Twelve Days of Christmas: Five Golden Rings

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
Five Golden Rings!
Four Calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Okay so don’t hate me, but I had to skip the fourth day of Christmas… I’ll try to come back to it, I swear, but I just could not find something that I wanted to make for that theme… I had finally settled on calling bird sugar cookies, but can you believe that no one had a bird cookie cutter??? I got frustrated and decided to skip it for now.  I will introduce you to something fun I discovered while perusing Pinterest a few weeks ago: a pizza ring! This recipe is great because its easy, quick, and you can prepare it the night before and simply toss in the oven before serving.  So easy.  You can make it a variety of different ways, adding your own type of sauce, veggies, meats, cheeses, etc.  For my version, I used sweet basil marinara sauce, pesto, chopped spinach, chopped baby tomatoes, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.  I found this wonderful recipe at ducksinarow[dot]com.  You can chick on the link to see their variation of this recipe.

What you’ll need: 2 cans of Pillsbury crescent rolls, 1 jar of marinara sauce, spinach, shredded mozzarella cheese (plus more for topping), 1 tbsp of pesto, 1/2 cup of chopped baby tomatoes, pepperoni and parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 F Degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat with non stick cooking spray.  Lay out the crescent roll triangles on the baking sheet in the shape of a sun.  You will want to make 2 layers of this.  I cut a few of the triangle down since I found them a little big for my pan.

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Mix sauce, shredded cheese, pesto, and spinach in a medium bowl.  Spoon the sauce mixture onto the crescent roll sun in the shape of a circle.  Top with pepperoni and shredded cheese.

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Fold the crescent roll triangles over the middle of the sauce mixture and lightly press to the other side.  This will make your ring.

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Top with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese and bake for 20-23 minutes.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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I brought this in for a work potluck.   I prepared it the night before and then ran home to bake it about 40 minutes before the potluck.  It was a hit and my co-workers demolished it! If preparing ahead, just make sure to cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

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Happy baking!
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Three French Hens

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
Three french hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree

I have been insanely busy – there is just not enough time in the day for me to get everything done.  In fact, I don’t even have time to write this blog post, but I am doing so, because dammit I’m going to make time! I will finish this 12 days of Christmas even if it kills me (which, I mean, it won’t… sorry… I just felt like being dramatic).  So, questions I’m sure you’re dying to know the answers to: 1. Have I sent out my Christmas cards yet? No. But I will by Wednesday; 2. Have I finished Christmas shopping yet? No.  And I don’t want to talk about it; 3.  Have you wrapped any Christmas gifts yet? No.  Because I actually haven’t started Christmas shopping, meaning I have nothing to wrap; 4.  Have you finished your homework assignments yet? Noooooooooo.  And I am avoiding them like they are an infectious disease; 5. How’s your house looking? Dirty; 6. Is work driving you bonkers yet? Yes… when do my holidays start again??

Sheesh.  I’m tired.  I’ll be happy for this coming weekend when I can finish my baking, shopping, wrapping and cleaning.  I feel I just need a day off from my daily rustle and bustle to get myself organized.  Which brings me to this recipe… it comes with a bit of a story.  Let’s talk raw chicken.  Up until about a year ago, I could barely handle raw chicken without gagging.  I have the look, fell and smell, and I am INCREDIBLY paranoid about salmonella. So here’s what went down while trying to cook the three french hens themed recipe from my 12 days of Christmas blog post series:

Friday Night – I got home, poured myself a glass of wine, and pulled my thawed Cornish Hens out of my bag.  I had had a busy day at work, so I didn’t have much time to research how to cook cornish hens.  So, I got to work.  Remember that whole “can’t handle raw chicken or I will barf” thing?  Well once I realized that I would have to pull the chicken neck out of the body and chop part of it off, I almost had a heart attack… I started getting a little queezy, there was blood, I panicked, re-froze the hens, and ordered pizza.  I promised myself I would conquer the hens on Sunday.

Sunday – My company Christmas party was Saturday night… I spent. the day on the couch, watching movies and playing video games.  Dinner time came around and I needed grease and was no way ready to face the hens… I again, ordered pizza (please don’t judge me).

