When the publisher of World Vegan Feast said I could choose from any recipe in the book to feature, I thought it only fitting to pick one from where “the world begins” from the perspective of the author. Bryanna Clark Grogan is a native of British Columbia in Canada, and the Nanaimo Bar is a huge tradition in her neck of the woods. These are amazingly decadent bars, but typically loaded with dairy, and perhaps an egg or two. Bryanna not only veganized the original, but she also made it a bit healthier and a bit less sweet (trust me, this is a good thing – one Nanaimo Bar can usually be a sugar overload!). Since my husband grew up in British Columbia, I’m very familiar with this amazing treat, and elated to share this incredible dairy-free version with you today. Take it away Bryanna …
If you are Canadian or live near the Canadian border, you already know about sweet, gooey, coconut and-chocolate-laden Nanaimo Bars! I have always found them too sweet, so I developed this “grown-up” vegan Nanaimo Bar recipe. The addition of the cocoa nibs in the base gives the bars extra crunch and a slightly bitter edge that counteracts the sweetness. Dark chocolate ganache and coffee liqueur add the “grown-up” elements. I also cut the fat content and use flax seed as an egg replacer, which adds more nutrients. No one notices the nutrition, though – they are too busy oohing and ahhing over the contrasting flavors and textures!
Grown-Up Nanaimo Bars
Recipe from World Vegan Feast: 200 Fabulous Recipes from Over 50 Countries, by Bryanna Clark Grogan.
Makes 30 squares (This recipe has a soy-free option and a gluten-free option)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon flax seed
- 1/3 cup vegan margarine
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup
- 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups vegan graham cracker crumbs [use gluten-free grahams for GF option]
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup chopped roasted cocoa nibs (see Note)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds, toasted
- 1/2 cup vegan cream cheese or soy-free Vegan Mascarpone [store bought or homemeade cream cheese alternative; mascarpone recipe is in the book]
- 2 tablespoons vegan margarine
- 2 tablespoons plain Bird’s custard powder or cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or coffee-flavored Italian syrup
- 1/4 tablespoon pure vanilla
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 4 ounces vegan semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped, or chocolate chips (2/3 cup)
- 1/3 cup nondairy milk
- 1/4 cup extra-firm silken tofu
- 1 tablespoon liquid espresso, coffee liqueur, or coffee-flavored Italian syrup
1. Base: Process the water and flax seed in a blender until it is thick and foamy. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan over low heat, combine the margarine, brown sugar, syrup, cocoa, and flax seed mixture. Stir until the consistency is thick and custard-like. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, cocoa nibs, and nuts. Add to the mixture in the saucepan, and mix well. Pack the mixture into an oiled 9-inch square cake pan lined with baking parchment cut to fit. Set aside.
4. Filling: Cream together the cream cheese, margarine, custard powder, liqueur, and vanilla. Add the confectioners’ sugar. Beat until it is creamy, then spread it over the crumb base. Refrigerate until the filling has set, at least 30 minutes.
5. Ganache Topping: Process the chocolate finely in a dry food processor. Leave the chocolate in the processor. Whip the nondairy milk and tofu together in a blender or with an immersion/stick blender in a deep, narrow container until smooth – this is the vegan cream.
6. Heat the vegan cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until almost to the boiling point. Alternatively, you can cook the cream in a microwave-safe bowl for about 1 minute at 50 % power or until it is very hot, but not boiling. (If the mixture curdles, blend it again until smooth.)
7. With the motor running, pour the hot cream into the chocolate in the food processor through the feed tube. Process until smooth. Add the liqueur and process again briefly. When the ganache mixture has cooled slightly, but is still pourable, spread it evenly over the chilled filling. Refrigerate until the ganache is solid.
8. To serve: Score the ganache with a very sharp knife into 30 squares and then cut the squares all the way to the bottom of the pan. Loosen the squares along the sides of the pan with a table knife. The bars will keep refrigerated for a month (well-covered).
For Soy-Free Ganache: Omit the tofu and nondairy milk and use 1/2 cup coconut nondairy creamer or nut milk instead.)
Note: Cocoa nibs are simply broken or crushed pieces of cocoa beans. Traditionally, the beans are roasted, cracked and de-shelled. Cocoa nibs are the dry-roasted pieces of the cocoa bean, and they are labeled as “roasted.” Raw cocoa nibs are made from cocoa beans which have gone through the fermentation process (which precedes drying and roasting) and are dried and then peel and crushed.
Recipes and photo by Bryanna Clark Grogan, author of eight vegan cookbooks, including Nonna’s Italian Kitchen, Authentic Chinese Cuisine for the Contemporary Kitchen, The Almost No Fat Cookbook, and The Fiber for Life Cookbook. This recipe was reprinted with permissions from her publisher, and is from her latest cookbook, World Vegan Feast: 200 Fabulous Recipes from Over 50 Countries.