John and I are stalwart and undeterred cooks. Generally speaking, provided a recipe or project doesn't require expensive ingredients or equipment, we're game.
It's not that we don't have...
Having a viable website has resulted in a steady stream of emails from JOY fans. As a result, we've been able to gather some basic information about the people who visit our site. One surprising find is that we have a solid fan base in Canada. I don't know why I find this surprising, as our neighbors to the North undoubtedly have many things in common with us. Perhaps this is because, as someone who has not yet visited Canada, I still envision it as a beautiful and chilly land of very friendly people.
I suppose it is possible that, while our Canadian readership may not be as robust as the American faction, they are more vocal or forthcoming with their findings and opinions.
In either case, this observation started me thinking about (a-boot?) Canadian dishes. I am willing to admit that I have almost no idea of the vagaries of Canadian cuisine. I imagine that it is much like American cuisine, which is to say, varied. A little French influence here, a bit of British sensibility there, and lots of delicious infiltration by ethnic cuisines from around the world.
But still, there have to be some iconic Canadian foods that haven't trickled down into the States to speak of. As so often happens, I found one answer on my own endless list of recipes to try--Nanaimo Bars.
Nanaimo sounds like a magical place, doesn't it? I would tend to argue that it must be magical, as Nanaimo Bars originated there (and Wikipedia claims that Nanaimo is the "bathtub racing capital of the world," although I'm not sure what that means). Nanaimo Bars are basically a no-bake pudding bar--the pudding layer being sandwiched between a crumbly crust and chocolate frosting. In my search for a good baseline recipe, I discovered that there are many variations on the theme, and that the "original" Nanaimo Bar is something of a great white whale.
The disadvantage to having to develop a recipe for something you've never tasted is obviously that you can't really know what to aim for. However, the Joy of Cooking is the perfect place to start, especially for a composite recipe (i.e. a recipe pieced together from several different recipes). I cherry picked from JOY's pages a crust, a filling, and a frosting from which to assemble my Nanaimo Bars.
While some Nanaimo Bar recipes call for a chocolate crust, I opted for a graham cracker crust instead. The combination of a chocolate crust and chocolate icing would almost certainly drown out the lovely vanilla filling. The toasty, buttery notes of a graham cracker crust seemed fitting for a dessert that is certain to take you back to those wonderfully simple childhood flavors.
After trying these bars with a dark chocolate frosting, I decided to use chocolate ganache instead. It's quite rich and gives way beneath the teeth in the most seductive fashion. These bars are perfect for kids and adults alike. Since the holiday season is upon us, you really don't need an excuse to try them soon.
Special thanks to Nanaimo, BC for making this post possible!
Prepare the crust. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine in a bowl:
1 1/2 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9x9-inch pan. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until firm and toasty-smelling.
Prepare the custard filling. Combine in a heavy, medium saucepan:
1 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
(Seeds from one vanilla bean)
Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 1 minute:
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
Gradually pour about one-quarter of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Scrape the egg mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and corners of the pan to prevent scorching, until the mixture is thickened and begins to bubble. Continue to cook, whisking, for about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in, if not using the vanilla bean:
(1 teaspoon vanilla)
Pour over the baked graham cracker crust and refrigerate until completely cool.
Prepare the ganache. Have ready:
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Bring to a simmer in a small saucepan:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes, then stir until completely smooth.
Let the ganache stand at room temperature until it is about 85˚F. Then, pour it over the custard filling. Let the ganache set, refrigerated for about 30 minutes before serving.