14 December 2013

Pistachio Nanaimo Bars

On the sixth day of Christmas the airlines gave to me a husband stuck in Philly and a winter storm advisory.  Not my favorite carol.  For some reason unbeknownst to myself, the hubs and the rest of his 4th year med class, residency interviews are from November to January...a terrifically terrible time of year to be flying all over the Northeast.  It was no shocker when the hubs got stuck in an airport overnight.  Fortunately he was able to get home the next day, and I decided to make a little treat for my favorite Canadian as a welcome home surprise.  With a foodie twist, of course.

If you're on the lookout for a decadent holiday dessert, you can stop your search right here.  Nanaimo bars are possibly the most butter, chocolatey, rich bars known to cookie-eating kind.  This traditional Canadian dessert was one my grandparents favorites that they brought down from British Columbia.  Named for the city in which they originated, these bars have always been a favorite on my dad's side of the family.  And they're no-bakes.  Always a bonus amongst all that cookie baking.

Several years ago I asked my grandmother for her recipe, which she sent and I have made annually ever since.  She adheres to the original versioin with an almond-wafer crust, vanilla custard frosting and semi-sweet chocolate layer on top.  The most popular variations of the classic usually contain a mocha or mint frosting.  But since we have these unbeatable brownies to satisfy our chocolate-mint craving, we usually stick with the classic.  Usually....

This year I decided to switch things up and go green with my Nanaimo's by using pistachios.  The chopped almonds in the bottom layer are replaced with chopped pistachios, then combined with shredded coconut, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate and butter for a rich wafer offering a hint pistachio with all that other good junk.  I also swapped the vanilla custard pudding in the frosting for pistachio, echoing the flavor of the crust and giving a lovely light green tint to the mid-layer.  (PS - anyone else think that pistachio pudding is way underrated?  That stuff is delish.) 

The end result was fabulous.  You still have the same decadent chewy bar topped with rich buttery frosting and a crisp layer of dark chocolate, but with a subtle pistachio flavor permeating every morsel that is absolutely delightful.  The distinct roasted saltiness of the nuts comes through just enough to please any pistachio lover, but without becoming overpowering.  The hubs was absolutely delighted to find a pan of these awaiting his belated arrival at home and lots of farm fresh milk (which you will need, BTW...these babies are rich).  Almost made that night in the airport worth it.....(sike).

Pistachio Nanaimo Bars 

Wafer Crust (bottom layer):
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 5 tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 c graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 c finely chopped pistachios (or ground in a food processor)
  • 1 c unsweetened coconut
Pistachio Frosting (middle layer):
  • 1/2 c butter, room temp
  • 2 tbs + 2 tsp heavy cream
  • 3 tbs pistachio pudding
  • 2 c powdered sugar
Chocolate Topping (third layer):
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 tbs butter

Start by chopping your graham crackers and pistachios.  Place the graham crackers in a food processor and process until very finely ground, then measure out 1 cup into a small bowl (save the rest in a ziplock).  Next, grind your pistachios in the food processor or finely chop with a knife.  Measure out 1 1/4 cup and combine with the graham cracker crumbs. 

Place the butter, sugar and cocoa in a medium metal or glass mixing bowl and set over a pot of simmering water, making sure to leave space between the water and the bowl, to make a double boiler.  Melt together, stirring constantly to prevent the sugar from burning.  Once the butter has melted completely, add the beaten egg and continue to stir until the egg has thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat.  Add the graham cracker crumbs, chopped pistachios and coconut, stirring well to combine.  Press firmly into an ungreased 8x8 baking pan.  Set aside.

For the frosting, cream together the butter, heavy cream, pistachio pudding and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Spread over the first layer, making the top as smooth as possible.  Set to the side.

Rinse and dry your bowl from your double boiler, then place back over the pot of simmering water.  To make the chocolate topping, combine the semi-sweet chocolate and 2 tablespoons of butter in the double boiler and stir until melted.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes.  While the chocolate is still liquid, pour over the frosting and spread into a thin even layer across the top.  Cover with tin foil and place in the refrigerator to chill.  Once the chocolate has set, slice into bars and serve.  Bars will keep for 2 weeks (if you can leave them alone that long). 

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