Thursday, December 13, 2007

New York Special Slices, aka Nanaimo Bars

Oh, just looking at the photo of these makes my mouth water. This is an older picture in my archive, and I don't think I took this one, but yep, that's them. In some parts of the world these are known as Nanaimo Bars (Nanaimo is a small city in western British Columbia). What I know about Nanaimo Bars is that usually they contain mint. Mine do not. I don't like the mint version at all. But if that intrigues you, do a Google search for Nanaimo Bars and you'll find lots of variations. I haven't made these yet this year, but didn't want to dilly-dally around waiting in case you wanted to make them.

I got this recipe in 1963. My first husband and I had moved to Washington, D.C. and stayed briefly with family friends of my parents who lived in Virginia. The wife introduced me to a neighbor of hers, and told this unbelievable story about this recipe. It bears a resemblance to other stories you may have heard. But in this case I MET the woman who'd been "done in," so to speak. She and her husband had celebrated a milestone anniversary and had gone to New York. They'd stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, and had dinner in their fine restaurant. After dinner, she'd ordered this dessert, titled on the menu as New York Special Slices, and was blown away by the taste, so asked the waiter for the recipe. The chef said, through the waiter, get her address and he'd send it to her. It arrived, but with a bill for $200. Now back in the 1960's, a $200 recipe would set anybody back more than just a little bit. So, this woman consulted her attorney, found out it was useless to argue. Pay it, he said. So, she gave it away to anybody she could find. Our friends served these bars to us, and I fell in love. Right there, on the spot.

These aren't hard to make, although they do take a bit of time in or around the kitchen because you need to chill the layers inbetween creating them. Overall, though, these will come together in a jiffy. They need to be refrigerated - you can't leave them out at room temp for very long or the unsweetened chocolate on the top layer gets soft. And it will come off in your hands if you pick it up.

These became a Christmas tradition in my family from then on. You can cut them into very small pieces, or into large squares to serve as a dessert. They're very rich, very chocolatey, so might not be appropriate to serve at the end of a very heavy, rich meal. I usually serve them as you would a cookie, allowed to warm up at room temp for just 5-10 minutes only. I recommend that these be cut into bars ahead of time, as they're a bit tricky to cut. Best not to do that while your guests are waiting at the dinner table.

First you make a graham cracker, coconut and chocolate base, chill it. Then you make a custard filling. Bird's Dessert Mix (Powder) is a dry mix, similar to instant pudding mixes we'd buy at our local market, BUT, Bird's does not have any sugar or butter in it. My local Ralph's carries it, and I've found it at some specialty markets too. It's British in origin if that helps you find it. If you can't find Bird's powder, use instant pudding mix, but don't add the sugar or butter, just the milk noted in the filling ingredients. You're after a thick filling, not a soupy one, so be careful and don't add too much milk. That gets spread on top of the base, and is then chilled. Wait a bit for the next step, then gently melt some unsweetened chocolate and a bit of butter, cool it a few minutes, then pour it over the custard and carefully spread it over the the top, filling in any spots. There is just barely enough chocolate to cover. Chill again, then use a knife dipped in hot water to cut the cookies. They will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

New York Special Slices (aka Nanaimo Bars)
Recipe: Supposedly from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York City
Servings: 32
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 pound butter
1 whole egg -- beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup walnuts -- chopped
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Bird's Dessert Powder (see notes below)
4 tablespoons milk
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1. Melt semi-sweet chocolate with butter. Add the egg, vanilla, coconut, nuts and graham cracker crumbs. Press this mixture into the bottom of a 9x9 greased pan. Refrigerate.
2. Melt the 4 T of butter and add it to the powdered sugar, mixed with the Bird's Dessert Powder and milk. Pour this mixture over the first layer and refrigerate again for about an hour.
3. Then, melt the 3 squares of bitter chocolate and 1 T butter. Pour this carefully over the top layer and spread to cover it all. Chill again. Cut into small squares to serve, and if you have trouble, dip the knife into a tall glass of very hot water. Keep the squares refrigerated, although they can be left at room temperature for a little while.
Note: if you can't find Bird's Dessert Powder (mix) use instant vanilla pudding mix and just add the milk, not the sugar or butter noted in this recipe.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

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