When we decided to spend some time in adorable, very British-y Victoria, British Columbia, naturally bakeries were on the agenda. Due to Victoria’s proximity to Nanaimo, we decided to pay homage to the Nanaimo bar (a no-bake bar with a coconut / chocolate crust, a buttery, custardy middle section and a stiff-but-not-hard chocolate topping which is said to have originated in the area), tasting several of the local varieties, which make up Part 1 of the Cakewalk in Victoria. But dare we say that one cannot live on Nanaimos alone? Well, they do say that variety is the spice of life, so we branched out to taste some of the other local bakeries; Part 2 reflects what else we spied during our all-too-brief stay in this charming coastal city.
Cakewalk in Victoria, Part 1: IN SEARCH OF NANAIMO PERFECTION
Disclaimer: At the below establishments, unless otherwise noted, we only tasted Nanaimo bars and cannot speak for the quality or taste of their other baked goods. In some cases the bars were made in-house and some were from wholesalers, but for this feature we focused more on where to buy the ones that tasted best!
Green Cuisine: Green Cuisine is a fairly unassuming café (in the bottom level of a shopping complex) featuring a full vegan menu. And while by all accounts the savories are quite good, we had a sweeter target in mind. The vegan "Not-Nanaimo" was good... but perhaps because it looked so much like the typical Nanaimo bar, we couldn't help but expect something else when we bit into it. We really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately, it just fell a little flat compared to its creamy, dreamy, dairy counterparts. (Grade: B-) 560 Johnson St., #5; online at greencuisine.com.
Market On Yates: This place made us nostalgic for the old Larry's Markets in Seattle; sort of granola-y and bearing a circa-1989 aesthetic. But more importantly, they had a fully stocked bakery case, and their Nanaimo bar held its own: a nice layer of custard between a hard (but not so hard it cracked) chocolate top layer and a chewy, soft crust on the bottom layer. We'd go back. (Grade: B) 903 Yates St.; online at marketonyates.com.
Olde Time Deli: Surprisingly, this touristy café with just-OK lunch items ended up having the best Nanaimo bar we tried. The custard was smooth, rich and creamy; the chocolate top layer was soft and fresh, and the bottom layer was a mix between crust and cake; chewy without crumbling apart when you bit into it. Heaven. (Grade: A) 1009 Government St.
The Nanaimo that Got Away:
Bond Bond Bakery: Oh, it looked good: upon looking inside we were taunted by the presence of a "Blonde Nanaimo" siren calling to us from beyond the darkened, closed doors...they're closed on Sundays. Sigh. If anyone has been here, please comment! (Grade: Incomplete) 1010 Blanshard St.
Cakewalk in Victoria, Part 2: THE BEST OF THE REST
No Nanaimos at these establishments, but plenty of other sweet treats!
Bubby Rose's Bakery: We cannot recommend this place highly enough. Everything we tried was fresh, comfortingly homemade, and wonderful: from the crusty-but-soft breads to perfect strawberry rhubarb tarts with a flaky, golden-buttery crust, to the beautiful cupcakes, we ended up wishing we were staying several more days in Victoria. Also note: although we didn't
get a chance to try them, ourselves, we hear their cinnamon rolls are the best in town! Two locations: 313 Cook St., Cook Street Village; we went to 1022 Cook St. (near Fort St.).
COBS Bread: This place looked suspiciously chain-y, but also very inviting with its fogged-up windows and yeasty, sugary smell on a cold day, so we went in for an iced pumpkin scone, which was hot, just-frosted, spicy and surprisingly good. Upon later review on the internet, we found that while it is a franchise chain, the scones' ingredients were pretty normal, and not chock-full of the nasty chemicals that some chains just love to use. And you know what? Chain or not, the scone was really good. 140A - 911 Yates St.
Murchie's Tea and Coffee, LTD: We were told before our trip that this place was touristy but good and likely to have a Nanaimo bar. Well, no nanaimos here but we were glad we went nonetheless: their scones and biscuits were amazingly rich and creamy, the perfect balance of sweet and savory; their slightly French-influenced tarts and cakes were drool-worthy. They have six locations throughout Canada; one of their two commercial kitchens is right in Victoria. 1110 Government St.; online at murchies.com.
Rhineland Bakery: This place looks old-school, and it is: they've been serving up sweets since 1956. We like to imagine that they taste similar now to how they did then. The cakes seemed to have crisco-type frosting, which is not necessarily bad (but it can be); but what we really went for here were the cookies, which were rich, crunchy and buttery. 730 Fort St.
This post owes much thanks to blogger buddy ReTorte for all of her great Victoria bakery recommendations and Nanaimo bar feedback!
Additionally, for those who are curious about a Nanaimo Bar recipe, it's readily available at the City of Nanaimo website: click here or see below!
NANAIMO BAR RECIPE
- ½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.