Thursday, December 20, 2012

VegaNanaimo bars

What do you get when you make a rich, dense, nutty base with a soft, airy, ultra sweet whipped (vegan) butter (vegan) cream layer, and top it with a crackling thin layer of dark chocolate?  Probably one of the only good things to come from one of my many past trainwrecks relationships; otherwise known as Nanaimo bars, named after the island of Nanaimo off of Vancouver, B.C. where said ex was from.  So, relationships may come and go, but my appreciation for the New Pornographers, Godspeed you Black Emperor, and obscure desserts even many Canadians have never heard stick around.

What with the holiday season in full swing, one is expected to make cookies, cookies, and more cookies!  One of the better annual parties we have is called "The Cookie Party," which is actually an underground warehouse rave that goes til dawn (plus uhm, a party featuring a mountain of like over 90 different types of homemade cookies such as ghost-pepper ginger snaps to tandoori curry cookies and well.. Nanaimo bars). 

From Cookie Party 2011: Not pictured: cookies.  Pictured: sassy erstwhile vegan food blogger Mary and her awesomer, sassier hair stylist, Joolie

 Anyway, on to the recipe...

VegaNanaimo Bars(say that 6 times, quickly)

Bottom Layer:
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance (1/3 c oil + 1T water should work)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa (I use Valrhona)
  • 2 T chia gel 
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup walnuts

Second Layer:

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance (room temp)
  • 2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1-4 tablespoon non-dairy (I used Whole Foods unsweetened soy) 


  • 4 ounces dark (70%+) chocolate
  • 2 tablespoon Earth Balance or coconut oil
Prep an 8x8 dish by layering it with parchment paper. 

Bottom layer: Put the walnuts into a food processer bowl and corsely chop, add the remaining ingredients for the bottom layer, except the butter and pulse a couple of times until the ingredients are evenly mixed.  Melt the earth balance and pour into the bowl, pulse until the mix reaches the desired consistency.  I like mine to be dense and cohesive, relatively homogenous, but some people like the elements to be more distinct. Press evenly into 8x8 pan and let cool in the freezer as you prep the second layer.

Second layer: Cream the earth balance, confectioners' sugar, corn starch, and vanilla in a standing bowl mixture fitted with the whisk attachment. Add  a tablespoon of mylk and beat until light and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Spread on top of bottom layer. Place this in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Topping: Melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over hot water. Mix well and spread on top. Chill in refrigerator.

Finished product should look something like this.  When you are ready to cut them up, you want a sharp knife in a vase of hot water to cut through the chocolate with minimum cracking (cracking will likely happen anyway, though). 

 Lift the entire square out of the tray and flatten the parchment, placing the bar on a cutting board.  Remove the knife from the hot water and evenly start to cut squares out into the desired size. I tend to make roughly 1x1 inch squares, as these bars are riiiiiich!  Make sure to rewarm the knife as needed.

Plate up and share as desired... or take all of them and seclude your self in a blanket fort, growling at anything that passes by.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Ninja Stars!

OK, OK, not stars, but diamonds (that you can shape into ninja stars of [coronary] DETH!),  Who doesn't love chocolate peanut butter bars?  Who doesn't love that crumbly filling in Reeses peanut butter cups? You know what I'm talking about, the sugar substance spackled together with cheap peanut product and wax. Yeah, guilty as charged. So, obviously as soon as I saw this recipe in one of my new cookbook's, it jumped to the top of my 'To make' queue, with butter as the only dairy product, it was pretty easy to veganize.  

The end product was everything I hoped for, including the not-too-sweet crumbly peanut butter filling reminiscent of my childhood (into adulthood) favorite, Reeses PB cups, but now with a high quality dark chocolate topping and cookie bottom, topped with a dash of pink Hawaiian salt to give it a touch of sophistication.  Anyway, I do digress... Onto the recipe

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars
Yields 24 bars 

2.5 cups (9.5 ounces) chocolate cookie crumbs*
8 T (4 ounces, 1 stick) butter substitute, melted

2 1/2 cups (19.5 ounces) smooth natural peanut butter
1 1/4 cups (3.5 ounces) graham cracker crumbs
1 1/4 cups (3.5 ounces) finely ground puffed rice cereal*
1/2 cup (3.9 ounces) packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon (.2 ounces) kosher salt
8 T (4 ounces, 1 stick ) butter substitute at room temperature

6 ounces 70% dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tablespoon (1 ounces) coconut oil or butter substitute 

Artisan salt, such as sel de guerande, pink Hawaiian, black salt, etc. 

You can use any sort of chocolate cookie you like, I used Newman's Own chocolate alphabet cookies pulverized in my food processor.  Pulverize the puffed rice cereal in a similar manner. You can also use vanilla cookies, corn flakes, or a blend of other crispy products for this. 

For the crust...  Line a 9x13 pyrex pan with aluminum foil, then grease with the wrapper of the butter substitute.  Mix the crumbs and melted butter substitute together until it resembles wet sand. Press the mixture into the pan using your palms to flatten and spread until you have a uniform pressed crust.  Chill in the fridge, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.

For the filling... Combine the peanut butter, butter sub, sugar, and salt together into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix on high until well combined, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined. Remove the crust from the fridge and using your palms, spread the peanut butter mixture around evenly on top.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, uncovered. 

For the topping... Melt the chocolate with the oil in a double boiler set over simmering water, about  6 minutes, stirring with a rubber spatula to combine.   When the chocolate is melted and smooth, pour atop the bars and spread quickly into a think layer, careful not to scrape against the bottom, The faster you work the better, as the chocolate will start to seize atop the cooled base.  Return the pan to the fridge. 

Finishing... . After the bars have fully set (about 6 hours), prepare a hot water bath for a knife (a vegetable cleaver or a 7" santouku work well). While the knife is soaking in hot water, take the bars out of the fridge and lift them out of the pan in the foil and place onto a flat cutting surface. Use the hot knife to press down first in straight columns, then once more on diagonals to get that diamond shape, as illustrated below. 

If you would prefer squares, feel free to cut straight down rather than diagonal.   If you desire, a sprinkle of a fine salt really adds a nice touch to them.