Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nanaifo Bars

It's Canada Day. In honour, I made Nanaimo Bars using my mom's recipe, but adapted to be gluten-free so FH can have some and I don't have to eat the entire pan. There are all sorts of stories about who first created Nanaimo bars, when, and whether it was in fact a rip-off of another kind of "slice." (The "where" at least is decided. I think.) Whatever the legend; they're wonderful.

I am VERY particular about Nanaimo bars and rarely, if ever, will buy them. First, there's the name. I was born in Nanaimo and although the town is not my favourite, I have a soft-spot for the place, which could be described as the heart, or, if you are feeling less generous, "the other anatomical end" of the island.

But it's the recipe I'm fussy about. Too often the recipe is fiddled with — extra additions (cranberries!), almonds instead of walnuts (ack!), and vanilla pudding instead of custard (ack, ack, double ack). Around here, the key ingredients are graham wafers, walnuts, coconut, Bird's custard, and ... unsweetened chocolate. Yup, unsweetened chocolate on top. This often throws people (especially if they are the kind that picks apart their Nanaimo bars). Unsweetened chocolate cuts the super-sweetness of the bars and is what makes my mom's recipe best.

Now I'm not going to share my batch so the closest you will probably come to Nanaimo Bars if you are wandering the streets of Tofino, is to go track down a Tofino Bar at the Common Loaf Bakery. (As the label in the bakery insists, "They're better.") And they are good. "The Loaf" is hard to miss — look for the funky red and chartreuse building at the corner of Neill and First Street, one block up from the town's only stop light. (It doesn't actually get you to stop. It's a flasher for the four-way stop!)

To make my NBs gluten-free I substituted crushed gluten-free cornflakes for the crushed graham wafers. FH insists they are fabulous, but he's been so sweet-deprived since he was diagnosed a celiac he's perhaps not as discerning as some. I think I need to try something else – crushed vanilla cookies perhaps because I haven't ever found g-f graham crackers — to push it from good enough to fab, but they are certainly disappearing fast enough.

In honour of the Nanaimo roots (of the bar and moi) and it's Tofino-gluten-free adaptation, I'll call them Nanaifo Bars. Post a comment or send an email if you want the recipe. (Oh, and Happy Canada Day. I'll be out and about in town with my camera. Check back tomorrow to see how we celebrated.)


  1. Oh, I feel so smug. I've been saving my little bag of Kinnikinnick, gluten free, "Graham Style Cracker Crumbs" for, I didn't know until now, a batch of Nanaifo Bars of course!

    Thanks for this perfect suggestion.


  2. I haven't been able to determine if Birds Custard Power was GF but your recipe seems to include it so I am so pleased to hear this. I would love to have the recipe. I haven't had a Nanaimo Bar in 5 years!

  3. Can't find the recipe online...are you still sharing it? Sounds yummy!