Nanaimo Bars were a ubiquitous treat growing up. After all, growing up in Seattle, we were not so distant neighbors with the bars’ eponymous Canadian city. You guessed it, Nanaimo. There are countless recipes claiming to be ‘the original’. And, while they have varying ingredients making up those three layers, they all use a lot of packaged items (pudding mix, graham crackers, condensed milk, processed cocoa powder, etc.) and a lot of sugar. I mean a LOT. But, there’s no doubt, Nanaimo Bars became a cult classic because they are easy to make and have an enticing variety of flavors and textures in every bite.
As an adult, this my Healthy Nanaimo Bar is a bit more my speed. Rather than graham cracker crumbs for the base, I use a fiber-rich mix of dates, oats and nuts. A coconut cashew cream filling provides healthy fats and replaces condensed milk or pudding mix. And for the chocolate layer, simple, flavonoid-rich dark (preferably at least 70% cacao) as the base. Maple syrup and dates are the only sweeteners. These have the same variety of textures and, I believe, even more flavor than the original, without being overly sweet. Apparently, you can have your Nanaimo Bars and eat them too!
HEALTHY NANAIMO BARS
Yield: 24 Bars
Preparation Time: 30 Minutes, 2 Hours Total Preparation
EQUIPMENT YOU WILL NEED:
- Double boiler
(or small sauce pan and a medium-size heat-resistance bowl)
- Sheet pan or baking dish, at leat 8″ x 8″ (or cutting board)
- Rolling pin (optional)
- Wooden spoon
- Rubber spatula
- Parchment Paper
- 1 cup rolled oats (gluten-free optional)
- 3/4 cup raw pecan pieces (or 1 cup whole pecans)
- 3/4 cup pitted dates, soaked for 1 hour, then drained
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8th teaspoon nutmeg
COCONUT CASHEW CREAM FILLING INGREDIENTS:
- 1 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight, then drained
- 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut (plus extra for the top of the bars)
- 3 Tablespoons maple syrup + 1 teaspoon
- 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 Tablespoon water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract)
- 1/8th teaspoon sea salt
CHOCOLATE LAYER INGREDIENTS:
- 8 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/8th teaspoon sea salt
1. Make the Crust
- Line a baking sheet, pan or cutting board with parchment paper.
- Process the nuts and oats in the food processor until the mixture is the consistency of course flour.
- Add all remaining crust ingredients and blend until a sticky dough forms. Press the dough evenly into a 1/4 inch layer in the prepared pan or board.
2. Make the Chocolate Layer
- Place a few inches of water into a sauce pan and bring to a very low simmer. The bubbles should be very small. Then, place a heat-resistant bowl (aluminum or stainless steel bowl) over the pan, creating a double-boiler.
- Place the chocolate pieces, cinnamon, vanilla extract and sea salt into the bowl, stirring often. Don’t leave the chocolate unattended and don’t try to rush this process with higher heat or the chocolate will seize up and be unusable.
- While still warm, pour a little less than half of the chocolate over the crust, spreading with a spatula for even coverage and a smooth surface. Refrigerate the bars, uncovered, until the chocolate has set and is firm to the touch, about an hour.
3. Make the Filling.
- Combine all ingredients in the food processor and blend until well combined. The mixture should be a smooth and have a peanut butter-like consistency.
- When the chocolate has set and is firm to the touch, spread the filling on top and smooth it out with a spatula —happy face, if possible. : )
4. Final Assembly.
- Reheat the chocolate again, if needed, stirring to ensure that it is fluid and smooth. Then, pour the remaining chocolate over filling layer, spreading with a spatula for smooth and even coverage.
- While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle the remaining shredded coconut on top of the chocolate and press it very lightly into the bars. Refrigerate the bars uncovered for several hours to allow the bars to set up.
- Before cutting, take the bars out of the refrigerator until they return to room temperature. If you cut them straight out of the refrigerator, the chocolate will likely crack. Slicing across the bars, rather than down as well as wiping the knife with a damp cloth in between cuts will help keep a clean separation between the layers.
- Store in an air-tight container, refrigerated for up to a week or for up to a month in the freezer.
These bars can be prepared in a baking pan, baking sheet or simply rolled out on a parchment-lined cutting board. Just be sure to keep the crust layer as even as possible. 1/4 inch. Don’t worry about filling the whole pan or sheet. Use the cutting board option if you are wanting the best presentation. Use a baking sheet or pan for the quickest preparation. To ease removal of the bars from the sheet or pan, first line it with two criss-crossed pieces off parchment before filling the pan. Then, when the bars are ready to cut, simply pull them out by the ends of the parchment paper.
Who remembers Nanaimo Bars? How did you make them? Please comment below – and let me know what part of the country you are from!