Namesake

I started this blog when I moved here to Nanaimo as a way to keep in touch with faraway friends and family. I knew almost nothing about this city when I moved here- it was on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and was famous for its namesake dessert. That was the extent of my knowledge. When I registered this blog’s address right after moving here, it seemed only natural to choose one of these two facts as inspiration for this blog.

People ask me all the time if Nanaimo Bars were really invented in Nanaimo. Legend has it that they were the invention of a housewife, Mabel Jenkins, in the early 1950s. Mabel lived south of Nanaimo in Ladysmith, but somehow they became known as Nanaimo Bars. According to Wikipedia, there are also claims that Naniamo Bars originated in New Brunswick or New York, but us locals don’t pay attention to such nonsense (!).

In 1985, the mayor of Nanaimo held a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar recipe. The judging panel unanimously chose a recipe submitted by a local woman, Joyce Hardcastle. Her recipe is the one I use and I thought it was high time to share it here.


Classic Nanaimo Bars
yield: 12-20 servings (1 8×8 pan)

½ cup unsalted butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds or walnuts
1 cup coconut
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream (or almond or soy milk)
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
4 squares semi-sweet dark chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margerine

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. In a small bowl, beat the egg until frothy and pale yellow. Add a tablespoon of the hot cocoa mixture into the egg and stir well, then add the egg into the pot as well. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan and refrigerate until cool.

When first layer is cooled, cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

For final layer, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool to warm (but still liquid) and pour over second layer. Store in refrigerator and enjoy!

Note- I often cut down the amounts of chocolate and butter on the top layer by a third to a half, as I am not a great fan of chocolate. Jeff loves the whole amount so adjust according to your personal preference.

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2 thoughts on “Namesake

  1. I don't think the unsalted butter part is that important- I often make it with margerine!

    And yes… after 4 years, I thought I should start calling myself a “local”. It's about time, don't you think?! That being said… I haven't totally subscribed to the local notion that polar fleece can be worn to all social occasions.

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