Vegan Nanaimo Bars

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I was watch­ing a BBC series recently about the history of the native peoples of the Pacific North­w­est, and it gave me a hanker­ing for Nanaimo bars. I used to have a co-work­er from Manitoba, who would make this typic­al Cana­dian treat from time to time, and bring it in. Those were good work days. It’s some­thing in between a millionaire’s short­bread and a cheese­cake, requires no baking, and is totally deli­cious. As well as the stand­ard vanilla filling, mint or coffee vari­ations are also common.

Nanaimo bars origin­ated unsur­pris­ingly from the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. If I had drawn pine forests, Mounties, beavers or other Cana­dian clichés for the illus­tra­tion, it would have been all wrong. That part of Canada is more redwood trees and continu­al rain. I’d very much like to visit that part of the world, but a trip’s too expens­ive for me right now. Vancouver is a very pricy city, and my closest friends live in Ontario and Oregon, so I’d have to shell out for a hotel.

As well as the beau­ti­ful moun­tains, rain­forests and bays full of whales, Brit­ish Columbia is known for the sculp­ture and artwork of the Tling­it, Haida and Salish people and other local groups. Watch­ing the docu­ment­ary, I felt it must be very frus­trat­ing for the local archae­olo­gists. You have a region where there’s a 10,000 year unbroken history of civil­isa­tions known for their expert sculpt­ing, boat­build­ing and weav­ing, but also one of the wettest climates on the plan­et, so all that cedar wood and wool rots away very quickly.

A blog from that area I like is The Woman Who Married a Bear. The writer Milla is a Finnish woman who lives with her part­ner on a small island in the Salish Sea in between the USA and Canada (their island is on the US side). She is a herb­al­ist, and he makes tradi­tion­al tools used in the local sculp­ture and boat­mak­ing tech­niques. The blog focuses a lot on nature and life on a small island and has a lot of beau­ti­ful photos.

The city of Nanaimo has a free recipe for the toponym­ous bars on their website, but it uses North Amer­ic­an ingredi­ents and volume meas­ure­ments, and has a semi-cooked egg in the base that didn’t seem entirely neces­sary. So here’s the vegan version I evolved by trial and error, using metric weight meas­ure­ments and ingredi­ents found in every Brit­ish super­mar­ket. The recipe is vegan, and can also be easily made gluten free with a few substi­tu­tions.



Glass lasagne dish
Silic­one spat­ula
Small pan (a milk pan is ideal)
Elec­tric mixer

For the base:

100g vegan baking margar­ine (Stork has dairy in, but a lot of super­mar­ket own brands are vegan)
50g brown sugar
5 table­spoons cocoa powder
100g dark chocol­ate
150g digest­ive biscuits (can easily be substi­tuted for gluten free digest­ives)
70g finely chopped almonds
100g dess­ic­ated coconut
5 table­spoons golden syrup

For the filling:

100g vegan baking margar­ine
2 table­spoons custard powder (gluten free is also avail­able)
300g icing sugar
3 table­spoons soya or almond milk (vanilla soya milk is great for this recipe)

Option­al vari­ations:
Add 1 teaspoon of pepper­mint or coffee flavour along with match­ing food colour­ing

For the cover­ing:

150g dark chocol­ate
2 table­spoons baking margar­ine

To make the base:

  1. Put the biscuits in a sand­wich bag, and hit with a spoon until they are completely crumbled. (They don’t have to be perfectly crushed, as long as there are no big lumps)
  2. Mix the biscuit crumbs, almonds and coconut in a bowl
  3. Melt the margar­ine, sugar, cocoa and chocol­ate over a low heat in the pan
  4. Pour the liquid ingredi­ents into the dry ingredi­ents, add the golden syrup and mix well
  5. Line the bottom of the lasagne pan with the mix
  6. Chill the base for 30 minutes. If you don’t chill the base, it will come apart when you add the filling.

To make the filling

  1. Mix the icing sugar and custard powder well in a small bowl and set aside
  2. Add the margar­ine to the mixing bowl, and slowly add the sugar, mixing with an elec­tric mixer as you go along
  3. You will end up with a very thick, dry butter­cream.
  4. Slowly add the soya milk while mixing to create a thick, smooth butter­cream
  5. Spread the butter­cream over the biscuit base. Chill for 10 minutes.

To make the topping

  1. Gently melt the chocol­ate and margar­ine in a pan over a low heat
  2. Pour over the custard cream layer
  3. Chill for three hours- you can’t cut the squares until the chocol­ate is perfectly set. Cover with foil or baking paper- cling film will just stick to the chocol­ate

Once completely set, cut into small squares. Keep in the fridge.

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