British Columbia

New York Times Nanaimo bar flubs golden ratio, say experts (ahem, us)

An Instagram post from New York Times Cooking has raised the ire of some Canadians — particularly those on the West Coast — for depicting the Nanaimo bar incorrectly. Not since the great Canada Post stamp debate of 2019 have fans of the sweet treat been in such an uproar about the ratio of the dessert's layers.

Not just any combination of chocolatey coconut crust, yellow custard and chocolate topping will do

The New York Times Cooking Instagram account posted this picture, with the caption, 'Canadians, this one's for you.' (@nytcooking/Instagram)

An Instagram post from New York Times Cooking has raised the ire of some Canadians — particularly those on the West Coast — for depicting the Nanaimo bar incorrectly.

Commentators decried the imposter bar as having not enough custard, with one saying, "You left out the Nanaimo in your bar."

Steve Walker-Duncan, chair of the culinary arts program at Camosun College in Victoria, has to agree. 

"The ratio is kind of all wrong," said Walker-Duncan.

"The bottom base layer, the coconut chocolate, and the custard layer, should, in my mind, be more equal and the chocolate layer on the top should be very thin and delicate."

And it's not just an esthetic issue — it's a physics issue.

The classic Nanaimo bar ratio should have a base layer and a middle custard layer of almost equal thickness, and a very thin and delicate chocolate layer on top, says Steve Walker-Duncan, chair of the culinary arts program at Camosun College in Victoria. (Lauri Patterson/iStock)

"The thickness of the chocolate will impact the way it eats," Walker-Duncan said. "If it's too thick, it breaks and pushes the custard out and you end up with this mess. It's kind of like having a hamburger with a bun that's too small. You take one bite and everything falls out the back end."

The popular three-layer no-bake dessert, made up of chocolatey coconut crust, yellow custard and chocolate topping, is named after Nanaimo, B.C., where it was invented in the mid-1950s. 

The bars gained widespread popularity after Vancouver-based author and caterer Susan Mendelson published a recipe for the sweet treat in her 1980 cookbook, Mama Never Cooked Like This. 

"A woman who owned a cookbook store in Toronto, she sold over 1,000 cookbooks to people who just came in for the Nanaimo bar recipe," said Mendelson.

"It really just took off after that."

But fame has its price. 

In 2019, fans of the dessert bar were highly critical of a postage stamp issued by Canada Post depicting the Nanaimo bar with a larger than standard custard layer. 

Canada Post ended up issuing a statement saying it understood that there are some strong views on the layer proportions, but there are many variations of the bars across the country.

The Nanaimo bar was one of five Canadian desserts featured in a stamp set released by Canada Post. The massive custard layer pictured here was an immediate red flag for Nanaimo bar aficionados. (Canada Post)

Walker-Duncan says it's one of the great Canadian inventions and many people are appreciative and protective of the original.

He says it's wonderful when people experiment — and that's exactly how food has evolved over thousands of years — but the original stands on its own.

WATCH | NYT Instagram post on Nanaimo bar sparks patriotic uproar:

New York Times’ Nanaimo Bar sparks patriotic uproar

The National

1 month ago
2:08
A New York Times post of a Nanaimo Bar caused a patriotic uproar from Canadian dessert lovers saying the proportions on the three-layer sweet treat were wrong. 2:08

"I think at some point, with something as specific as the Nanaimo bar, you have to be honest about the actual delivery of the true product," he said.  "If you're going to do something different, you can call it a Nanaimo-esque bar, or in the style of a Nanaimo bar."

And while the New York Times Cooking Instagram post might look non-traditional, we should note it links to a recipe by Sara Bonisteel that is a fairly close adaptation of Susan Mendelson's own recipe. 

But if you're feeling a craving, don't worry, we've got you covered.

With files from BC Today

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