Sunday, August 14, 2011

Espresso Nanaimo Bars

If you haven't tried a Nanaimo Bar then you just haven't lived. I'm serious, they are life changingly delicious. They hail from Canada (Google it for the full story.) and are a perfect combination of flavors and textures all layered together. But what are they? A little to soft and creamy to be a cookie. A little too cookie-like to be a candy. We'll just call them dessert although you do eat them with your hands so maybe we're back to cookie. No, that's not quite it. Maybe we'll just agree that they lie on a culinary plane all their own; they are Nanaimo Bars, and that's that. 

Try these next time you are charged with supplying dessert to an occasion and you'll receive proposals of marriage, offers of first born children and more. They are really simple to make, no complicated ingredients, techniques or equipment and they freeze beautifully. Once you've mastered the basic recipe the possibility of flavor combinations is limitless. You can make them vanilla, or Espresso flavored (like I'm showing you here), make cherry filling for a "Black Forest" version, or add peanut butter if that's your preference. Whatever you do, try this recipe!

Here's what you need for the first layer: butter, sugar, cocoa, an egg, graham cracker crumbs, coconut (I like the natural unsweetened kind. It's usually a bit finer so the bars cut easier and doesn't have a bunch of yucky preservatives in it.), and finely chopped almonds (pecans and walnuts will also do the trick.).

Start by beating the egg. Make sure the bowl is big enough that you can add some hot liquid later to temper them.

Put the butter, sugar and cocoa powder into a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and it is all mixed together.

Add a bit of hot liquid to the beaten egg to temper it. I don't have a picture because tempering an egg is, well, temperamental. I didn't want to risk scrambled eggs. Once the egg is tempered stir it all back in to the sugar/butter/cocoa mixture and continue cooking over low heat until the mixture thickens. It will have an odd, lumpy texture and the butter may not be fully incorporated. That's OK, it means the egg has "curdled" a bit but it really doesn't affect the outcome. If you're fussy about this kind of thing, alternately, you can slowly drizzle the sugar/butter/cocoa mixture into a larger bowl containing the beaten egg, whisking constantly until it's all incorporated, then transfer back to the saucepan and heat until thickened. Whatever floats your boat.

Once it starts to thicken, remove from heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds. Get it really well mixed!

Dump the mixture into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan. Spread it evenly and press down firmly.

I mean, really press it down, you want a good sturdy crust layer. Pack it in. Then stick it in the fridge until your next layer is ready. As far as things go, you could stop right here and you'd have a lovely bar cookie. Don't be tempted. Let's keep going and take it to the next level.

Here is what you need for the second layer: more butter, milk (or cream, the original recipe called for cream but I didn't have any, milk works just fine but if you want it to be really rich, use cream.), pudding mix (I like the cheesecake flavor but you could use vanilla.), powdered sugar, instant coffee and Kahúa (If you don't want the booze, use vanilla extract, water or coffee.).

Stir the instant coffee and Kahlúa together until it's a thin paste. This is the same concoction that I used to flavor the coffee buttercream from the Oreo Cake post. It's the bomb! Use it anytime you want something with good coffee flavor.

Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl along with the coffee mixture. 

Use a hand mixer to whip it all up until it's smooth and creamy. Yum, resist the urge to grab a spoon and scarf this up.

Spread the mixture evenly over the crust and pop it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

For the last and final layer you'll need butter and semi-sweet chocolate.

Melt them together until nice and smooth. I do this in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time on high until it's pretty smooth or do this on the stove top over a low heat.
(Yuck, that's a blurry picture!)

Let it cool down a bit (you don't want it to melt the other layer.) but it should still be spreadable.

Working quickly spread it evenly over the top of the filling and then put it back in the freezer. To cut nice even pieces first score the chocolate layer on top then use a thin knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry to cut all the way through. I like to keep it frozen in one piece until I'm ready to serve it. Then cut, plate and store in the fridge until dessert time. 

These are very rich so I like to cut 1"x1" pieces and serve them like bon bons or rustic petit fours. But, just a warning, ya can't eat just one. They are too good. Enjoy!

Espresso Nanaimo Bars
Makes about 64 1-inch squares

1/2 C. unsalted butter
1/4 C. sugar
5 T. cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1-3/4 C. graham cracker crumbs
1 C. coconut
1/2 C. finely chopped almonds (walnuts or pecans can be substituted)

2 T. instant coffee
1 t. Kahlúa, coffee or vanilla extract
1/2 C. unsalted butter
2 T. plus 2 t. milk or cream
2 T. instant pudding mix (vanilla or cheesecake flavor)
2 C. powdered sugar

4 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 T. unsalted butter

Crust: In a large saucepan melt butter, sugar and cocoa. Temper the beaten egg with a bit of the mixture and return to the saucepan whisking constantly until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. Stir together well and firmly press into the bottom of an ungreased 8"x8" pan. Refrigerate until firm.

In a large mixing bowl dissolve the instant coffee in the Kahlúa. Add remaining ingredients and Beat together until light and fluffy. Spread evenly over crust, cover and freeze until set.

Melt butter and chocolate over low heat, or microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring until smooth. Cool. When cooled but still spreadable, pour over filling and spread evenly over the top. Work quickly so that the filling layer does not melt. Keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to cut and serve.

Score chocolate layer then use a hot knife to cut into 1-inch square.

Filling Variations:
Mint - substitute 1 t. peppermint extract for the coffee/Kahlúa and add a few drops green food color.
Peanut Butter - Reduce butter to 2 T. and add 1/2 C. smooth peanut butter, use vanilla pudding.
Black Forest - substitute 1 T. cherry juice for the coffee/Kahlúa, add a few drops red food color and 1/4 finely chopped, drained Maraschino cherries.
Orange - substitute 1 T. Grand Marnier for the coffee/Kahlúa and add 1 T. grated orange zest.
Coconut - substitute Coconut Instant Pudding for the vanilla/cheesecake flavor. Add 1/4 grated coconut.

1 comment:

  1. Yum! Can't wait till you bring those to my house next time!