Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars
Until a couple of days ago, I could not tell you when the last time I had a Nanaimo bar was. In all honesty, it was probably a store-bought one at a piano recital at least 7 years ago. It was the one thing I looked forward to after listening to kids hack away at the ivories for a solid 2 hours, the snacks! It was the same deal with soccer. I would not have gone if it weren’t for the orange slices and Rice Krispie squares. Even as a child my love for food was immense.
What were we talking about again? Oh yes, Nanaimo bars. I am curious, can anyone tell me, can you get these/does anyone make these in the States? I have never really paid attention to whether or not I have ever seen them there. I know that they got their name because they originated in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island but I would be interested to know how far they have spread. As a Canadian, they scream holidays or any get-together where inevitably a grandmother will be baking something.
Ok so here is the Nanaimo bar low-down for those of you who are out of the loop.
1. Crust made primarily of coconut, graham cracker crumbs and cocoa (chopped nuts are optional). Some people bake it, some people don’t. I find that any melted butter/graham crust holds together better when baked so that’s the route I take.
2. Butter icing filling, flavoured with custard powder. Personally, I don’t see what the custard powder adds flavour-wise. I tasted it by itself and it was exactly like cornstarch, blah. However, it does contribute to the eggy, yellow colour. This surprised me as it is bleach white when dry but the minute you add moisture to it, it turns bright yellow. Natural? Perhaps not, but Nanaimo bars would not be Nanaimo bars without a yellow middle layer.
3. Chocolate ganache-like topping. Just melted chocolate with a tablespoon or two of butter, that’s it, that’s all. Unless you are me and then you use Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (it was just released in Canada and they sent me a couple of bars to try) to add some crunchy texture and caramel-y flavour. But I guess that is still just melted chocolate and butter. Fancy chocolate, but still chocolate.
Layer it up, let it chill and voila, you’ve got yourself some Nanaimo bars. Eaten right away or frozen for later, they are a nostalgic treat that brings out the kid in any full grown adult. Next thing you know, you will be leaving some out for Santa. Who does that though? You are supposed to give Santa the crappy stuff that you don’t want to eat. The Nanaimo bars, well you keep those all to yourself. It’s worth the risk of getting coal in your stocking.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo Bars

Makes 25 squares

Ingredients
Base
½ cup butter
¼ cup white sugar
6 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 egg
1 tbsp. milk
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
Middle Layer
¼ butter, softened
3 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. custard powder
3 cups icing sugar
Top Layer
2 bars Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (or 200g semisweet or dark chocolate of your choice)
2 tbsp. butter
Instructions
1.     To make the base, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and milk in a large saucepan. Heat to melt the butter, stirring until smooth.
2.     Remove and add in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and egg. Stir until well incorporated and pack into a parchment lined 9×9” pan. Bake at 325F for about 10 minutes. Once it is out of the oven, put it in the freezer to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
3.     To make the middle layer, beat together the butter, milk, custard powder and icing sugar until smooth. Spread this on top of the base and chill.
4.     Melt together the chocolate and butter in the microwave for the top layer. Allow it to cool slightly. Pour this over the first 2 layers, spreading it evenly across the top.

5.     Refrigerate until everything is set, 30-60 minutes. Slice and serve.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars

Friday Link Love – Holiday Baking Edition

I’m behind, I have barely started my 2013 Christmas baking. I know, I know, I better get on it. I have finished my Christmas shopping though so I guess it balances out. That being said, the fact that I haven’t really baked anything gives me more time to scour the interweb for delicious recipe inspiration. Here’s a sample of what I have came across thus far!

Vegan Fruit and Nut Ginger Cookies

Cookies

Linzer Cookies from A Canadian Foodie
Turtle Cookies from A Pretty Like in the Suburbs
Sparkling Toffee Cookies from Jelly Toast
Chocolate Drop Cookies from Kitchen Heals Soul
Christmas Card Cookies from The Simple, Sweet Life
Double Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies from Kitchen Treaty
Masala Chai Snickerdoodles from Oh Ladycakes
Chocolate Toffee Pecan Cookies from Clockwork Lemon
Gluten Free Lace Cookies from Wheat Free Mom
Merry Cherry Icebox Cookies from Bakersbeans

