Nanaimo Bars


I told myself I wasn’t going to do this…

I’m only in Canada temporarily, so I didn’t want to make any recipes that were specific to this region, but my good friend insisted that I make these infamous Nanaimo Bars and share them on my blog. She handed me her grandmother’s recipe, and well… I couldn’t resist.

Nanaimo Bars

I had heard of these Nanaimo Bars, but didn’t really know what they were and certainly had never tasted them before.

So what are they??

They are  a triple layer, NO BAKE, {insanely rich} dessert that is named after a city (Nanaimo) in British Columbia, Canada.

The first layer is a chocolatey mixture filled with graham cracker crumbs, sweetened coconut flakes, and chopped walnuts.

I personally find these Nanaimo Bars to be a tad labor intensive, but totally worth it.

You’ll find yourself using the double boiler method twice. Once while making the “crust layer” and again when making the chocolate ganache that tops this decadent treat.

It’s important to use the double boiler method for the crust because you’re adding an egg, and you’ll need to cook it over the indirect heat in order to make sure you’re not consuming any raw eggs.

Nanaimo Bar Crust

Once the chocolate mixture has thickened over the double boiler, you’ll add the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and chopped walnuts.

Try these variations to the crust: 

Instead of graham cracker crumbs try Nilla wafer crumbs.
Toasted coconut instead of raw coconut.
Substitute any chopped nut for the walnuts.

Nanaimo Bar layers

Press the chocolate mixture into a lined 8″x8″ pan and place in the fridge to chill while you make the middle vanilla custard layer.

This middle layer is like a vanilla custard and buttercream icing combination. The recipe calls for a “custard powder” which I had never heard of before, but sure enough, found it in the baking isle of my Canadian grocery store. It might not be available in the US, but I have read that using a vanilla pudding mix in place will yield similar results.

{You could also order yourself some vanilla custard powder on Amazon here.}

Once the top chocolate ganache layer has been added, you will chill it again in your fridge until it’s set.

Nanaimo Bars

Overall, it’s not a difficult recipe to make, but it does take some time.

It’s a deeply rich dessert, that I would recommend cutting into much smaller squares then I did… I could barely make it through one bar. But I pushed myself to the edge.

What can I say… it’s all in the name of research, right?! 😉

Nanaimo Bars

So if you’ve never had yourself a Nanaimo Bar, you should definitely try it at least once.

Give yourself a little Canadian culture.

Nanaimo Bars
Crust Layer:
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
Middle Layer
Top Layer:
  • 4 oz semi sweet chocolate squares
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
For the Crust:
  1. Line an 8"x8" square pan with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. Prepare a double boiler by bringing about two inches of water to a boil in a medium size pot. Combine the ½ cup butter, 5 tbsp cocoa powder, ½ cup sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla in a metal or glass heat proof bowl. Place the bowl on top of the pot of boiling water, make sure the water does not touch the bowl, then whisk the chocolate mixture until smooth and melted.
  3. Add the egg, and whisk until combined. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the chocolate mixture thickens to the texture of hot fudge sauce.
  4. Remove from heat and add the graham cracker crumbs, coconut flakes, and chopped walnuts. Stir till combined, then press evenly into the prepared 8x8 pan. Chill in fridge while you prepare the middle layer.
For the Middle Layer:
  1. Add ½ cup butter, heavy cream, and custard powder to the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until light and fluffy. (it will curdle at first, and be a bright yellow, just keep mixing until it gets fluffy and lighter in color.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, in 1 cup increments, beating in between, until light and fluffy.
  3. Spread on top of the crust layer. Place in fridge to chill while you prepare the top layer.
For the top layer:
  1. Prepare the double boiler again, and place the chocolate squares, butter and heavy cream in a heat proof bowl (I just washed out the bowl I used for the crust layer and used that one again). Whisk until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool on counter for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Pour on top of the bars, and smooth out. Chill in fridge for at least 15-20 minutes to let the chocolate set.
  3. Remove bars from pan and cut into small squares. Store in fridge.
  4. Enjoy!


  1. I’ve had nanaimo bars and love them! Yours look amazing and totally worth the hard work!

  2. TrishInFL says:

    These look awesome! How do you pronounce Nanaimo?

  3. These look insanely good!!

  4. I am Canadian. Nanaimo bars are almost always served at weddings and church activites. It’s just part of our culture, that being said, most everyone picks them up at Costco. People don’t make them from scratch. Glad that I finally found a recipe for them. (Although I have never heard of custard powder either. Hope I can find it at the grocery store.) Thanks for posting your recipe.

    • You can order the Byrds custard in small canisters from Amazon

    • I have been making Nanaimo Bars for years and yes I live in Canada……Harry Hornes Custard powder or Birds Custard Powder works great…

    • I disagree that everyone buys them. I have yet to taste bought ones that taste good. In fact they’re downright gross. Homemade is all we do and most I’ve ever tasted are homemade.

