Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake

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If you’re Canadian, you’ve probably had a Nanaimo Bar once or twice in your life. If you’re not Canadian, you probably SHOULD have a Nanaimo Bar once or twice in your life.

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My sister-in-law Mags sent me this recipe as a not-so-subtle hint about what kind of birthday cake she’d like this year (her birthday was February 15th). We usually celebrate her birthday jointly with her dad’s, Papa John, whose birthday is on February 19th. But with a bunch of travel on all sides, we ended up postponing their birthday celebrations until this past weekend, which was MY birthday. So this is a joint cake for the three of us. And it’s amazing.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grab a food processor and chuck in 5 tablespoons cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups graham crumbs, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, and 3/4 cup dried coconut.

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Give it a good whazzing, then drizzle in 4 tablespoons melted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla and whaz it again, until you get some crumbly mixture.

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Take your crumb mixture and dump it into a 10″ springform pan. Press the crumbs into the bottom and a little up the sides, making sure to press extra hard in the corners (I didn’t and it was a little too thick there, so that’s why I am warning you).

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Shove that into your oven and bake it for 5 minutes. When you pull it out, leave the oven on and shove in a large (9″ x 13″) pan of warm water and put it on the rack below where you will be cooking your cheesecake.

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Now, in the bowl of a stand mixer, chuck 4 250g packages plain cream cheese (remember that room temperature cream cheese makes smoother cheesecake). Beat that up until it’s smooth and lovely.

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Then, one at a time, crack in 4 large eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating the whole time.

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Now you can chuck in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1/3 cup sour cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 3 tablespoons vanilla custard powder.

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I used Bird’s custard powder here, because that is all that is traditional and right in the world. Beat that up until smooth.

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Pour the mix into your baked crust above your pan of water and bake for 1 hour.

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When it’s done, turn the oven off and crack the door just a little bit and wedge it with a spoon. Leave that for 1-2 hours until the cheesecake is room temperature.

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Don’t fret about that crack. It’s not a big deal. Transfer the cake to a nice plate with care. Chill the cake for a little while.

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To make the lovely ganache that goes on top, toss 1 cup cream and 1 cup chocolate in the bowl of a double boiler and heat until the chocolate melts.

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Whisk until smooth, then let it cool to room temperature.

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Now gently pour it on top of your cooled cake. I had a lot of ganache so I carefully guided it down the sides as well.

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Chill your cake until the ganache is set.

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Serve to all your birthday guests!

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S’mores, in a cookie – FAILED

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Wow.  This could have gone much better.

I was trying to make a summery treat as a last hurrah for my Sweet Treats Club at work and I thought, what’s more summery than some nice chewy s’mores?  I mean really.  There’s nothing.  Except maybe beer.  But that would be inappropriate for work I think.  At least before noon.

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And I saw a bunch of recipes on the internet that incorporated elements of s’moreishness in their makeup but nothing that really screamed, holy smokes, this is the cookie version of my favourite campfire treat.  I mean there were cookies with graham cookies embedded in them, with mini marshmallows in the matrix … all sorts of stuff.  But the essence of a s’more — to ME — is a graham cookie on either side of a piece of chocolate and a hot roasted marshmallow.  Right?   So I figured, why not make a chocolate chip cookie, but with enough graham incorporated into it so it would be LIKE a graham cookie (but with chocolate), and then have that form a protective shell around a large gooey internal marshmallow.

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What went wrong?  Well, everything.  I guess there’s a reason I didn’t see anything like this in my searching.  The cookie dough recipe I chose was all wrong, for one thing.  I picked the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package (my first mistake) because I’d packed my Joy of Cooking (my second mistake).  I replaced half the flour with graham crumbs and I probably shouldn’t have done that, and I used butter when I probably should have used shortening.  And before you say it, yes, I chilled the crap out of that dough.  Like it spent more time in the fridge than out of it.

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So what happened?  This.  They just melted.  At first you could see the marshmallows holding out as the cookie melted into a sad puddle all around them, but then they, too, succumbed, turning into little white puddles of goo.  It was very depressing.

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So we thought, okay, if the cookie dough is going to go liquid, why don’t we put it in a muffin tin, and have the marshmallow perch on top?  Right.  Well, the marshmallow came out nice and toasted, which was fine, but the cookie, not so much.  Once I pulled them out of the pan it was a huge rotten mess.

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So there you have it, folks.  For those of you who weren’t around during my floor pizza days (and for those of you who were), I still make a lotta mistakes in the kitchen.  And will continue to do so.  Mostly because I am really bad at following rules.  But that’s what makes it fun, right?

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Mango Key Lime Pie

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How much do I wish I was visiting my parents right now?  They’ve been in Florida since January, and they always offer to fly us down there every year when they go for a nice sunny break.  Unfortunately the university here doesn’t offer that Reading Week in February that most Canadian universities do.  Instead we get three days off, and then two days of midterms.  So leaving the country right now is out.  I did, however, see this recipe in the Globe and Mail and figured if I can’t be in Long Boat Key right now I can at least have some Key Lime Pie. Even if it doesn’t actually involve Key limes.

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I’m a huge fan of lime pies, and I’ve made two attempts to make my own.  They aren’t pretty, but they’re sure tasty. This recipe avoids the issue of having to deal with Canadian-sized cans of condensed milk (by adding mango as thickener), which means I can go ahead and only make one pie this time.  I also don’t have to grate and juice all those tiny key limes, which is a bonus for me.  I really hate doing that.