Monday Night – Okay hens, it’s on like donkey kong.  I threw together the glaze, covered the hens, and tossed in the oven.  I ignored the blood.  I made some fantastic roasted potatoes and a goats cheese and pear salad.  I meant to add some roasted pecans to the salad, but I burned them to a crisp – note: 350 F Degrees in the toaster oven is not the same as 350 F Degrees in a regular oven; well, at least not in mine.  I couldn’t save them.  The hens were done, potatoes roasted, and my belly was rumbling.  It looked really good.  In my panic, I pretty well dismembered one of the hens to make sure it was cooked.  It was.  While eating the hen, I noticed small amounts of red and pink near the bones – I called my boyfriend’s dad in a panic, asking him: 1. if I am going to live, and 2. If it’s normal?  He assured me that often game will have a little more vein around the bone and might be a little pink here and there.  As long as they juices ran clear, I should be fine.  Of course, I continued to panic – my boyfriend then began to panic.  The hens tasted REALLY good, but I couldn’t get over my fear, and after a few bites, I abandoned my hen, and moved on to my potatoes and salad –  my boyfriend made pogos.

Sooooo I don’t really know if this recipe turned out. The part of the bird that I actually ate was lovely… I really need to invest in a meat thermometer.  Anyway, the recipe is below.  Baking Fail.

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The pear and goat’s cheese salad is pretty easy – this version had spinach, chopped pears, walnuts, and goats cheese, but my favourite way is with roasted pecans and dried cranberries.  To roast your pecans, preheat the oven to 350 F Degrees and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  Don’t leave half way though and get distracted by a movie – keep an eye on them they can burn easily.  I top it with a light raspberry vinaigrette.

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The potatoes were very easy.  I tossed them in Kraft Sundried Tomato and Oregano salad dressing, a little EVOO, salt, pepper and garlic powder, and tossed in the oven.  I baked them for about 45 minutes at 400 F Degrees.

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Honey Spiced Cornish Hens

For the hens I first made the glaze. I combined 1/4 cup honey, 1/8 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 cup red wine, one whole star anise, and 1/2 cup whole black berries into a large skillet.  Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove the berries and star anise and let the glaze cool.  Brush the glaze on both sides of the hen and place on a foil lined baking sheet.  Bake at 400 F degrees for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer read 165 F.  Let the hen sit for 10 minutes before serving (I covered mine in foil).  One hen will serve two.  You can find a version of this recipe here.    

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The next recipe will be better… I promise.  I feel I need mom supervision when working with whole hens/chickens/turkeys/etc., so I will ensure that Ken’s mom is around the next time I decide to attempt this.  I hope everyone is a little more organized this holiday season than I am!! Ken and I had a blast at my company Christmas party this past Saturday night.

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On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
A partridge in a pear tree.

This year I decided to do something really fun for Christmas: I’m going to make 12 different recipes all following a “Twelve Days of Christmas” theme.  By now, I’m sure most of you have figured out that I am an absolute Christmas freak, and since I love everything food, I thought, why not do something super exciting that will allow me to make and try 12 different recipes!?  Over the next few weeks I will be posting a bunch of recipes/treats/etc, one for each verse in the Twelve Days of Christmas Song, until we get through each and every single one of them. The theme of today’s recipe is, of course, a partridge in a pear tree.  I found this recipe in the December issue of Woman’s Day Magazine.  For the pear, I made a cranberry poached pear, simmered with cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla bean  and a whole naval orange.  The partridge portion of this recipe is a partridge pie crisp, egg washed and sprinkles with white sugar.

To make the pears, first combine 6 cups of cranberry juice cocktail and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in a large saucepan or pot.  Simmer on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved into the juice. Next, add your spices; this recipe calls for two cinnamon sticks, one vanilla bean cut in half vertically, and two whole star anise.
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Peel 4 to 8 bosc pears and add them to the saucepan.  You will want to make sure your pears are quite firm as they will hold their shape much better when simmering.  Bosc pears work well when poached as they are a firmer pear to begin with, especially in the winter.

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Quarter a large naval orange and ass to sauce pan.  Simmer the mixture of medium-low heat (at a very gentle boil) for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pears can be easier pierced with a fork.  For best results, cover the sauce pan with a circle of parchment paper, cutting a small hole in the center in order to allow some of the heat to escape.