  5. I am a transplanted Canadian living outside Austin,TX. Nanaimo Bars are really popular but virtually unheard of in the South. They freeze unbelievably well so make for great Christmas baking. Many people will flavor the custard layer and tint it to match. Mint, orange, spearmint etc. Most Canadian grocery store bakeries carry them and frequently in different flavours. I have found custard powder in the international section of many US grocery stores.

  6. Shawn: these nanaimo bars look AMAZING!!! I so wish I could sink my teeth in several of them.

  7. Hey! My name is Savanna and I love your blog! These bars look so delicate, creamy and rich, a sure fire way to have a great dessert! I just discovered your blog and I love it! Thanks for running such a great site!

  8. Welcome to Canada!
    We make our Nanaimo (pronounced nah-nigh-moe) bars from scratch, but you can buy them at large grocery stores pretty much anywher in Canada. And in all different flavours for the custard layer. Although I prefer the classic Nanaimo bars. There are also reverse Nanaimo bar recipes with a chocolate-flavoured custard centre and white icing.

    Butter tarts are Canadian!! Many people like them plain. Others like walnuts or raisins in their butter tarts. Another popular square is date squares, which are called date squares in eastern Canada and used to be called matrimonial bars in western Canada (I think because they were served at bridal showers and wedding teas). Blueberry pies are popular in eastern Canada while Saskatoon berry pies are popular in the prairie provinces. Bakeapples are popular berries in Newfoundland.

    I wish you a wonderful and tasty time experimenting with Canadian baking recipes. LOL

  9. I’ve never heard of these bars, but they certainly sound fabulous!

  10. I grew up eating Nanaimo bars and they are one of my all-time favorite desserts. Every time I go back to Vancouver and Victoria to visit family, I ALWAYS have to pick up some Nanaimo bars. Yours look perfect, Shawn!

  11. This is basically the same recipe that I have….but I find it way easier to use the microwave for the top and bottom layers(using middle power instead of high power)…..
    I love these bars!!

  12. That would be Bird’s Custard for the vanilla custard powder. No, pudding is not the same. Neither are the store-bought ones. And the several recipes I’ve seen before have never had cream in the chocolate topping. I may have to give that a try this year. It never really feels like Christmas season until I’ve made Nanaimo bars and shortbread cookies. And these puppies really are rich.

    • Hi Lorena, I like the cream in the topping because it’s more of a rich ganache and it’s slightly softer than just straight chocolate. I’m excited to share a variation of this decadent dessert with you guys in early December! 😉 Perfect for the holiday season! :)

  13. I make these often too…..very similar recipe – love it with the coconut bottom! Birds Eye Custard powder – a staple that lasts FOREVER and it gives the center a delicious taste. I sometimes cheat and make a double center recipe, as that’s the best part (and my dish is a bit bigger than called for – the more the merrier)…lol. Make them often here, as a matter of fact….this looks so scrumptious that my daughter (who loves to bake all the time) is about to make them shortly!

  14. I find custard powder at Cost Plus here in AZ, Can’t wait to try these, just found you today

  15. Cheryl Atwood says:

    Shawn – I am Elder Atwood’s mom. I made these for his homecoming and they were wonderful. We couldn’t find the vanilla custard powder so I used about 1/2 a small package of French Vanilla pudding plus a teaspoon of vanilla. It worked just fine and Cody said they tasted legit. Thanks for sharing this recipe and for being so kind to my son.

  16. You can find custard powder in the US, import stores, World Market and most Indian grocery stores carry it.

  17. Alyssa Sorenson says:

    This is very similar to a recipe my family calls prayer bars -we usually make as part of out Christmas candy “baking” – we use vanilla pudding in the middle layer :-)

  18. wendyworldly says:

    I’m a 62 yr old Canadian woman who’s made many Nanaimo bars and these are amazing!!! There isn’t any need to use a double boiler either for the custard or the top layer. For the custard, just put it all on low heat and stir til it thickens up. For the top layer, melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave on med low until the chocolate is mostly melted, then stir. Perfect!

  19. wendyworldly says:

    I have just made these for the second time. I took the first batch to my hairdressers yesterday and as always they were a huge hit with everyone. I compared my usual recipe with yours and found mine called for less sugar (1/4 cup) in the base and more (2 cups) crushed biscuits (which is probably why I was having problems with the base crumbling, also as I live in Oz, we can’t get graham wafer crumbs so I have been experimenting with different biscuits, this time I is digestives which seems to work well). I did cut the sugar down. I was inspired when I reached into the fridge when I noticed the carton of eggnog to use that instead of the cream in the middle layer. Judging from licking the beaters these are going to be extra good! Why didn’t I think of this before???

Speak Your Mind