Depending on who you believe, the history of the Nanaimo Bar varies considerably. The City of Nanaimo dates the square back to a Nanaimo housewife who entered a magazine recipe contest about 35 years ago. According to Wikipedia, the recipe was first published in The Vancouver Sun in the 1930s under the unfortunate moniker Chocolate Fridge Cake.
Regardless of the square’s true origins, we can all agree that the traditional Nanaimo Bar is a layered, usually no-bake, square with a chocolate and nut crumb base, a light custard or icing and chocolate on top. Today, you can find many variations on the original theme, with different nut options in the base (walnut, almond) and alternative custard/icing flavours (cappuccino, peanut butter, mint).
My version of history dates back to the 1980s, when I, perched at the kitchen table, would watch my Granny whip up her delicious recipe for the square. Once all of the layers had set, my Papa would take out his ruler or tape measure and mark off perfectly equal squares to take the guesswork out of cutting. Finally, each little Nanaimo Bar (or Nana Bar, as we affectionately called them) would be laid to rest – temporarily, mind you – in a round cookie tin lined with wax paper. We never had a Christmas without them.
Pictured here is the family recipe for Nanaimo Bars. There are a few recipes passed on from my Granny – her shortbread and this one, in particular – that I just can’t bring myself to distribute widely. I fear thunderbolts from heaven. But, I will give you a few pointers on what I consider to be key traits of a great Nanaimo Bar: a crumb base with walnuts and coconut that is not particularly sweet, a traditional yellow custard/icing, a high base-to-custard/icing ratio, and a thin layer of fairly hard, semi-sweet chocolate.
Armed with this information, I’m sure you’ll be well on your way to a great Nanaimo Bar this Christmas.