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While the pears are simmering, make a your pie crust.  I decided to use a homemade pie crust put you can just as easily purchase a pre-made one if you are pressed for time.  cut up one stick of butter (1/2 cup) into small cubes and freeze for at least 15 minutes.  Add 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter to the salt and flour mixture and pulse no more than 10 times.  Sprinkle 2 tbsp of ice water of the mixture (or more if needed… I used 3 tbsp) and process for no more than 20 to 30 seconds.  The dough should stick together when pinched.  Shape the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.  Don’t have a food processor?  Browneyedbaker.com explains how to do it here.  Once your dough is set, remove from fridge and let it sit for a few minutes in order to allow it to warm up a little bit.  Roll it out, and use this template to cut out your partridges.

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Cut out a partridge for every pear you are serving.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Brush each partridge with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Place a small black sprinkle on the head for it’s eye.  Bake at 375 F degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Once the pears are done, discard the orange and spices and remove from heat to allow the pears to come to room temperature.  Remove from the saucepan and place on a platter.  Return the liquid to a gentle soil and allow to simmer until reduced to 1 cup (about 45 minutes).  Spoon the syrup over the pears and serve with the partridge crisp and homemade whipped cream.

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Making homemade whipped cream is very simple! You have to excuse the pictures of the cream I made as my apartment was pretty steamy and I waited much too long to actually take the picture.  Place the bowl of a stand mixer in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Add 1 cup of cream, 1 tbsp. of sugar, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extra to the cold bowl.  Whip using the whisk attachment until medium peaks form, about 1 minute.  You may also use a hand mixer for this, but it will take more like 3 minutes for the peaks to form.

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Cranberry Poached Pears and Partridge Crisps

Ingredients

for the pears

  • 6 cups cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 naval orange, quartered
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 4 – 8 whole Bosc pears, peeled

for the partridge crisps

  • 1/2 cup of butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ice water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • granulated sugar for sprinkling
  • black sprinkles

for the whipped cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, combine 6 cups of cranberry juice cocktail and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  Heat and stir until sugar is combined.  Add 2 small cinnamon sticks, 2 whole star anise, 1 vanilla bean and naval orange.
  2. Add pears and cover with a circle of parchment paper.  Cut a small circle in the middle of the parchment paper cover in order to let some heat escape.  Allow the pears to poach in the cranberry liquid for 20 – 25 minutes on medium low heat (or until you can easily pierce with a fork.
  3. Remove the sauce pan from heat, discard the orange and spices, and allow the pears to come to room temperature.  Remove from the liquid and place on a platter.
  4. Return the liquid to the heat and simmer for approximately 45 minutes.  The liquid should be reduced to about 1 cup, and should be like a thick syrup.  Pour over poached pears to serve.
  5. Make the pie crust:  place butter in freezer for at least 15 minutes. Add flour and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter cubes and pulse no more than 10 times.  Sprinkle the ice water of the mixture and process for no more than 30 seconds.  Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  6.   Using this template, cut out a partridge shape for each pear.  Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Add a black sprinkle to the head for the eye.  Bake at 375 F degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
  7. Serve with whipped cream:  place the bowl of a stand mixer in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Remove from cold and add cream, vanilla and sugar.  Beat on medium speed until medium peaks form (about 1 minute)

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This recipe took me a while to complete… likely because I was in the midst of baking other Christmas treats while I was making it.  Note that you can prepare this in advance.  Refrigerate the pears in the cooking liquid for up to 2 days.  To serve, simply remove the pears from the liquid and place on a platter so that the pears may come to room temperature, then reduce the liquid as instructed above.  I have to say that this recipe was pictured in the magazine and it is MUCH pretty than mine… and the sauce is like, 3 shades darker.  But it tasted amazing! Anyways, happy baking!

