On July 1st, 1867 the three British Colonies to the north of the United States (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada) united to form the country we all now know and love called, Canada. On July 1st of every year, the anniversary of Canada’s birth is celebrated all over Canada in a similar fashion to how the United States celebrates their Independence from the British: food, fireworks, parades and sensational nationalism. This day, formerly known as “Dominion Day,” is now simply called, “Canada Day” or, if you’re French Canadian, “Fête du Canada.” Whatever you call it, it’s an excuse to throw a party, eat, drink, and generally be merry — even if, like me, you aren’t the tiniest bit Canadian.
Canadians are great at many, many things. Don’t ask me what those things are, though because I haven’t the slightest clue — I’m American. I’m a New Englander. We are basically raised to think that English speaking Canada isn’t really a “big deal.” But here’s what I do know about Canada: they are better at providing healthcare for their citizens, many great bands are from there, they are good at hockey even though they lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins this year. Most relatedly though, their cuisine is somewhat of a hodgepodge of the beauty of French cuisine, the drabby goodness of English cuisine, and the “whateverness” of American cuisine.
Over the past few months I have been fortunate enough to befriend some real live Canadians. Well, I mean, as “real” as one can be when they’re from Niagara Falls, which is practically upstate New York. I’m just being cheeky. Jokes about their hometowns and funny accents aside (they actually really do pronounce things properly — PS: that’s a word they seem to like to say a lot), these Canadians are pretty great and proper folks. And lucky for me, they’re all vegan! So, when I was invited to a small, impromptu gathering centered around celebrating this wonderful country’s birth with authentic persons, I gladly accepted. And I agreed to do something pretty scary — feed Canadians something Canadian. I thought, “Well as long as I center the dish around sugar, nothing can go wrong.” And so that’s what I did. I baked, rather — un-baked, because Nanaimo bars, one of Canada’s most famous desserts, don’t require baking.
I’m not sure I can tell you very much about Nanaimo bars other than that they are easy to make, fun to make, fun to eat, deliciously messy (see photos) and very hard to resist. Basically, they’re a three layer bar of glorious unapologetic indulgence. The bottom layer is a chocolate, cookie, coconut, and nut base, the middle is a layer of sweet vanilla pudding, the top is just all-out chocolate. Yeah, it’s like celebrating Canada Day in your mouth. The best part is, you don’t even have to be skilled at Canadian cuisine to make them or enjoy them and it doesn’t have to be Canada Day! I can’t really testify to much else about how amazing these bars are so, you’ll just have to make them and see for yourself! I can say this though: there were six of us and less than half were left after 5 minutes. You do the math.
Because vegan graham crackers are hard to find, I used vanilla snaps that happened to be vegan. You could use ginger snaps, but the flavor might be a bit too overpowering. I adapted this recipe from the Joy of Baking website. There is a helpful video there that walks you through the process (pronounced “PRO-cess” if you’re Canadian). Don’t be misled that this is “hard to make” because there’s a video. It’s quite the opposite. Happy un-baking! And an extended Happy Canada Day to all!
(makes 25 bars)
1/2 cup Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, room temperature
1/4 cup organic sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (regular or Dutch processed)
1 Ener-G Egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups vegan graham cracker crumbs or crushed vanilla or ginger snaps
1 cup unsweetened coconut (shredded or flaked)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecan, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery sticks, room temperature
2 – 3 tbsp non-dairy milk (do not use rice milk!)
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder or vanilla pudding powder (I used Dr. Oetker’s.)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups organic powdered sugar
4 ounces semisweet vegan chocolate (you can use about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegan chocolate chips)
Lightly grease a 9 x 9 baking pan with cooking spray or Earth Balance butter.
Bottom layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa powder, then gradually whisk in the Ener-G Egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture firmly with your hands, onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 1 hour).
Middle layer: In an electric mixer, or with a hand blender, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer with an off-set spatula or the back of a spoon. Cover and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).
Top layer: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. In a heat proof bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring constantly. Once fully melted, spread the melted chocolate evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or until the chocolate has just set. Remove from the refrigerator and with a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Helpful tips: Wipe your knife between each cut, this way you can make clean cuts. Also, If the chocolate begins to break apart when you start cutting, that’s because it’s hardened too much. Let the pan sit out at room temperature for a few minutes until the chocolate softens a bit and then try cutting it again.
Enjoy immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
Recipe modified and adapted from thejoyofbaking.com