Nanaimo Bars Deconstructed
It’s been nearly three years since I joined The Daring Bakers and in that time, I’ve been quite diligent about making each month’s challenge and posting it on time. Actually, I’ve had a slip here and there along the way, but recently, I’ve struggled the past several months for a variety of reasons. Suffice it to say I’ve had to reorganize my planning to bake or cook anything that is multi-stepped — something I usually enjoy quite a bit. It’s all been consigned to the weekends and although that isn’t a bad thing on most weekends, there are recipes I’d like to try that sit alongside the monthly challenges and a husband who hopes he can peel me from my kitchen occasionally. When I do decide to spend a day in my kitchen, I indulge myself by making whatever strikes my fancy thereby avoiding the “have-to-get-it-done” feeling I’ve imposed on myself about our Daring Baker challenges. Who knew that someone who writes a food blog could struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies? (All food bloggers reading this, please raise your hands!).
Let’s call this my confessional, shall we?
I’ve missed the following challenges:
- December, 2008 — French Yule Log. Go ahead and call me a big chicken for not tackling this one. Or remember (if you’ve been reading my blog for a while) that our house had been under construction for quite a while and I’d agreed to join a nice group of bakers posting 12 cookies in 12 days for the holiday season. Oh, the memories.
- November, 2009 — Cannoli. I bought the cannoli forms. Does that count? To quote Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.” Of course, there are also more challenges. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. Can you imagine hooking Scarlett up with good ol’ Will Shakespeare?
- December, 2009 — Gingerbread House. My youngest is nearly 18 so the wonder of making something like this has to be in my ability to simply entertain myself. Bear in mind that I do not begin Christmas shopping until my vacation begins, so it all makes for a whirlwind holiday season with very little down time (like everyone else!). I had a great idea that I still haven’t given up on which may become a summertime fad. Or, perhaps not. We’ll see come July. Hold me accountable.
- February, 2010 — Tiramisu. I have no excuse for this one. I’ll blame it on the fact that I couldn’t find (didn’t work very hard to find) cream that isn’t ultra-pasteurized so that I could make the mascarpone which is one of my favorite ingredients. This recipe is definitely on my list even though my resident food samplers don’t especially appreciate the wonders of coffee. A tea version is in the works. It’s beside the fact that I need to learn to make ladyfingers as well. Doesn’t everyone?
You noticed I skipped February, 2010, didn’t you? Wonder of all wonders, I did complete that challenge graciously hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. She is Canadian and challenged all of us to make Nanaimo Bars, a Canadian confection. Lauren also compiled and edited the cookbook A Hand for Haiti whose proceeds are all donated to the Red Cross as disaster relief. She’s quite an inspiration, so I had to try my hand at Nanaimo Bars out of sheer respect.
If you’ve not heard of a Nanaimo Bar, it’s a dessert comprised of a chocolate layer containing graham cracker crumbs, nuts, and coconut, a pudding layer, and a final coating of dark chocolate. I’ve created free-form deconstructions instead of the traditional cut bars.
First, the graham crackers: I used the recipe at 101 Cookbooks because I’ve used it before and it’s fabulous. The only change I made was to use whole wheat pastry flour. The dough comes together quite easily, but it is quite a challenge to work with in my opinion. I chill it, then press it directly onto the baking pan lined with a silicone mat. I prick the dough with a fork. For this recipe, I chose not to score the dough because I wasn’t planning to make crackers. Instead, I wanted it a bit thicker, like a cakey sort of cookie. The edges browned more, so I was able to break those off and crush them for the recipe as well.
Next: The pudding. I used a classic vanilla pudding recipe. This is the biggest deviation from the original recipe for a Nanaimo Bar. It was a risk because I knew the pudding wouldn’t be as firm as the Bird’s Custard Powder, an ingredient I’ve never seen locally. Here’s the recipe I used:
Vanilla Bean Pudding
3/4 c. whole milk
1 c. cream
1 vanilla bean, split & seeds scraped
3 egg yolks
2 T cornstarch
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp. unsalted butter
Heat the milk, cream, and split vanilla bean in a saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.
Whisk the yolks, cornstarch, sugar, eggs, and salt. Remove the vanilla bean from the hot milk mixture, then drizzle the hot milk into the egg mixture while stirring rapidly.
Return to the pan and cook just until it begins to thicken. You’ll know it’s ready when it will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Transfer it to a bowl, and stir in the vanilla extract and butter. Press plastic wrap on the surface and refrigerate over night.
For the chocolate under layer: I deviated from the original recipe here, too, but somewhat unexpectedly, omitting the graham crumbs from the chocolate mixture in the small pies. I realized it for the larger pie which didn’t have a cookie graham base. I don’t have photos of this segment. If I remember correctly, my camera ran out of batteries.
Chocolate Under Layer
Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut.
Notes: To make the small pies that I show, omit the graham cracker crumbs in the chocolate. Press the chocolate mixture over a disk of graham cracker instead.
Chocolate Top Layer
To construct the Nanaimo Pies: Begin with a baking tray layered with plastic wrap. Place forms lightly sprayed with oil on the tray. For the small ones, insert a graham cookie disk first. Press the chocolate-nut-coconut mixture down next, then top with pudding and finish with the melted chocolate. If desired, add other ingredients to the top of each. I chose, cacao nibs, flaked coconut, and slivered almonds. For the large one, construct it the way you would a traditional Nanaimo Bar. Press the chocolate-nut-coconut mixture into the bottom of a lightly oiled springform pan. Spoon pudding over that layer, then top with plain chocolate. Allow to chill thoroughly — over night if possible. To unmold, wipe the exterior of the molds with a very warm cloth. They’ll slide right out. For the springform pan, use a sharp, thin knife to lightly score around the edges before releasing the pan.
Enjoy! Clearly, the chocolate layer on top is a bit too sturdy for the pudding layer beneath. All in all, it was a nice bite of sweet, however, with the light sweetness of the pudding working very well with the rich chocolate.