That thing Canadians call Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars 1

We all have off days; days when no matter how hard we try we just can’t seem to hit the mark.

These Nanaimo Bars were made on a day full of baking blunders. In fact, I had almost forgotten about them thanks to my disappointment with the outcome of the other recipes I tried. I had finished adding the second layer and popped the baking tin into the fridge way before my mood was soured by the rest of my baking attempts.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I remembered my unfinished Nanaimo Bars were sitting in there. I laid in bed debating whether I should put the last touches, but the practical side of me took over. The first two layers were set, so I might as well add the chocolate topping. It took less than 3 minutes to do so.

At the end of the day, when I came back home from work, I sliced into this dessert. Despite myself, I was fully prepared to be disappointed again, the memories of the failed recipes still fresh in my mind. But I sliced them into squares ever so carefully, maybe at the same time wishing subconsciously for a miracle.

The first thing I noticed was how pretty the layers were in their symmetry; even striking in their contrast against each other. That was what initially drew me to this dessert after all.

And then I allowed myself a little taste and a light bulb clicked on in my brain.

These Nanaimo Bars are decadently buttery with a chewy texture in every bite. The bottom graham crumb-based layer with the shredded coconut and chopped nuts provided a crunch, plus a chocolatey sweetness I really enjoy.

The centre is a buttery custard icing of sorts. I’m not sure what else to call it since the ingredients used here are literally what one would use for icing. All of that is topped with a layer of smooth and shiny chocolate glaze.

The custard powder I used for the icing is the Bird’s brand. This might not be easily accessible in Manila since I bought myself this can while I was in the States. This is one of those rare ingredients I have great plans for. These Nanaimo Bars are just the first.

The best part is that these bars are no bake. You do have to make the bottom layer over the stovetop but that’s about the hardest thing these bars will make you for, and yet eating them is an indulgent reward. The layers may look like they’re standing proudly on their own, but eaten together they just mesh.

Likely by now you are wondering, why on earth is it called a Nanaimo Bar? These confections are named after lovely harbour city Nanaimo in British Columbia, Canada. I’ve never heard of that place until I learned about these bars, which just goes to show baking and cookery isn’t limited to learnings in the kitchen!

Apparently this treat is one of Canada’s cult favourites. Having never been to Canada, you can consider me a curious cat. I’m not sure yet when I’ll ever get to visit there, but for now I’ll have to settle myself with homemade Nanaimo Bars. At least I’ll have a point of comparison with the real thing now. 😉

Nanaimo Bars
This Canadian treat is like three types of desserts in one: a graham-based choco-coconut crust, a custard icing filling, plus chocolate on top.

Makes one 9-x-9-inch pan
For the Graham Cracker Crust
  1. ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, diced into pieces
  2. ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
  3. 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  4. 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  5. 1-½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  6. 1-¾ cups graham cracker crumbs
  7. 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  8. ½ cup finely chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, or walnuts)
For the Custard Filling
  1. ⅓ cup salted butter, softened
  2. ¼ cup heavy cream
  3. 2 Tablespoons custard powder (or vanilla instant pudding mix)
  4. 2 cups powdered sugar
For the Chocolate Layer
  1. 115 grams (4 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  2. 2 Tablespoons salted butter
Make the crust
  1. 1. Grease a 9-x-9-inch pan, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray.
  2. 2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Remove from heat briefly, then add in brown sugar and cocoa powder. Whisk until well combined.
  3. 3. While whisking vigorously, slowly pour in beaten egg. Return mixture to heat and cook for about 2 minutes, until mixture has thickened. Off the heat and stir in vanilla.
  4. 4. Add in graham cracker crumbs, shredded coconut, and nuts. Toss until mixture is evenly coated by the liquid.
  5. 5. Press mixture into prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in freezer for 20 minutes (or refrigerate for 40 minutes).
Make the filling
  1. 6. In a mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium speed, whip together butter, heavy cream, and custard powder until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  2. 7. Stir in powdered sugar and blend until mixture turns from dry, to smooth and creamy, about 1 minute or so. Spread mixture into an even layer over chilled graham cracker base. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes (or refrigerate for 30 minutes).
Make the chocolate layer
  1. 8. Melt chocolate along with butter in a heat proof bowl, set over a pot of simmering water.
  2. 9. Spread the chocolate into a smooth even layer over custard filling. Being careful not to touch the chocolate layer, cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes until chocolate has set. Cut into squares and serve cool. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.
Adapted from Cooking Classy blog
The Tummy Train


  1. Glad you liked them! Growing up on the west coast of Canada, and being very familiar with the town of Nanaimo, I had no idea that this dessert wasn’t available everywhere! When I was a kid, the filling was always green, with a hint of mint. I don’t see that too much now.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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