Active Time: 45 MINTotal Time2 HR 45 MIN
Yield: Serves : Makes 2 dozen
If you have ever had the pleasure of indulging in a Nanaimo bar, you know just how intoxicating it can be: that chocolate-coconut cookie base made with chopped nuts, layered with creamy vanilla custard, and topped with dark chocolate ganache. It’s a distinctly Canadian creation—and the thing I’ve craved the most since I settled in New York 20 years ago.
The bar comes from the seaside town of Nanaimo on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. The first official account of the recipe can be traced back to a cookbook published in 1952, but to this day the exact details of how and why it came to be remain shrouded in mystery. Regardless of its history, the Nanaimo bar is one of Canada’s most popular treats, included in every bake sale, sold at coffee shops and bakeries, and made in abundance for birthday parties and school lunches. I can still remember sneaking them off the dessert table at family celebrations and begging my mother to buy them every chance I had.
For whatever reason, the bars never gained a following south of the border, and I have yet to come across anything like them here. I have always found this to be not just an unfortunate oversight, but a distinct and glaring hole in the American dessert lexicon—one I’m filling here with one of my own design, that layers a chocolate and coconut crust with buttercream frosting, hazelnuts, and chocolate ganache with swirls of tahini.
You can thank me later. First, do yourself a favor and make these bars. Then share them. I think you’ll find you crave them as much as I do.
- 1/2 cup raw hazelnuts
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (4 ounces), melted
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar (about 6 1/2 ounces)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (4 ounces), at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons tahini (optional)
How to Make It
Step 1 Make the crust
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast in preheated oven until fragrant and blistered, about 10 minutes. Transfer hot toasted hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel, and rub together to remove skins. Discard skins. (It’s OK if not all the skins come off.) Let nuts cool completely, about 15 minutes. Coarsely chop cooled nuts using a knife or food processor. Reserve 2 tablespoons chopped toasted hazelnuts.
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on all sides. Whisk together remaining chopped toasted hazelnuts, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, melted butter, eggs, granulated sugar, cocoa, and vanilla in a large bowl until well combined. Press mixture firmly into prepared baking pan, using palm of hand to make sure it is as flat and even as possible. Bake in preheated oven until just dry to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer baking pan to a wire rack, and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
Step 3 Make the filling
Beat powdered sugar, butter, cornstarch, milk, vanilla, and salt with a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until well combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Spread mixture evenly over crust in baking pan. Chill at least 15 minutes while you make the ganache.
Step 4 Make the ganache
Combine chocolate and butter in a microwavable bowl, and microwave at high until butter is melted, stirring at 20-second intervals. Stir mixture until smooth and thick. Spread ganache evenly over chilled filling in baking pan. If desired, spoon dollops of tahini on top of ganache, and gently swirl with the tip of a knife, making sure not to disturb the filling underneath. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons chopped toasted hazelnuts.
Chill until ganache is set, about 1 hour. Using a sharp knife, cut into 24 bite-size bars. Bars can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 3 days.
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