According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the first version of the Nanaimo bar as we know it today appeared in the Women’s Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook, published in 1952, which contained three similar recipes referred to as either “chocolate square” or “chocolate slice.” The earliest recorded instance of the name “Nanaimo bar,” however, was in a 1953 Edith Adams article in the Vancouver Sun, which also referred to the square as a “London Fog Bar.”
The Nanaimo bar is a three-layered confection that has become an iconic part of Canada’s unique cuisine. The quintessential Nanaimo bar is a layer of coconut and graham crust on the bottom; a layer of soft, yellow buttercream icing in the middle; and a layer of chocolate ganache on the top. In my iteration, I pull on the Asian influences on cuisine that has made B.C. cookery celebrated globally. In the base, I have included toasted sesame seeds into the coconut-graham base; the buttercream is enhanced with nerigoma, which is a black sesame paste, and the chocolate ganache unifies all the layers with the addition of toasted sesame oil. Nerigoma can easily be sourced at most Asian grocery stores, but if you prefer, the black sesame paste can also be made by combining ground, toasted black sesame seeds and honey until the texture resembles a thick peanut butter.
Nerigoma Nanaimo Bars
Makes 12 pieces
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup white sugar
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs or digestive biscuit crumbs
1/2 cup toasted white sesame seeds
1/2 cup finely sweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup sesame paste (nerigoma)
1 ½ to 2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2/3 cup finely chopped milk chocolate
1/3 cup finely chopped dark chocolate
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Line 8-inch square pan with parchment, leaving an overhang around the sides.
Base Layer: Create a “double boiler” setup: In medium saucepan, add 1 inch of water, then place glass bowl overtop. (Alternatively, add 1/2 to 1 inch of water to an actual double boiler.) The bowl should sit in the saucepan, but the bottom shouldn’t touch the water. Bring water to a gentle boil over low-medium heat. Add butter, cocoa and sugar to bowl and melt until chocolate mixture is smooth and sugar is no longer grainy.
In separate bowl, mix together graham crumbs, sesame seeds and coconut. Pour chocolate overtop and stir until combined.
Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Refrigerate as you make the nerigoma layer.
Nerigoma Layer: In stand mixer, whip butter until smooth; add in sesame paste and continue mixing until smooth. Add in icing sugar and vanilla extract. Mix to combine at low speed. Incorporate milk, 1 tbsp at a time. Spread nerigoma mixture overtop base layer as evenly as possible. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Chocolate Topping: Place chocolate in heatproof bowl; microwave on medium power for 45-second intervals, stirring between each interval until smooth. Once chocolate is smooth, stir in sesame oil. Pour chocolate overtop nerigoma layer and smooth it out as much as possible. Refrigerate until chocolate is almost set (about 80% hardened), about 20 minutes.
Using thin, sharp knife, gently score chocolate layer into bars. Refrigerate until chocolate is fully set, about 45 minutes. Cut into bars; for clean cuts, wipe off knife after each slice.
Chef ILona Daniel is Harrowsmith’s Food Editor and the founder of Tribe Fresh Events and Consulting, a purpose-driven insights consultancy accelerated by modern approaches to the hospitality industry, immersive experiences, and community and culture development. She has worked on projects around the world and is on the Board of Directors for the Tourism Association of PEI. Chef Ilona is a media personality, and a Culinary Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada.