Nanaimo Bars


I was first introduced to Nanaimo Bars by the boyfriend, who grew up in Ontario. He told me about this dessert that wasn’t quite like a bar, cookie or pretty much anything I’ve had before. At first, I didn’t really understand it. The first bite I had was a home-made version without the much needed ‘Birds Custard powder’ that you can get in virtually every market in Canada and the UK. So, it wasn’t until we moved to Vancouver that I understood the wonder that is the Nanaimo bar.

What’s not to love though, right? It’s a mix-a-mash of all your (mine?) favorite flavors: loads of chocolate (a must), graham crackers, coconut, sugar, butter, and walnuts (you can use almonds or pecans, I hear). See what I mean? And that’s just the bottom! In the middle, you have this wonderful buttery custard layer. It’s slightly yellow from the custard powder and mighty delicious. Finally, for the finish, a topping of semi-sweet chocolate ganache. Yes. Not much more needed to say about that.

Now what’s beyond me is why this hasn’t become a thing everywhere! It’s delicious, it’s not that hard to make, and you don’t even need to bake it. Why hasn’t this come down to the States? Why can’t I get one at my favorite coffee shop when I stop for coffee? Someone do something about this. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I’ll try to do something about it…

Give this a try. If you are a Nanaimo veteran or just hearing about this for the first time, you’re bound to enjoy this recipe.

PS. I hear that a normal variant of this is to add some peppermint extract and green food coloring to the middle layer. Don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here making round two to figure that out.


Recipe Adapted from Joy of Baking:

Bottom Layer:

  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 c (200 grams) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 c (65 grams) sweetened or unsweetened coconut (I used sweetened)
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) pecans, coarsely chopped — I prefer them a little bit more chopped so they mesh in nicer together

Middle Layer:

  • 1/2 c (56 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4-6 tbls milk or cream
  • 4 tbls (20 grams) vanilla custard powder (Bird’s) (You can use vanilla pudding powder if you can’t find Birds or other custard powders)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3-3/12 c
    (230 grams) powdered sugar

Top Layer:

  • 4 ounces (120 grams) semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter

Step One (the Bottom Layer)

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa powder. If the temperature of your mixture is low enough, you can add in the beaten egg directly to the pan. If the temperature is pretty hot and your egg is very cold, first temper the egg by adding a bit of the mixture directly to the beaten egg, and then put the egg mixture straight into the pan.

Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (should be about a minute or so). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of a greased 9 x 9 inch pan (I used a 9×13 inch pan which also worked well). Cover and refrigerate until firm.

Step Two (the Middle Layer)

In an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover, and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).

Step Three (the top layer)

Using small chopped pieces of chocolate, melt them together with the butter. You can do this in a double boiler (heatproof bowl, over a saucepan of simmering water) or in the microwave safe bowl at intervals of 20 seconds in the microwave. Be sure to stir between each interval.

Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or just until the chocolate has set. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares. Best enjoyed when throughly chilled.


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