Have you ever tried Nanaimo Bars? Well, I had not, until today, and I cannot believe I’ve missed out on these delectable treats for so long!
OK, I’ve only been to Canada once in my life..Montreal. The only problem is, I never got to see or experience it since I was literally still attached to my mother’s umbilical cord. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to visit Canada yet, so I’ll have to go by what I read, see and hear about our friendly neighboring country to the North. This is my first time participating in Sugar High Fridays, and the theme is..well, you can guess from the title and everything I’ve written above.
When I think of Canada, several things come to mind. Nanaimo Bars (obviously), maple syrup (obviously), this very cute hockey player from Windsor, Ontario, whom I dated briefly in college (NOT obvious), and who explained the Nanaimo Bar to me, and a really entertaining show I used to watch as a kid in the 80’s on PBS called the Polka Dot Door.
Add Degrassi High to the Canadian shows I used to watch, but I couldn’t extract anything from that in a culinary sense, no matter how hard I tried. But, the name of Joey’s band, ‘The ZIT Remedy’, does refer to the ‘DOTS’ that pepper many an adolescent face. OK, I better stop there, as I want to make you hungry, not ill!
One thing I wanted to avoid for this challenge was making Nanaimo bars since I figured there would be quite a few Nanaimo bars entered in this edition of Sugar High Fridays, and I wanted to be different. Not to mention, I’d never made nor tasted Nanaimo Bars before, so I knew I’d be seriously winging it flavor-wise and aesthetically. However, after mulling it over, thinking ‘maple’ and ‘mousse’, I decided to wing it by creating my own version of it.
I know, it’s weird to create a version of something you’ve never tried.
So, a friend gave me this fantastic Sortilege Maple Liqueur, which is a blend of Canadian whiskey and maple syrup, last Christmas, knowing I like to have every flavor liqueur I can get my hands on to use in cooking, baking, AND the occasional guest who enjoys a cocktail or four.
With all of the above in mind, I set out to create my strange but yummy, non-authentic, Nanaimo bars. Authentic Nanaimo bars are not baked and consist of a buttery, chocolate-graham cracker crust with an egg, nuts and coconut mixed in. They are then topped with a buttercream layer that contains custard powder, (which is hard to find here in the USA, so most people substitute vanilla pudding powder), and glazed with a melted amalgamation of chocolate and butter aka not quite ganache, since we’re missing the cream here.
I decided to forgo the buttercream custard/vanilla powder filling, and instead, in honor of Canada, fill it with a white chocolate-maple (using Canada’s finest maple syrup) mousse, napped with a little Sortliege and stabilized with gelatin and mascarpone cheese. For the crust, I remained partially true to authentic Nanaimo Bars, but eliminated the nuts since I wanted to make a maple-walnut nougatine or maple-candied walnuts to either top each bar, or just to serve along with the bars.
So, I added chopped white chocolate to the base, and THIS is the kicker..I decided on polka dot Nanaimo bars as an homage to the Polka Dot Door, which provided me with hours of enjoyment as a child. By folding miniature semisweet chocolate chips into the white chocolate-maple mousse and piping large dots of melted white chocolate on top of the Nanaimo Bars, I ended up with a variety of polka dots. from top to bottom.
Like authentic Nanaimo Bars, these are very rich, but the light and fluffy mousse seems to counter that a little bit, although it’s ‘rich’ in ingredients.
In summary, using some of what I know when it comes to our friendly neighbors up north, I decided to take the same route that I’m sure many will be taking, but make it in a way that’s not completely traditional, which is how I came up with my..drum roll, please..
White Maple Mousse Chocolate Chip Nanaimo Bars
- ½ cup butter
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 egg, well beaten
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup white chocolate chunks or chips
- 7 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt, Valrhona Ivoire), finely chopped
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons maple liqueur**
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 8- to 8.8 ounce container mascarpone cheese***
- ¼ oz package of powdered gelatin
- ¼ cup water
- 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
- 1½ cups miniature chocolate chips
- 6 oz semisweet chocolate (you can use milk or bittersweet chocolate, depending on your preference), chopped.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 oz good quality chopped white chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- ⅔ cup of walnut halves, toasted
- Coarse sea salt, such as Fleur de sel (optional)
- Line a 9-inch square pan* with lightly greased aluminum foil, making sure you leave a decent amount of overhang on two sides (this aids in lifting out the bars when they're set).
