This was a month of firsts for the Baked Occasionally project Natalie and I have been working since January. Normally it’s all about the baking, but this tine, it was way more about the layers. In fact, no actual baking was done here, unless you want to count the part where I “baked” my walnuts in the oven to toast them – a welcome change for midsummer, if you ask me.
This is also the first time we’ve literally waited until days before our post to decide which recipe to tackle – indecision I chalk up to our willingness to try anything you put in front of us, but also because of how good Baked recipes are, in general. It makes it difficult to pick a clear favorite, and Natalie had that problem this month. July was her choice, and she waffled over two recipes until she picked…a totally different third recipe. This one.
I was thrilled: I have always wanted to tackle Nanaimo bars. They celebrate Canada, after all, and I celebrate my friendship with Canada on the regular (in my heart.) Although these are a riff on them (ice cream filled rather than vanilla custard-filled), I think they’re perfectly fit for busting out on a July day. Who doesn’t love what’s essentially an ice cream sandwich? We would have totally had these ready for you to make this 4th of July, by the way, but I was too busy doing this to write anything:
This neighborhood, man. There’s not many things better than getting out of the shower and seeing a bunch of golf carts decked out in metallic fringe and crepe paper poofs lining up outside your door: when that happens, you stop what you’re doing (you get dressed first, though), and you watch. Next year I’m going to sit outside with some crumb cake and coffee to feed these joyous and be-carted neighbors of mine.
Back to these bars: seriously simple, and with zero production and drama. No bundt pans to grease, nothing to do, really, but a little whiz in the food processor, some pan presses, and a few hours wait time while things firm up. The cutting seems like it could be a disaster, but it’s not, provided you follow my instructions: I employ my “frozen sheet pan” technique here between cuts to ensure nothing goes sideways. Even in air conditioning, it’s amazing how fast things want to melt during the summer, so use the frozen pan to save yourself the headache; it adds mere minutes of time to your bar-cutting.
I’m so excited Natalie picked these bars – I do think some credit should go to both of our husbands, who independently made faces at the other choices on the table, but were thrilled when she landed on these. Her bars are right over here, and they look perfect – and if two of us can manage cutting into these sans mess, you can too.
Pros: Nothing to hate on here! Break some things up in the food processor, mix them with a few other things, and press into a pan. Chill, spread ice cream, chill, then make a super-simple, nicely pliable chocolate layer for the top, spread that out and chill once more. Cutting them was easy thanks to that top chocolate layer, although you do have to use some decent force to get through the bottom part. Happily, that stays together incredibly well; no crumbles.
Cons: Guys, I don’t know; hard to find a con with these. Something called a “bar” sometimes invites confusion as to how best to attack it. Fork or hands? It’s a grey area, whereas “sandwich” seems clearly defined. My squad found these difficult – if not impossible – to cut through with the fork: that bottom layer is killer, so you really need to pick it up and just go for it. Make sure these are right out of the freezer, also: no surprise here, but if they’re not completely solid, the ice cream tends to squoosh out the sides like, yes, and ice cream sandwich that’s not entirely cold.
Head over to Wee Eats to see Natalie’s pros and cons: she lives in a wayyyy hotter climate than I had to deal with this weekend (unseasonably cool-ish and rainy), so she’s got you covered for sun and extreme temps.
I’d say “adapted” here, except that directions aside, these are taken directly from Baked Occasions: Desserts for Leisure Activities, Holidays, and Informal Celebrations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. I’ve loved Baked for years, friends: for proof, let’s TBT(uesday) to the first Baked recipe (a perfect olive oil and orange bundt cake, that’s breakfast/lunch/dinner-appropriate) I did for the blog, way back in 2011. My blog anniversary is coming up soon – 5 years! – so I’ve been occasionally revisiting some of my first posts, just to see what they look like 5 years on.
Nanaimo Ice Cream Bars
for the cocoa pretzel crust:
- 2 oz (about ½ cup), toasted and coarsely chopped
- 5¼ oz graham crackers (basically one of those sleeves in the box plus a few more)
- 2½ oz thin, salty pretzel sticks
- 2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder, such as Valrhona
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
for the ice cream layer:
- 2 pints homemade or store-bought premium vanilla or salted caramel ice cream
for the fudge topping:
- 2 Tbsp heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
- 5 oz dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), roughly chopped
make the cocoa pretzel crust:
Line an ungreased 8-inch square pan – glass or metal – with parchment paper so that it overhangs by approximately 2 inches on two opposite sides.
Place the chopped walnuts in a large bowl. Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse in three or four short 2-second bursts until finely ground, with a few coarsely ground pieces for texture; add crumbs to walnuts. Put the pretzel sticks in the same food processor (no need to wash in between) and pulse five or six times in 1-second bursts to create small stick-like chunks. Do not overprocess the pretzels; a little powder at the bottom is going to happen, but most of the pieces should be peanut size. Sprinkle the pretzel chunks over the graham crumbs and use your hands to toss them together.
Place the butter in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until the butter is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pan of simmering water, add the brown sugar and cocoa, and whisk until combined. Continue to whisk as you add the egg in a slow stream; return the bowl to the pan of simmering water and whisk slowly and constantly until the mixture thickens slightly, is smooth and shows whisk marks, 60 to 90 seconds. You may see the chocolate look weird, then tighten, then loosen up nicely and get very glossy: I did, and that’s all okay. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined with no dry spots. Turn the crumb mixture out into the prepared pan and firmly press it into an even layer on only the bottom of the pan, not the sides; if you like, use the back of a metal measuring cup to help even it out. Refrigerate the pan for at 30 minutes.
assemble the ice cream layer:
Remove the ice cream from your freezer and let it soften, about 5 to 10 minutes (depending on temperature, humidity, etc). Place the ice cream in a large bowl and use a rubber spatula to beat it until it is slightly malleable but not melty. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and spread the ice cream over the cocoa pretzel crust in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 2 hours.
make the fudge topping:
In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the cream, butter, and corn syrup together until just simmering. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate; let stand for 1 minute, then whisk until the fudge is smooth. If you have a few stray unmelted chocolate chunks, reheat the mixture over very low heat until completely melted.
Whisk the fudge topping vigorously for 1 minute to release excessive heat or until it reaches room temperature. Remove the bars from the freezer and pour the fudge over the ice cream layer. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the fudge topping into an even layer. Again, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until the bars are solid, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
Once the bars are completely frozen, remove from the freezer. Dip a knife in hot water and wipe it dry. Using the hot knife, go around the un-parchmented of the pan. Gently pull up on both sides of the parchment overhang to release the bars from the pan and place the bars with the parchment on a large cutting board. Freeze the bars on the cutting board for 10 minutes. In the meantime, place a metal sheet pan in the freezer where it can sit flat.
Remove the bars from the freezer. Dip a knife in hot water and wipe it dry. Using a hot knife, score and slice the bars into long 1½-inch (2.5-by-4-cm) slices, rinsing with hot water and wiping after each cut, and placing each long strip on the frozen sheet pan. Once you’re done with this step, let the strips chill for 10 minutes or so, then go back in and slice them into rectangles; place back on the frozen sheet pan as you work so they stay cold and set back up. Serve immediately, or wrap with foil once set and hold in freezer for up to 5 days.