Mango Key Lime Pie 1

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a 9″ pie pan, stir together 1 cup graham-cracker crumbs (I’ve used Oreo crumbs before as well, and it’s delicious, and I bet Nilla crumbs would also work), 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1/3 cup shredded coconut (adds a nice texture to the crust). Melt 5 tablespoons unsalted butter and drizzle that over the top.

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Stir it all up with a fork and press it down into the pan and up the sides to form your crust.  Bake that for 10 minutes.

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Let that cool on a wire rack while you’re making the filling, and leave your oven on. If the crust has puffed up during baking (which it probably has), just pat it down again with the fork.

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Ignore the pie filling on the right that you haven’t gotten around to making just yet.

Take 1 medium-sized very ripe mango, peel it, cut it into pieces, and smash it up in a blender.

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Like, so ripe that when you put it down on something it leaves lines in the skin. We’re talking MOOSHY.

Take 1/2 cup of the mango purée and put it into a bowl (you’re supposed to save the rest for smoothies or something but I just chucked it all in, to be honest).

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Mango puree on the left, lime juice on the right. I did everything out of order.

Add in 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (this is like the equivalent of 2-3 juicy limes).  I grated one of my limes before juicing and added that zest in as well.

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Also chuck in 1 300mL can of condensed milk.  Sorry to all you folks who use 400mL cans.  You’re just going to have to figure something else out.  Or chuck in the rest of the can (which is what I would do — screw leftovers).  And when I say chuck the can in I mean chuck the CONTENTS of the can in.  Recycle that can.

Separate 4 eggs and plop 4 egg yolks into the mix as well.  I am going to use the whites to make meringue cookies to serve with the pie.  Because I’m that awesome.

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Stir what’s in that bowl until it’s smooth and lovely.  You’ll notice it’s not green.  Key lime pie is not supposed to be green.  Don’t let anybody tell you different.

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Pour that lovely smooth substance into your pie crust and bake for a further 15 minutes.  It’s still going to be rather un-solid in the middle but it will set as the pie chills.  Put the baked pie on a wire rack until it’s cool enough to chuck in the fridge.  Then refrigerate the thing for at least eight hours, and up to three days.  Honestly, try to wait that long to cut into it.  The longer you wait, the more solid your pie will be.  I promise.

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Serve cold with a dollop of whipped cream or meringue cookie.  Mmmm.  Tastes like summer.

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O Canada: Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Despite having eaten probably a thousand of these over the years, I have never made one before.  I guess I thought it would be hard.  It really isn’t.

The origins of the Nanaimo bar are shrouded in mystery.  Some say they are not from Nanaimo at all, that some housewife merely pointed to a town on a map when she named her crusty buttery bar.

Others (Canadians, mostly, and especially those from Nanaimo), insist that the Nanaimo bar belongs in its rightful birthplace on Vancouver Island.  For our purposes, we’ll go with the second story.  According to that second story, miners in town would take the bars with them when they went to work.

Nanaimo Bars

There are, of course, a hojillion recipes out there for Nanaimo bars.  There are a bajillion variations (my neighbour makes a variation with candy canes at Christmas).  I kept seeing ones that told you to use custard powder or pudding mix and I kept thinking, where is the original recipe?  How can I make this from scratch?  Then I realized that using a powder mix IS the original recipe.  The custard powder is there more for flavour and sticky-together-ness than it is for making an original custard.

Nanaimo Bars

This particular recipe, with some very minor modifications, comes from Nanaimo [Nah-NIGH-mo] itself, which is a tiny town on the tiny Vancouver Island, a few hours’ ferry ride away from Vancouver in British Columbia.  Apparently the mayor of Nanaimo held a contest several years ago to find the BEST Nanaimo bar recipe in town.  It was re-posted by the owners of the Buccaneer Inn, in Nanaimo.  How many times do you think I can say “Nanaimo”?  I bet it’s more than you think.

In a double boiler, or a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, melt 4 or 5 ounces dark chocolate with 2 tablespoons butter.

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Stir it until it’s smooth and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

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It will cool faster if you swish it up on the sides of the bowl.

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In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip together 1/2 cup room temperature butter, 3 tablespoons cream, 2 tablespoons custard powder (I used Bird’s), 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 cups icing sugar.

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Keep going  until it’s light and fluffy.

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In another bowl over a pot of water, melt and stir together 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 tablespoons cocoa.

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Beat up an egg.

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Add that into the melted butter, sugar, and cocoa, and stir to thicken.  The egg will cook as you do this, and the texture might turn out a little lumpy, but that’s fine.

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Remove the mix from the heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups graham crumbs, 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (I used almonds), and 1 cup sweetened dessicated coconut.

Nanaimo Bars

You can easily chop the nuts in your food processor.

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Press the coconut crumb mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 8″ square pan.  Lacking that, I used a 10″ x 7″ pan and hoped for the best.

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Spread the yellow custard mixture over the top of the crumb base.

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Pour on the melted, cooled chocolate and gently spread it to cover the whole area.

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Chuck in the fridge and leave it to chill for at least an hour.

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Cut it into squares and eat them all.

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Store what you can’t in good conscience finish in an airtight container.

Nanaimo Bars