Oh, America. We really need to get out more. Just beyond the northern border is a wide, wonderful world called CANADA, and they make excellent desserts too. I think it’s safe to say that Americans know about maple syrup and things that you can make from maple syrup, but one thing I definitely *didn’t* know about was Nanaimo Bars. They allegedly originated from the town of Nanaimo in British Columbia (though their invention is claimed by many), and I’d like to get better acquainted, stat. Baked Sunday Mornings made these Nanaimo Ice Cream Bars from Baked Occasions for Canada Day, and they were quite a revelation. Canada Day is celebrated on July 1 in honor of the union of three British North American colonies into a single country on that day in 1867. First of all, it was my first encounter with British digestive biscuits, which despite their fairly unappetizing name, are pretty super. You can find these at grocery stores that are stocked with a British foods section. (Or, if you’re in Ireland as I just was, you may find an entire delightful biscuit section!) Secondly, this recipe puts together ingredients that I would not have necessarily conceived of combining (pretzels, biscuits, cocoa, ice cream, fudge), but when I list them like that, it’s kind of a no-brainer. Traditional Nanaimo Bars usually consist of a graham- or biscuit-based crust, a custard-like filling, and a chocolate top layer; these are a bit of a liberal riff, what with the ice cream and pretzels, but let me assure you, any concerns of authenticity will be assuaged when you bite into these cold, crisp, creamy, sweet-and-salty bars.
This is a pretty quick recipe to pull together, each of the three elements being quite easy– no baking involved, actually. You’ll first make the crust by combining finely ground digestive biscuits with chopped, toasted walnuts and crushed (not ground) pretzels. You can use graham crackers instead of the digestives, which I would like to try as well at some point. The digestive biscuits yield much fluffier crumbs than graham crackers, and I’m curious whether that would affect the texture of the finished crust or not.
At any rate, you’ll then cook a mixture of butter, cocoa powder, light brown sugar, and egg until it thickens a bit, to which you’ll add the dry ingredients. This thick, crunchy mixture gets pressed into the bottom of a cake pan and chilled for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, you can soften your ice cream for the filling layer. I was hoping to make homemade salted caramel ice cream, but I didn’t have time, so I used Three Twins Sea Salted Caramel, which was lovely. I would also love to try it out with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s Salty Caramel, but at $10+ per pint, I opted for the slightly more economical choice, since you need 2 pints here. You can use caramel, vanilla, coffee, mint, or really anything that would work well in a sweet-and-salty recipe– I loved the salted caramel because it amped up the saltiness imparted from the pretzels. (Incidentally, I think a malted vanilla ice cream could be a little earth-shattering here.) Anyway, once your crust is chilled and your choice of ice cream is softened, spread the ice cream in an even layer over the crust and freeze the pan for 2 hours.
The final step is making the simple fudge topping. You’ll bring to a boil the cream, corn syrup, and butter, then add chocolate, and whisk everything together. Whisk it for a minute or so, until it’s reached room temperature, more or less. Grab the pan from the freezer and pour the fudge over the ice cream layer, spreading it into all the corners and edges for maximum chocolate coverage. The pan goes back in the freezer for at least 2 hours, and you’re done! Really, the most time-consuming part is the freezing time, but I made these over 2 days, and it seemed like it took no time at all because each step was so quick.
Cut the bars with a hot knife once they’re frozen solid– I loved seeing the cross-section of the layers, particularly the pretzel crust! (I get especially excited when my finished recipes look just like the photo in the book, which was the case here.)
You guys. These bars are terrific. They are creamy, crunchy, chocolatey, salty– like, everything you would want in a snack is in here. Since you can mix it up by changing the ice cream flavor, these are endlessly customizable and fun– I can’t wait to make more. I cut mine and individually wrapped a few for the perfect afternoon snackie; it’s like an ice cream sandwich on crack!
Do yourself a favor and embrace this Canadian treasure. The recipe for Nanaimo Ice Cream Bars is located at Baked Sunday Mornings, and please take a look at the other bloggers’ bars too! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.