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Chocolate Covered Oreo Cheesecake Balls

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So I have a secret, a guilty pleasure if you will, maybe even an obsession – with cheesecake.  I love cheesecake.  I think it is my favourite dessert ever, of all time.  Every time I order dessert at a restaurant, it’s cheesecake.  Always.  So when I discovered that I can roll cheesecake into a tiny bite sized ball and cover it in chocolate, I was sold.  Chocolate covered Oreo cheesecake balls.  So freaking amazing.  This recipe is incredibly easy, which is one of the reasons why I decided to add it to my list of recipes that I would be making this year.  I have a few more things on my Christmas baking bucket list that I want to make, but as anyone who bakes at Christmas knows, the easier the recipe the better,  especially if you’re making a lot of different items for a lot of different people.   photo 3

For this recipe, you will need a few simple ingredients:  one package of cream cheese, one package of Oreos, 2 cups of melted chocolate and 2 tbsp of shortening.  I always add shortening to my melted chocolate as it will make the chocolate thinner and more manageable when coating.

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This recipe is super simple: using a food processor, crush Oreos until finely ground.  If you don’t have a food processor, toss the Oreos in a large Ziploc bag and crush the cookies using a rolling pin.  
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Mix the crushed Oreos with the cream cheese (softened), and once combined, form the mixture into small balls, about 1/2 oz each.  Pop the Oreo cheesecake balls into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  Once the balls are hardened, toss them in the melted chocolate and shortening mixture, one by one, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Let cool for another 20 to 30 minutes.  I add red chocolate drizzle to coat the cheesecake balls in order to give them a little Christmas colour.

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Chocolate Covered Oreo Cheesecake Balls

Ingredients

1 (18-ounce) package Oreo cookies
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Directions

1. Crush the Oreos using a food processor, or by adding the Oreos to a Ziploc bag and crushing them using a rolling pin.

2. Using a spoon, press, mix and stir until the cream cheese is completely mixed into the Oreo crumbs and you have a soft, homogeneous mixture.

3. Roll the mixture into small 1/2 oz. balls (equal to about 2 tsp)  and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4.  Using a double boiler (or microwave, or heat safe bowl atop a pot)  melt chocolate and shortening together.  Place the cooled cheesecake Oreo balls into the melted chocolate, one at a time, until fully coated.  Use a fork to lift the balls from the mixture, tapping against the side of your bowl to remove excess chocolate.  Place back on baking sheet and cool in the refrigerated until the chocolate has hardened (10 to 15 minutes).

Told you it was simple! Try them – they are amazing.  Everyone loves cheesecake, right?  So it’s pretty well a must make.  Happy Baking!

Santa’s Favourite Peanut Butter Balls

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I am a pretty big peanut butter person.  Anything that includes peanut butter is at the top of my sweet tooth list, especially if it’s paired with chocolate.  Let’s face it… anything that is paired with chocolate tastes better, so naturally, chocolate covered peanut butter balls made my baking bucket list this year.  I like peanut butter balls because they are super easy to make, they are no bake, meaning that I can cook or bake other things while the balls are setting, and they require very few ingredients which means less shopping time for me.  Oh, and of course they taste freaking phenomenal, and I have it on good authority that Santa LOVES peanut butter balls… so bake lots for him this year! Sometimes I like adding crushed pretzel bits to my peanut butter balls, it gives the right amount of sweet and salty, but for now I have just made your basic, run of the mill peanut butter balls, decorated with a little white chocolate drizzle just to add a little extra something for jolly old Saint Nick!

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You will need a few, simple ingredients: peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, icing sugar, chocolate chips and shortening.

Mix the peanut butter, butter and brown sugar together.  Once combined, gradually add the icing sugar until completely combined.  I used my stand mixer to combine all the ingredients, but I have used my hands in the past (I find a hand mixer makes too much of a mess… just use a really deep bowl if you’ve got one).  Roll the mixture into 1 oz balls.  I usually get about 42 balls if I measure each out to exactly one ounce.  Place the balls on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate until the balls are firm (30 – 60 minutes).

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Using a double boiler (or a microwave, or a heat safe bowl on top of a pot like I do) melt the chocolate and shortening.  The shortening makes the chocolate a little more “liquidy” and  easier to coat.  You may omit the shortening, just be prepared to melt more chocolate; your balls will have a thicker chocolate layer if you don’t use shortening.  Dip each peanut butter ball into the chocolate.  I use a fork to remove from the melted chocolate to help remove any excess chocolate from the ball.  Place each ball on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate until set (again 30 – 60 minutes).  And you’re done! For extra decoration, melt some coloured chocolate (or melt white chocolate and colour it with candy colouring) and using fork, scoop up some of the chocolate and quickly whisk your fork back and forth over the balls to add a few lines of colour.  I like using red, green or white, or a combination thereof.