- Beat the egg in a small bowl or cup. Place butter, light brown sugar and cocoa in a bowl set over hot, simmering water, then stir until melted and uniform. Temper the beaten egg with a little of the hot butter mixture, then add it all back to the main bowl and let simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, until slightly thickened.. Remove from heat. Add graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and vanilla extract. Let cool a few minutes, then add white chocolate chunks or chips. Press firmly into the bottom of the foil lined 9-inch square pan. Place in the refrigerator while preparing the mousse.
- Combine the white chocolate, maple syrup, maple liqueur and water in a bowl set over simmering, hot water. Stir and cook until the chocolate is melted and everything is uniform and hot (mixture will be very liquidy). Add vanilla extract. Transfer the white chocolate-maple mixture to a large bowl and gradually add mascarpone, whisking until mixture is smooth. Cool mascarpone mixture until barely lukewarm.
- Sprinkle the gelatin over1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Let sit until the gelatin is softened, then heat the bowl over hot water to dissolve it, or dissolve it in the microwave for 10 - 40 seconds. Keep checking every 10 seconds until it's liquid and smooth. Whisk dissolved gelatin into the lukewarm mousse base until thoroughly combined, making sure it's uniform and smooth..no lumps or bits of anything should remain. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer to be sure, if you'd like.
- Using an electric mixer or whisk, beat the 1 cup of cream in a medium bowl until peaks form. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture in 4 additions. Fold in miniature chocolate chips. Pour over chocolate graham cracker base, and let chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours
- oz semisweet chocolate (you can use milk or bittersweet chocolate, depending on your preference), chopped.
- T unsalted butter
- Melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over simmering, hot water. Mix well until melted and uniform. Remove from heat and let cool until it's lukewarm. Pour over the top of the set mousse and spread quickly. Chill in refrigerator until ready to pipe white chocolate polka dots.
- Place chopped white chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan with simmering, hoi water. Be careful not to let the bowl with the chocolate in it touch the water as it could seize up and/or burn (I like to remove the chocolate from the heat before it's fully melted and stir, letting the residual heat melt it completely until smooth). Pour the melted chocolate it another bowl, and let it cool a little before continuing.
- Pour the melted chocolate into a cornet (parchment cone), snip off the end, and pipe large (or a variety of sizes) 'heaping' polka dots over the 'set' chocolate topping. You can also use a plastic or ziplock bag, just snip off one end. Let chill in the refrigerator until set, but about an hour before serving, take it out, and let it come to room temperature, as the chocolate coating will crack if cut into while cold. You could cut into them immediately, using a knife dipped in very hot water, or run over a gas flame, wiping the knife in between each cut, and dipping it into the hot water or running it over the gas flame again. Personally, I prefer to let it come to room temperature. As the old gem of wisdom goes, patience is virtue!
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the walnut halves out on a baking sheet. Toast for about 5-8 minutes, stirring occcasionally, until you can smell them and they've turned a little darker. Split one open to make sure it's toasted through before removing from the oven. You can also do this in a dry skillet, stirring until toasted. Place the toasted nuts on another sheet pan lined with a silpat or parchment paper or lightly greased. Let cool.
- Pour maple syrup into a small to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until it reaches the hard crack stage (about 300-310 degrees F). Add nuts to syrup and coat well. Working quickly. Immediately remove them from the saucepan, using a slotted spoon, to the lined baking sheet and separate them as best you can (using anything but your fingers, unless you have asbestos hands!). Using a spoon, drizzle any leftover syrup over each nut and sprinkle lightly with sea salt, if using. Do NOT touch until the candy coating has set and cooled. Scatter a few over individual bars, and/or around the plate you serve them on.
**You can substitute 1 teaspoon pure maple extract plus 1½ tablspoons of water if you can't find the liqueur, or would prefer not to use it.
***Cream cheese can be substituted for the mascarpone, although it's not as smooth, creamy and mild as mascarpone. If you do use cream cheese, make sure it's at room temperature and soft before incorporating it into the hot maple-white chocolate base.
****Use 8 oz of chopped chocolate and ¼ cup (half a stick) of unsalted butter if you want a thicker topping.
The finished Nanaimo Bars, after many experimentation and tastings, are a little busy, huh? I’ll do better next time. If you subtract the liqueur, these would make a great party sweet for kids. OH, and adults too, of course!
By the way, still ‘learning’ this new camera since I have very little experience with the correct way to shoot still and stylish food photos. Plus there are a lot of settings on this camera that are currently Japanese to me, and quite daunting to say the least, so bear with me. Only the bottom photo was taken with the G9, but by the looks of it, I have quite a ways to go!
Finally, please click on the Mmm…Canada logo at the top of this entry, which will take you to The Domestic Goddess Sweet Canadian roundup where you can see all the amazing Canadian goodies and Nanaimo Bars that everyone came up with!