I've been tackling Nanaimo Bars for the last few weeks. Why you ask? Check these out!
Throughout my productions I have realized two things:
1) The recipe is very consistent. It's not like chocolate chip cookies where you will find about 1027 different recipes that claim to be "the best ever." Most recipes for Nanaimo Bars are very similar. So pick any and go for it. Don't feel shy to alter it to your tastes or needs (ie. leave out almonds if you have a nut allergy).
I used this one because I like the addition of a small pinch of salt:
2) The tricky part can be during the execution. There are a lot of little tricks that I have learned along the way and I want to share them with you.
a) Most, if not all, recipes call for you to use a double-broiler when melting the butter with the cocoa and sugar for the first steps. If you don't have one, no worries, place a medium-sized pot over a small one with boiling water in the small one. Et Voilà!
b) Some recipes will say to add the egg while the boiler is still on the heat. I got a slightly inconsistent texture. Another reason why I like this recipe is that it instructs you to remove the pot from the heat, mix in the egg, and then put it back.
c) You want to make sure your measurements are accurate (obvi). I say this because I am not usually a stickler for particularity in quantities but in this one, it matters, mainly for the dry to wet ingredients for the first layer. I got a little generous with my dry ingredients and then I had a very crumbly bottom that wouldn't stay together and make it very tricky to lay the middle layer over top. If you are going to overshoot, do so with the butter.
d) Another step where this matters is for the middle layer, you might need a bit more heavy cream so that the custard mix isn't too stiff to present you from spreading it over the bottom layer.
e) For the middle layer, two words: CUSTARD POWDER. It's the stupidest and most annoying ingredient to buy because of course there is only one size, one brand and well it's annoyingly pricey (as compared to vanilla pudding powder). It makes a world of difference with the flavour and texture. I tried using pudding powder and the flavour was too subtle and mild. There are substitutions out there but likely you will have to buy other unnecessary, kind-of-rare ingredients anyways (ie. dried milk powder) so you might as well invest. Maybe you love custard and just never knew it!
f) Laying the middle layer over the bottom crust can be tricky. Because of the thickness of the custard powder, it tends to pull up the bottom layer and mix the crumbs with the custard mix. Not cool! I found spreading it with a spatula to be totally ineffective. Instead, I moistened my fingers with water and little by little, pressed the custard layer down. Took some time but I was happy with the results.
g) Again, a spatula when spreading the final chocolate layer seems like a waste of time. I picked up the pan and just started angling it so that the chocolate layer slowly spread all across the top. It was hugely satisfying and worked like a charm. Talk about sexy baking tricks ;).
h) All the recipes call for almond, sometimes as an option. Honestly, I don't find the taste of almonds to-die-for and I think the flavour of the graham crumbs and coconut is sufficient and more enjoyable alone. A fun texture to play with is chopped up pretzels instead of almonds. Again, just make sure you have enough butter in your mix cause those pretzels are dry!
These bars are so delish even if you bugger them up a bit, and have a great combination of different textures, and they are CANADIAN!
I have also made a delicious vegan version, in which I replace butter with equivalent quantities of coconut oil, the egg with a flax egg and heavy cream with equal quantities of coconut milk (full fat) or coconut cream.