Nanaimo bars are a Canadian holiday favourite! How can you go wrong with three layers of chocolate crust, buttery filling, and more melted chocolate to top off the works? Despite the components, they are surprisingly easy to make, and make well. Plus all of the different layers make it a cinch to personalize them to your own taste. Here are some suggestions to do just that!

1. Crazy for chocolate
To be honest, Nanaimo bars are pretty chocolate-laden to begin with, but during the holidays, can there be such a thing as too much decadence? Let’s start with the base. Why not stir some chocolate chips into the mix, or add melted chocolate for more of a fudgy texture. Blend some cocoa powder into the filling to add another layer of chocolate goodness. Finally, splurge and use some quality chocolate for the ganache. After all it is just chocolate and butter melted together, so the better the ingredients are, the better it is going to taste. Although semisweet chocolate is typically used, milk or white chocolate are also viable options! Just be sure to go lighter on the sweetness of the filling, given that both of these have more sugar than dark chocolate.

2. Get nutty
Traditional Nanaimo bars usually have either almond flour, chopped walnuts, or both as part of the base or crust. Nuts work perfectly with chocolate, so there are plenty of other ways to incorporate different kinds into each and every layer, like:

  • Using various nut flours in the base (ground hazelnuts would be especially delicious)
  • Mixing chopped nuts into the base for added crunch
  • Blending peanut butter into the filling 
  • Adding almond paste or pistachio paste into the filling (green Nanaimo bars!)
  • Garnish the bars with toasted, chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or peanuts

3. Cookie crumbs
Graham cracker crumbs are one of the key ingredients in a classic Nanaimo bar base. But why stop there? Crushed gingersnaps or Speculoos cookies are both easy substitutes to add some festive, holiday flare. Not to mention that warming spices, like ginger and cinnamon, go oh-so-well with chocolate. Oreo cookie crumbs are also a winning idea, and frankly another excuse to keep amping up the chocolate! Or if you want to stick with tradition and use graham cracker crumbs, why not make your own? For amazing Nanaimo bars, the extra effort is totally worth it!

4. Sweet andsalty
Nanaimo bars can be tooth-achingly sweet; I guess that’s what happens when the filling is compromised almost exclusively of butter and icing sugar – and custard powder. To balance out the sweetness, once the top chocolatey layer of the bars has almost set, sprinkle it with a liberal amount of good flake salt. Not only do the crystals provide a bit of a crunch, they also offset some of the sugar. You could even use flavoured salts (think vanilla, chili, or cardamom) if you really want to amp up standard Nanaimo bars.

5. Gluten free, dairy free, vegan
I won’t claim that Nanaimo bars are “healthy” per se, nor do they have to be, but they can be a treat that is accessible to everyone, regardless of their dietary restrictions. Nanaimo bars are surprisingly simple to make gluten free, dairy free, or vegan. Given that they don’t have any flour, the only gluten you have to worry about is in the graham cracker crumbs, and nowadays, gluten free graham cracker crumbs are an easy substitute. For dairyand/ or egg-free bars, swap the butter for coconut oil, milk for non-dairy milk like almond or soy, and use a flax egg (ground flax mixed with water) instead of an actual egg, or just leave it out altogether. A few easy substitutions guarantee that everyone can take part in this favourite holiday dessert.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

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