Bars/Squares

Holiday Lemon Cheesecake Bars from The Kitchen Magpie
Salted Caramel Swirl Brownies from What’s Gaby Cooking
Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Oat Cereal Bars from Bake or Break
Nanaimo Bars from Warm Vanilla Sugar
Toffee Triangles from If You Give a Blonde a Kitchen
Dolce de Leche Bars from Buttered Up
Cookie Butter Oatmeal Bars from Chelsea’s Messy Apron
Cranberry Almond Brown Butter Cereal Bars from Lovely Little Kitchen
Cranberry Cheesecake Brownies from Eat Good 4 Life
Raspberry Almond Streusel Bars from TasteFood

Cranberry Pomegranate Spritzers

Other

Gingerbread marshmallows from Joy the Baker
Creamy Crockpot Cocoa from Barefeet in the Kitchen
Chocolate Caramel Tart with Sea Salt from Eats Well with Others
Spiced Nuts from Dinner with Julie
Raspberry Nanaimo Pops from SugarHero!
Buckeye Bark from Chocolate Chocolate and More
Kransekake from Kumquat
Gingerbread Train from Sweet Explorations
Seven Layer Chocolate Truffles from the Kitchn
The Best Almond Brittle from Say Yes to Hoboken

The Canadian Food Experience Project: Vegan Apple Pear Streusel Bars

Time for this month’s Canadian Food Experience Project challenge, the Canadian Harvest in….Alberta!
Vegan apple pear streusel bars
Maybe I’m following a stereotype here but harvest time in the prairies is very indicative of grains. Wheat, oats, barley; they are all grown here. Along with a lot of dry peas, lentils, soybeans and mustard seeds. But I’m not too keen on the sounds of any of those in dessert.
Let’s go back to talking about oats for a bit. Specifically these oats, my favourite oats, from Highwood Crossing. They hold a special place in my heart the folks at Highwood Crossing. Back when I baked at Boxwood they would come in, cowboy boots and all, with my weekly delivery of flour and oats. Not only did I know where the food was coming from, I made the connection that there were real people behind it. By supporting local producers like Highwood Crossing, not only do you promote community, you also contribute to the livelihoods of the people in it, rather than CEOs of industrial agribusiness. The food you get might be a little more expensive but it makes up for it in taste, nutritional value and simply knowing that you made a sustainable choice.
These vegan apple pear streusel bars are my take on apple crisp in a sliceable format. BC apples are sandwiched between an oatmeal cookie crust and an oat streusel topping, for a double whammy of oat goodness. Speaking of goodness, they are pretty darn healthy too. I always love myself a dessert that can double as breakfast the next morning. Especially when that dessert/breakfast is made from oats like these!
Vegan apple pear streusel bars
Vegan apple pear streusel bars
Vegan apple pear streusel bars

Vegan Apple Pear Streusel Bars
Makes 9 portions

Ingredients

Base

– 3/4 cup flour
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 2 tablespoons canola oil
– 2/3 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup pumpkin puree or unsweetened applesauce
– 1 cup rolled oats

Filling

– 2 apples, peeled and sliced thinly
– 1 pear, peeled and sliced thinly
– 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
– 1/8 tsp. each allspice and cloves
– 2 tbsp. maple syrup
– 1 tbsp. flour

Topping

– 1 cup rolled oats
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup slivered almonds
– 1/4 cup canola oil

Instructions

1. Heat your oven to 350F. Line a 9″ square pan with parchment paper.
2. To make the base, mix together the canola oil and pumpkin puree (or applesauce). Add the brown sugar and stir until it forms a paste of sorts.
3. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and oats. Stir until combined and press into the bottom of your prepared 9″ pan.
4. For the filling, mix the sliced apples and pears with the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, maple syrup and flour. Pour this on top of the base.
5. Finally the topping. Mix together the oats, flour, brown sugar, almonds and oil. It should be crumbly but moist enough that when you squeeze a handful of it, it somewhat holds together. Sprinkle this over top of the apples in a nice, even layer.
6. Bake at 350F for about 30-35 minutes.
7. Cool for at least 20-30 minutes before removing the vegan apple pear streusel bars from the pan. Slice and serve!

