cherry almond nanaimo bars

Cherry-almond Nanaimo Bars

Need a dessert, but finding it too hot to bake? Nanaimo Bars are the answer! Common in Canada, they are delicious refrigerated three-layer bars that permit tons of variations. Perfect for hot weather, they require no baking at all.

No one seems to know just who invented them, though they’re named for the town of Nanaimo in British Columbia. Even in that city, the origin of the bars seems to be clouded. At their simplest, the bars have a pressed-crumb bottom layer, a middle layer of custardy goodness, and a chocolate glaze on top.

The crumb layer is open to change: graham cracker crumbs are traditional, but you might produce crumbs from cinnamon grahams, chocolate wafers, vanilla wafers, or even peanut butter cookies. The custard icing layer, again, permits all sorts of variations: peppermint, vanilla, coconut, mocha, and almond are common. The top layer is always a chocolate glaze.

This week, finally, it begins to seem like mild weather might arrive. Yes, here in Michigan we still have snow on the ground, but it’s melting, melting, and soon, I hope, it will be gone entirely. The calendar insists it is SPRING, and therefore bunny chocolates, egg hunts, and the like ought to be on my mind. I almost forgot about that!

The folks at Good Cook reminded me. They sent an adorable silicone mold and spatula, and challenged me to Do Something Creative with them. What fun! Do look at the text below for the specifics on what they sent me, and how you, dear reader, can receive a 25% discount if you order from them.

But let’s talk about the food. Nanaimo Bars are common in Canada, though little known in the US. They’re delicious three-layer bars that are even easier to make than brownies, and no less delightful. No one seems to know just who invented them. They’re named for a town – Nanaimo, BC – and even in that place, the origins of the bars seems to be clouded. At their simplest, the bars have a pressed-crumb bottom layer, a middle layer of custardy goodness, and a chocolate glaze on top.

I’ll confess that to show off the pattern in the Good Cook mold I used, I built the bars pictured above upside down, in reverse order: chocolate first, then filling, then crumb layer – and it took some chilling and freezing steps to make it work – but I’ll give you the straightforward 8×8 pan version.

Cherry-almond Nanaimo Bars

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 3/4 c graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 c shredded unsweetened coconut (desiccated coconut)
  • 1/3 c finely chopped almonds
  • 1/4 c butter, softened
  • 2 c confectioners sugar
  • 2 Tbsp maraschino cherry juice
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/3 c chopped maraschino cherries (well drained)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 c semisweet chocolate chips

Make bottom layer: heat 1/2 c butter, granulated sugar, and cocoa powder in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir just until butter melts, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, and quickly stir in the beaten egg. Return the pan to low heat, cook and stir until the mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

Into the chocolate mixture, stir graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds. Mix well, and then press this mixture firmly into an ungreased 8″ square pan.

Make the middle layer: Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 c butter, confectioners sugar, cherry juice, and almond extract in a medium bowl. Mix until smooth, then stir in the cherries. Drop this mixture by spoonfuls over the base layer, then spread it evenly. Let this mixture stand until firm, at least 10 minutes, then, using your hand, pat the cherry layer to smooth it.

Make the top chocolate layer: melt 1 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the chocolate chips, and cook and stir until melted and smooth. Pour this mixture over the middle layer. Working quickly, smooth the chocolate glaze with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.

Chill at least an hour before cutting into bars.