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Peanut Butter Balls

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 16 oz chocolate chips, melted
  • 2 tbsp shortening

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine peanut butter, butter and brown sugar.  Gradually add icing sugar until completely combines and no sugar streaks appear.
  2. Roll the peanut butter mixture into 1 oz balls and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes, or until balls are hard.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler.  Dip each ball into the chocolate and remove using a fork to help remove excess chocolate.  Place on a wax sheet and refrigerate until set.

Keep these balls refrigerated as they may melt if they get too warm.  These balls freeze well.  Store in airtight container or ziplock bag in the freezer for 3 to 6 months (although…I have friends who often store their stuff up to year and have had no problems).  Happy baking!

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Nanaimo Bars with Ganache Topping

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I said it once, I’ll say it again.  Christmas is not Christmas without Nanaimo bars? I absolutely love these little custard centered dessert bars; they are probably one of my favourite desserts around Christmas time.  Each layer is like a fun new adventure. The bottom is a chocolaty graham cracker crust like layer loaded with coconuts and your favourite nut.  The middle layer is a buttercream-like custard center and the bar is finished off with a fantastic hard chocolaty top layer.  So. Freaking. Good.  Now, I must say I do have a bone to pick with Nanaimo bars.  I absolutely hate when I bite into one of these tiny dessert bars of awesome, and the hard chocolate top layer pushes down on the custard center, which then proceeds to gush out from all side, all over my hands, plate, clothes, etc.  It leaves for a very messy treat and a very sticky Kelsey.  Last year I made these Nanaimo bars, and they were great (oh how my blogging has changed since then…wow!), but I just did not like how hard the top layer was.  So I brain stormed, and I thought, what can I do to the top layer to make it softer?  That when I remembered my absolute LOVE for chocolate ganache and thought, I’m sure these would be just great with a chocolate ganache topping!

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There are a lot of different variations of the original Nanaimo recipe.  I used a recipe that varied slightly from the original in terms of measurements;  I found it at warmvanillasugar[dot]com.  This recipe uses brown sugar rather than white sugar in the bottom layer4, less cocoa and more graham crackers, and walnuts instead of almonds (loved this substitution).  Instead of the usual 1/2 cup butter and 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp of cream, this recipe calls for 1/4 cup of butter and a full half cup of cream.  I then topped everything off with a basic ganache topping, but adding a small amount of icing sugar to sweeten it up even more.

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For the ganache topping I halved a recipe meant to cover a 13 x 9 inch pan that I used for my Cheesecake Bars last Christmas.  I used 4 oz of heavy whipping cream, 4 oz of chocolate, 1 oz of butter and 1/8 cup of icing sugar to fill the 8 x 8 inch top layer.

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Nanaimo Bars with Chocolate Ganache Topping

makes enough for an 8 x 8 inch pan (approximately 25 squares total)

Ingredients

for the crust

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

for the custard buttercream center 

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons custard powder

for the chocolate ganache top

  • 4 oz. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 oz. butter
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/8 cup confectioners’ sugar

Baking Directions

  1. Make the crust:  Melt the butter, brown sugar and cocoa in a pot or double boiler.
  2. Beat the egg and quickly whisk it into the chocolate mixture.
  3. Add the graham crackers, coconut and walnut and press into a 8 x 8 ungreased pan that has been lined with parchment.  Chill in refrigerator for at least a half hour.
  4. Make the custard buttercream center:  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the powdered sugar, butter and custard powder.
  5. Slowly add the cream and beat until light and fluffy.
  6. Spread the cream layer evenly over the crust and refrigerate for another half hour.
  7. Prepare ganache.  Heat cream and butter on stove until just before boiling.
  8. Remove from stove and pour over chocolate.  Stir until completely combined.
  9. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat with a wire whisk until combined and smooth.  Pour over middle custard layer, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Nanaimo (1) The bars turned out really well… much better than last years and I did a much better job at making nice even layers.  I really hope you enjoy this recipe – try the chocolate ganache top, it’s heaven.  Happy Baking!!!