Nanaimo bars are British Columbia’s (Canada) most popular chocolate dessert.
There are many stories about the origin and name of this confection.
According to Wikipedia the oldest recipe appearing in a cookbook goes back to 1953.
However, as I read in the official website of Nanaimo (where you will also find the recipe), the confection became more popular when the Canadian mayor initiated a contest in 1985 to find the ultimate Nanaimo bar and Joyce Hardcastle’s recipe was the one which won.
In order to create my own recipe I read a few recipes on the web to understand what this dessert was about.
The dessert consists of three layers, each one needing time in the refrigerator before proceeding to the next one:
The base is a layer of Graham Crackers Wafers, butter, sugar, cocoa powder, walnuts (I’ve also seen it with almonds), shredded coconut and an egg combined together.
In Greece we do not have Graham Crackers Wafers, which actually have nothing to do with wafers, but in other recipes calling for this biscuit, I used to substitute it with Digestive biscuits.
However, I chose to use real chocolate wafers. I made my own crust using dark brown sugar and did not add egg as I considered it redundant.
I used dark brown sugar and I urge you not to use any other type of sugar (although you can) as this particular one gives a crunch in the biscuit base as well as a lovely caramel flavour.
The middle layer is a rich cream, made of butter, icing sugar, custard powder (or vanilla pudding powder) and milk.
This part was a bit confusing for me regarding the custard powder. My thought at the time was to make a creme anglaise. However the original cream is more like buttercream, so I was thinking to add gelatine to thicken it.
The third layer is the simplest to make. Chocolate and butter melted over a double boiler. I’ve made it many times and love adding black pepper to chocolate.
By mere coincidence, a few days before, my friend Joumana posted about Sahlab drink, which is a popular drink introduced by the Ottamans in the countries they ruled.
Greece and Cyprus were, of course, ruled by the Ottomans and it used to be very popular here as well.
A few days before Christmas my husband and I went to Athens for some Christmas shopping and passing from Plateia Dimarhiou, I remembered a nearby Middle Eastern store and I decided to buy a packet of sahlab to try it.
Of course, this is not the real thing but just a pudding flavoured with Sahlab.
When we tried it, we loved its taste and that is why I decided to use this pudding to make my middle layer.
However, as it is possibly hard to find sahlab, you can substitute the pudding with a pastry cream or any other filling you prefer.
I followed the instructions on the package but although the pudding thickens, it’s supposed to be a drink which will not set.
I don’t know if it would set if I added more powder but I decided to add some gelatine so that it would set.
When I made the drink it seems that sugar was added to the starch as it was sweet, so I did not add any sugar to the cream.
For those who don’t know this drink, “Salepi” is a drink made from the tubers of a kind or orchid which is powdered into starch.
It is then thickened and flavoured with rose or citrus water and drank as a beverage to warm you up during winter.
This beverage was sold by street vendors and it is good to relieve the cough, asthma, stomach pain etc.
It is sweetened either using sugar or honey and flavoured with citrus or rose water, ginger and cinnamon.
This profession will be extinct in a few years here in Greece, as there are only a few old street vendors left.
In Cyprus I am not sure if there are any left.
Although in the past I used to see them very often, especially in Hermou Street, it’s been a long time I have not seen one.
As in Greece it is sold only by street vendors, I was reluctant to try it but if I see one again, this time I will definitely try it.
- 125 grams butter
- 3 packets by 68 g each Amaretti Chocolate Wafers*
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
- 10 drops vanilla extract
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 100 grams (1 cup+) walnuts (chopped)
- ½ cup leftover melomakarona filling (optional)*
- 4 cups milk
- 100 grams salepi (sahlab) starch powder
- 1 tsp citrus blossom water
- 1 sheet gelatine soaked in water
- 200 grams chocolate
- 50 grams butter
- Freshly grated black pepper
- Melt the butter in a sauce pan or in the microwave.
- Powder the wafers and empty in a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients.
- Add the butter and mix to wet the ingredients.
- Line a 35 x 21 cm Pyrex with parchment paper and spread the biscuit base. Press to make it even, cover with cling film and refrigerate until you make the pudding.
- Place the gelatine sheet in a bowl and cover with tap water. Set aside for 5 minutes until it softens.
- Put the milk and salepi (sahlab) powder in a pot and using a balloon whisk stir until it begins boiling. (At this point it should start bubbling and the cream will thicken but not set).
- Remove from the heat and add the gelatine sheet. Stir until it dissolves.
- Mix in the citrus blossom water. Set aside until it becomes lukewarm before pouring the cream on top of the base. Refrigerate until it sets.
- Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler, grate some black pepper and stir until smooth.
- Spread over the filling layer and when the surface is coated, score the pieces you will later want to cut.
- Chill until the chocolate begins to harden.
- Before the chocolate becomes too hard, remove the confection from the Pyrex and cut it into bars. Heat the knife over a flame or put boiling water in a pot and dip your knife to warm it up and gently cut the bars. Wipe the knife after each cut.
- Place in a platter and store in the refrigerator.
*Instead of using wafers or other traditional biscuits, you can use some of your Christmas leftover cookies to make the base.
You can find my Greek recipes in my cookbooks «More Than A Greek Salad», and«Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste!» both available on all Amazon stores. Read more here.
Other related Recipes:
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,