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Sincere Acts of Sweetness

March 27, 2008

Nanaimo Bars

In every job there are those that I like to refer to as the "Gotos". These are the people that you "go to"when you need to get something done right or if you have a question; they will always have the right answer or know who does. I knew Amy was a Goto within a few hours of starting my job. I didn't even know what she did, necessarily but I could hear her talk to the constant flow of people at her desk or calling her on the phone, I knew she was the real deal.
Once I started working on projects my suspicions were confirmed. "We should check with Amy on that," I hear repeatedly, and so I did.With a cheerfulness that was a little contagious, she'd answer my questions in a way I could understand. She's been really awesome to work with. Not only that, after we discussed our mutual love of baking and I shared my blog address with her, she had told me that she was reading my blog and liked it. Ding! Ding! Ding! Huge brownie points! Her coolness factor was now in the stratosphere.

About a month ago I found out her birth date and told her I'd love to make her something to celebrate her day. I was pumped! But then, when I got back from Hawaii she told me she was leaving and coincidentally her last day was also on her birthday! *sigh* While I'm very excited for her and her new job, I, and several others, wished she would stay. Amy, you'll be missed!

For her double special day, she eventually decided on Nanaimo Bars. I knew just the Goto recipe too, which I guess is fitting. I have no idea where I got this recipe as I copied out of a book some time ago and never thought to include the name of the book anywhere. What I love about this recipe is that everything is from scratch, except the graham cracker crumbs. The filling does not use custard powder at all and nor should any self respecting Nanaimo Bar recipe! Seriously, if you're in that much of a hurry to make something that you need pudding mix or custard powder, don't bother making these. It's just not fair to the Nanaimo Bar.

When I made this recipe, I made it in stages. First the made the crust and then drove my son to his baseball game. I dropped him off and then headed back home and made the filling, which was about an hour before our two-hour yearly homeowners association meeting. It was then that I found out that I was out of cornstarch and didn't have time to go to the store to get some. During my search for the cornstarch in my pantry, I came across a bag of tapioca flour that I didn't even know I had. On the back it had clear cornstarch substitution information! Lucky me! What I found was that tapioca powder is gluten free (maybe there's gluten free graham crackers out there and this entire recipe could be made sans gluten!?) and that is binds even better than cornstarch. It made the filling quiet thick which made it easier to cut. When I got home from the HOA meeting, I made the chocolate sauce layer. Being forced to take my time in making this dessert was key. The layers really have to be well chilled or the entire dessert will suffer.

This recipe also taught me how to cut a dessert bar in such a way that looks appetizing. Usually I rush though this part and then the bars look messy and cracked. Slowly down, using a very sharp knife, and cleaning off the blade after each cut is key. Anyway, I digress.

Amy, I hope you have a great birthday and enjoy your new job. I really have enjoyed getting to know you and working with you. I'll miss hearing your laughter and seeing your big smile around the office. I know it will just be a matter of time before you're a Goto person in your new position too.

Nanaimo Bars
Yield: 1 batch made about 20 bars

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into several pieces
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutched process is best)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (or run through the food process until fine)

Middle Layer
3 ounces white chocolate chips or a bar finely chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into several pieces
4 tablespoons tapioca starch or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons milk
2 egg yolks
pinch of Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Top Layer
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Bottom Layer
Line a 8x8 or 9x9 with two long strips of parchment or wax paper that extend over the sides of the pan. This makes it so much easier to get the bars out of the pan.

In a large bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts until its mixed together really well. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter, cocoa powder, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Cook, whisking constantly, for about five minutes. Add to the coconut, graham cracker, and walnut mixture, being sure to mix the really well (don't be afraid to use your hands).

Pat the crust mixture into the prepared pan, being sure to keep it level and packed down (I like to use the bottom of a juice glass to smooth and push the crust down). Refrigerate for at least an hour so that it gets really firm.

Middle Layer
Before you start making the filling, take the crust out of the frig. Pull the wax paper up and out of the pan a little, just to ensure it's easy to remove. This will help a lot later on. Put the crust back in the frig.