Vegan apple pear streusel bars
Vegan apple pear streusel bars

 

Raw Vegan Chocolate Nut Bars

When you hear the word “vegan”, do you run away screaming for your mommy? What about the words “raw vegan”? Or are you one of those tough guys that wears a shirt that says “I eat vegans”?
I’m not a vegan myself (just a vegetarian as of right now) but I can’t say I understand the stigma towards people that make that life choice. Well I do understand it but at the same time I don’t. I’m of the mindset that you can to whatever the heck you want with your life as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights or well-being of others. Unfortunately there is a lot of “holier than thou” vegans out there who look down upon anyone who hasn’t chosen to follow the same path.
Or there is the stereotype that all vegetarians/vegans are animal lovers who can’t stand the thought of eating fuzzy, cute, little animals. Which could not be farther from the truth. I have nothing against eating animals, I did it for the first 17 years of my life. My high school grad present was a foie gras tasting menu for goodness sake! My problem is with the way we RAISE our animals and how disconnected most people are from this process. Yeah, I could go connect with a farmer whose practices I agree with and support. But for now I’m ok not eating meat. I never thought that I could do it but in all honesty, I don’t miss it.
And why would you when you can eat desserts like this? I challenge anyone to try this recipe and say that it tastes “vegan” (assuming you have a negative view as to what vegan food tastes like). Not to mention raw desserts are EASY. If my sister can get in the kitchen and help me with something, believe me, you can too (no offence there bud). My only tidbit of advice is to use your culinary instinct. I had to change a few aspects of the original recipe because I could tell by looking at the individual components that it wasn’t going to work. For example, if your crust is too dry, add more moisture to make it stick together (in this case I used almond butter). If the filling is too liquidy, add some ground almonds or other nuts in there to help solidify it (otherwise, you won’t be able to slice the bars). Pretty simple stuff, just never assume that the recipe is the rule if your gut is telling you otherwise.
Raw Vegan Chocolate Nut Bars
Raw Vegan Chocolate Nut Bars
Raw Vegan Chocolate Nut Bars
Getting in on the photo action.

Raw Vegan Chocolate Nut Bars
Adapted from This Rawsome Vegan Life

Crust

1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup almond flour
2 tbsp. sliced almonds
1/4 cup almond butter (or as needed to hold it all together)
pinch of salt

Nut Filling

1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup dates
1/4 cup peanuts
2 tbsp. almond flour

Chocolate Topping

5 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tbsp. cocoa powder (more accurately, you should use cacao if you want it to be a totally raw dessert, as it turns out, cocoa powder is actually roasted before it is ground…oops…but they basically taste the same so if it doesn’t concern you, don’t worry about it)
3 tbsp. maple syrup

For each layer, blend all of the required ingredients in the food processor. For the crust, add as much almond butter you need in order for everything to stick together cohesively. As for the filling, the original recipe called for cashew butter which I think may be thicker than the almond butter I used, hence the need for additional peanuts and almond flour to hold the works together. The chocolate topping is probably the easiest part. You don’t really even need to use the food processor, you can just mix all 3 ingredients by hand until they are smooth and incorporated. Once all 3 components are prepped, you can layer them into the pan/Ziploc container/serving vessel of your choice. Even muffin tins would work if you are so inclined. Crust, then nut filling, then chocolate topping. Easy as that. Freeze or refrigerate until everything is solidified, preferably overnight. Slice and serve. Sprinkle the tops with coarse see salt if you are into that type of thing (which I definitely am). Hopefully you don’t have a nut allergy 😉

Cherry Blondies with Blueberry Compote and Summer Fruit

Summer in Calgary means an abundance of fresh BC fruit, especially cherries. Which means you have to make something sweet right? Well time for dessert!
cherry blondies
cherry blondies

Cherry Blondies

1 cup flour (I used pastry but all-purpose is fine)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup Rainier cherries (or fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc. of your choice)

Parchment is your best friend, I promise you this.
cherry blondies
cherry blondies

Line an 8×8 pan with parchment and preheat your oven to 350 F.
Melt the butter and combine it with the olive oil, brown sugar, egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cherries. Mix the wet and dry together until everything is well incorporated. Pour it into the prepared pan and bake for about 20 minutes (I went closer to 25 and it turned out a tad dry for my liking). Cool and slice.

cherry blondies
cherry blondies

I served this with a swipe of blueberry compote on the plate and then I took that same compote and macerated some more Rainier cherries along with blackberries to cascade over the side of the blondie. The compote itself I made the other day by cooking down fresh blueberries with a touch of maple syrup to bring out their sweetness and a splash of lime juice. Citrus goes surprisingly well with blueberries. I pureed it with my favorite Bamix (hand blender, really, don’t I rant about it enough?) and that was that. Yumster!