The history of the Nanaimo bars, a legendary dessert in Canada, may be lost amid chocolate, sugar and butter. Plus, a recipe for Nanaimo bars.

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This is the story of a legendary food. And as with all legendary foods, there are tall tales, controversies and — at least with Nanaimo bars — the discreet mention of sex.

The layered cookies get their name from a town called Nanaimo — say nuh-NIGH-moe — on Vancouver Island, a bay away from Olympics 2010. They are a sweet pleasure with a base of crushed graham crackers, nuts and coconut topped with a buttery middle layer, then finished with glossy semisweet chocolate.

There are variations on this theme, of course. Some recipes use Bird’s Custard Powder in the filling, others peanut butter.

By most accounts, the recipe traces its roots to the church ladies of Nanaimo. Some say the treats were originally called Mabel bars. The biggest dispute? That the bars really were created thousands of miles away and are called “New York Slices.”

For insight we tracked down a University of Victoria English professor and fifth-generation Nanaimo native named Kim Blank. When he wasn’t writing about Wordsworth and Shelley, Blank wrote the humor book “Sex, Life Itself and the Original Nanaimo Bar Recipe.”

“Nanaimo bars always have been famous around here as having mythological origins,” he told us. “However, no one has been able to claim to have found the origins of the recipe, except my dear old mum.” Mum it turns out, had a beat-up recipe book from the Women’s Association at Brechin Church dating to the early 1950s. “As far as I was concerned, being a literary scholar, now I had textual evidence.”

He also stuck the recipe in the back of his “Sex” book. “How could you go wrong with sex and food?”

Can’t argue with that.


Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 12 minutes

Chill: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Makes: 48 bars

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1-1/3 cups butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons unmelted

2/3 cup cocoa

½ cup granulated sugar

3 cups graham cracker crumbs

2 cups shredded coconut

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

¼ cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13-by-9-inch cake pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving 1-inch extending over long edges; set aside. Whisk together eggs, 1 cup of the melted butter, cocoa and sugar in large bowl; stir in crumbs, coconut and walnuts. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

2. Stir together remaining 1/3 cup of the melted butter, milk and vanilla in medium bowl; beat in confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Spread evenly over cooled base. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

3. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl with remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter. Heat 1 minute; stir. Heat 30 seconds; stir until melted and smooth. Spread evenly over filling. Score the surface into serving size pieces. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Use parchment paper to lift bars from pan; peel off paper. Cut into bars.

Canadian Living magazine has run numerous recipes for these bars, including this basic version.

Nutrition information per bar: 184 calories, 50 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 47 mg sodium, 1 g fiber