Set a medium sauce pan filled half way with water and bring to a very low boil. While you're waiting for the water to bowl, combine the tapioca starch, milk, egg yolks, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to mix.

Place a large metal bowl over the top of the boiling water so as to create a double boiler. Melt the butter and white chocolate in the bowl and stir together until well combined. Take the crust out of the frig and put it somewhere close by.

Add the tapioca flour, milk, egg yolk and slat mixture to the butter and white chocolate mixture, being sure to whisk together vigorously. Continue whisking the mixture over the simmering water for about 5 minutes (mixture will thicken). Whisk in the vanilla and then the powdered sugar until smooth and even (the mixture will be really, really thick). Working quickly, pour the white chocolate custard into the cold crust and smooth the top as best as you can. Refrigerate again for at least an hour or more.

Top Layer
Set a medium sauce pan filled half way with water and bring to a very low boil. Place a medium bowl over the top of the boiling water so as to create a double boiler. Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate in the bowl and stir together until well combined and smooth.

Take the crust and custard out of the refrigerator. Run a sharp knife around the perimeter and slowly lift the wax paper up and out just a bit. (This is yet another attempt to keep the crust and custard from sticking to anything in the pan. This makes it SO much easier later when you need to cut the bar.) Leave the pan on the counter.

Working quickly, pour the glaze over the filling. tilting the pan and spreading the chocolate to evenly coat. (Tip: When you have all the chocolate in the pan, hold the plan firmly in both hands and shake the pan vigorously back and forth on the counter. This helps to create a smooth surface of chocolate. However, if the chocolate has set at all, this technique doesn't work -- I leaned the hard way :-)

Refrigerate for at least twenty minutes until the chocolate is solid.

Cutting the Bars
Gently pull up on the waxed paper and remove the bars from the pan. They should come out easily. Peel the waxed paper down so you can clearly see the three beautiful layers. Using a very sharp, non-serrated knife, cut small strips off each of the four sides, creating a very clean square.

Determine the size of the bars that you want to cut. I have a normal school ruler that's a foot long and about an inch wide. I used this to measure the rows and columns that I wanted to cut. Using the tip of the knife, slowly score the chocolate with the desired size, then come back to cut. Don't rush it! Take your time and slowly cut through to the bottom layer, using firm pressure. This will keep the chocolate on the top layer intact. If you go to fast or don't clean the knife between cuts, the chocolate will crack and you'll get the crust mixed in with the other layers.


  1. This looks deelicios - these type of bars are my favorite!

  2. Thank you Julia for all of the nice comments about me. :) I've only been gone a week and I already miss your baking. The Nanaimo bars were great. I had at least 3 while handing them out to others in the office!

  3. I ADORE these bars. I've made them in the past and before I know it, I polish off the whole pan. Your recipe is very different from mine, though. I'll have to give yours a try! Love the site's new look btw.. = )

  4. Thank Erin! These bars were totally addictive. I ate so many of them I got a stomach ache! Oh and thanks for noticing the new look. It's still a bit of a work in progress. I'm just glad to finally have a unique header. :-)

  5. Have you ever done these without the coconut?? Since coconut makes my husband yak, I'm wondering if I can just omit them or have to add something else back in. thoughts? (LOL.. was that TMI??)

  6. I haven't, buuut since I have a kid that also has the "eww! that has coconut" yack reflex, I can empathize. (so no, no TMI lol!)

    I think this would totally work sans coconut. I would increase the butter by another tablespoon and maybe add more nuts? The coconut adds a bit more moisture and some binder-like quanities. Honestly though, when my son tried these (I didn't tell them there was coconut in them until after he ate it) he didn't even notice the coconut. He did notice the nuts though which he also yacks at.

    I really think it would work... please let me know if they do!

  7. Thanks for this! I've been making nanaimo bars for decades, and just decided to look for a recipe that didn't use packaged custard powder. These were by far the best nanaimo bars I've ever made. All three layers were perfect.

    1. Oh that made my day! I am so glad you appreciated them. They are a big favorite of mine too. :)


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