust until it is totally cooled.  You may want to refrigerate it beforehand just to be sure it is no longer hot.

While the crust layer is cooling in a large mixing bowl beat together the butter, cream, custard powder, and powdered sugar until well blended.  Spread over the cooled crust and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before putting the chocolate topping on it.

To make the chocolate topping melt the 4 ounces of semi sweet chocolate in the microwave with the butter.  Put it in for 30 seconds, remove it from the microwave to stir it, then put it back in for 30 more seconds, and remove it to stir again.  Repeat these steps using ONLY 30 second bursts of time until the chocolate is melted and completely smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the chilled custard filling.  You can either spread it with a spatula or you can turn the pan about in your hands to get it into the corners completely.  When it seems evenly distributed, set it on the counter, and jiggle the pan about a little bit to smooth out the top completely.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cutting and serving.  The bars will keep up to 1 month in a solid block like that covered and refrigerated.  Once you slice them, they will keep for about 1 week covered in the fridge.

When you want to cut them to serve, remove the foil from the pan, and slice the bars on the counter so the knife can completely go through the bars without hitting the sides of the pan constantly.  This will also prevent you from splintering the chocolate topping.  It is also a good idea, for presentation purposes only, to clean the knife after every pass you take so it doesn't deposit the custard layer onto the edges of your chocolate topping...like this...

Believe it or not lol...I did that on purpose so you could see what I meant.  But, that may not matter to you in the least.  Either way, you've been warned.

These bars are extremely thick when put in a 9 x 9 inch square pan.

Like I said, they were almost too thick for me to even fit them in my mouth.  Then again...also, like I said....I have a smallish mouth for an adult.

They were really quite tasty.  I wasn't sure if I was going to let any leave the house when I sent trays of goodies to work with the Mister.  My waistline begged me to let some go though...

I love these bars with passion that I almost feel is inappropriate.  I normally pick apart each component of the things I make and tout their qualities and assert how they perfectly compliment the dish as a whole, but the fact is with this particular dessert it the individual layers themselves would taste absolutely awful without the others.  I've never experienced this with a bar.  But likewise, I've never found one that I could honestly say was something I would drive across town for and buy by the half dozen every other month for 3 years.  And for these...I did...and it was worth it every single time.  The folks that work with my Mister certainly seemed to enjoy them.  The Mister himself...well, you know him.  He merely "liked" them.  He didn't love them.  The love he saves for ME.

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