Being as I’m in Nanaimo at the moment, I’ve taken it upon myself to taste test the city’s favourite, and, aside from Diana Krall, most famous, export — the Nanaimo Bar. Legend has it that in the early 1950s a housewife named Mabel Jenkins from Cowichan Bay, a community south of Nanaimo, submitted the recipe for a 3-layer unbaked dessert called “Nanaimo Bars” to the Ladysmith and Cowichan Women’s Institute Cookbook. The book was sold as a fundraiser throughout Vancouver Island and Mabel’s recipe became a hit, eventually showing up in cafes and restaurants in neighbouring Nanaimo. Now, this version of events is contentious, as is always the case with legends, but what is indisputable is the place this chocolatey, custardy, coconutty confection has made in the hearts of Canadians everywhere.
So, I’ve decided to undertake, on your behalf, an extensive search for Nanaimo’s best Nanaimo Bar.* These will have go up against the memory of my mother’s irreproachably delicious Nanaimo Bars (the recipe of which I will give you at the end of my trawl).
Today’s contestant is from Thifty’s supermarket. The baker behind the counter was quite bemused when I asked for only one. “I’m blogging internationally about Nanaimo’s best Nanaimo Bar,” I said. “I’ll cut you a nice slice, then,” he said. “My name’s Stuart, by the way,” and he cut me a nice slice and boxed it up in a lovely box.
Thrifty’s Nanaimo Bar looked quite good. The custard layer wasn’t too thick (which can make the bar too mouth-puckeringly cloying), and the coconut, chocolate, Graham cracker and nut base was just moist and crumbly enough.
The layer of semi-sweet chocolate on top was as flat as ice on an NHL Hockey rink (remember the NHL? — Canadian inside joke) and broke off into chunks of chocolatey loveliness when I bit into the square.
But…and I am being finicky here, the custardy layer had a bit too much of a buttery aftertaste and the chocolate was a titch on the waxy side for it to be THE Nanaimo Bar of Nanaimo Bars. But, nonetheless, it was a very good Nanaimo Bar, and I give Thrifty’s a 7/10.
Caveat: This is my humble opinion, and I admit to setting all contenders against the memory of my mother’s irreproachably delicious Nanaimo Bars, which is, perhaps, unfair. But, then, this is my blog. So there.
*This is not the first time a search for the best Nanaimo Bar has been undertaken. In 1986 the mayor of Nanaimo, Graeme Roberts, initiated the search for the best Nanaimo Bar recipe. The contest was won by Joyce Hardcastle whose recipe has become the official Nanaino Bar recipe. Nanaimo is so proud of their namesake that you can follow a Nanaimo Bar Trail http://www.nanaimo.ca/assets/Business/PDFs/NanaimoBarTrail.pdf and learn all about the history of the Nanaimo Bar at the Nanaimo Museum. http://www.nanaimomuseum.ca/
For those who may be interested in Joyce Hardcastle’s recipe, here it is:
Nanaimo Bar Recipe
Bottom Layer 1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured), 1/4 cup sugar, 5 tbsp. cocoa, 1 egg beaten, 1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs, 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, 1 cup shredded coconut.
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.
Second Layer ½ cup unsalted butter, 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream, 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder, 2 cups icing sugar
Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
Third Layer 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each), 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.