Isn’t it crazy to think Christmas is this week? I’m not usually one to jump on the holiday excitement, and I seem to be growing more and more disinterested each year, as the holiday sales pop up and the malls become packed with frenzied consumers looking to spend past their limits on gifts their recipients probably don’t need. I have such an aversion to Christmas mall music and sales that I tend to avoid retailers until well past January 1st.
I’d like to think I’ve reached a higher level of existence where I no longer feel the need to be part of the Christmas marketing scheme, but the truth is I still feel the pressure. I’m not saying I don’t love giving gifts to those I love. Instead, I prefer to go the homemade route. This year, however, I chose to purchase gifts from a local not-for-profit group to go along with my homemade packages of chocolate-dipped ginger cookies.
Chocosol is a small but innovative initiative that links cocao farmers in southern Mexico with ecological and socially conscious producers in southern Ontario to make beautiful artisanal chocolate in its purest form—true whole food treats without the fillers. Chocosol is embarking on a friendlier trade route that goes beyond the fair-trade model, defining it as a horizontal trading relationship akin to community-supported agriculture. And, of course, everyone loves chocolate, right? I’m excited to tell my family members the story of how their chocolate gifts came to be.
One aspect of Christmas that keeps me sane is the excuse to bake with my favourite winter spices, break out the traditional recipes (veganized, of course) and try new desserts that are just too decadent for any other day. These Nanaimo bars definitely fall into the latter category. Once I took a bite of one of these babies, I realized that Christmas really isn’t all that bad.
The Nanaimo bar, a popular no-bake dessert that originated in Nanaimo, BC, is typically made with butter, eggs and honey graham cracker crumbs. While the butter and eggs are quite easy to substitute, I chose to make my own cinnamon graham cookies to use for crumbs in the bottom layer and it worked out perfectly.
If you’ve made these bars before, you’ve probably experienced the difficulty in cutting them into squares without breaking the chocolate topping. I almost cried on my first attempt, as I carefully punctured the chocolate with a sharp knife only to watch the chocolate continue to crack in misdirected ways through the beautiful bars that I carefully put together. On my second attempt, however, I discovered that placing a sharp serrated knife in a jar of hot water for several minutes helps lessen the impact. Using light, sawing motions with the knife on the horizontal also helps. Enjoy!
Cinnamon graham crackers:
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup unbleached AP flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp nondairy milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp sunflower or canola oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp molasses
- 2 tbsp pure agave nectar
- 1/2 cup vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
- 1/4 cup organic cane sugar
- 5 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1 tbsp ground flax + 2 tbsp warm water
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup vegan butter
- 2 tbsp nondairy milk (I use coconut)
- 1 tbsp arrowroot
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
- 2 cups vegan powdered sugar
- 4 oz. dark chocolate
- 2 tbsp vegan butter
Graham cracker crumbs:
- In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the nondairy milk, oil, molasses and agave nectar.
- Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir to combine.
- In between two pieces of parchment paper, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a cookie pan lined with parchment paper (no need to cut them into squares since you'll be processing them into crumbs after baking). Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Put the cookies in a food processor and process into crumbs. This should make about 1 1/2 cups, enough for the Nanaimo bar bottom layer.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the vegan butter and sugar and cook over low heat until melted. Add the cocoa and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat.
- In a food processor, process the almonds to a fine meal. Add the flax mixture, cookie crumbs and coconut flakes and pulse to combine.
- Add the chocolate sauce to the dry ingredients in the food processor and process until thoroughly combined.
- Press the mixture into the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch square pan. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the vegan butter until light and fluffy.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the nondairy milk, arrowroot, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds. Add the mixture to the butter and beat until well combined.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
- Spread the mixture evenly over top of the bottom layer using an offset spatula and place in the freezer until firm, about one hour.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat and then stir in the vegan butter. Remove from heat.
- Remove the pan from the freezer and then sit for about 10 minutes. Then spread the chocolate evenly over the top using an offset spatula. Work quickly or else the chocolate will start to harden. Place the pan in the freezer for at least an hour to set. See above for tips on cutting the squares without breaking the chocolate.