From the coconutty base to the creamy custard filling and silky chocolate ganache on top, Nanaimo bars are about as dreamy as Canadian desserts get.
If you’ve never tried them before, take this as your sign to make a batch!
Named after the popular port city on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo bars were initially sold on British Columbia ferries.
They’re recognizable by their three distinct layers of yum. Though recently, you can find them in all sorts of fun flavors and colors!
I’ve had mint, strawberry, pistachio, raspberry, and even pumpkin.
They’re no-bake, quick to whip up, and always hit.
What Are Nanaimo Bars?
Nanaimo bars are a classic Canadian treat named after the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia. Initially known simply as “chocolate squares,” they were sold on the ferries to and from Vancouver Island. The primary flavors include chocolate, coconut, and custard powder-infused buttercream.
The bottom layer features crushed wafers (or crackers), coconut, and cocoa powder.
The middle is like frosting, made with custard powder, butter, and powdered sugar.
Finally, the top is a simple blend of chocolate and butter – though you can you ganache if you prefer.
Together, these layers work in perfect harmony, making each bite better than the last.
Nanaimo bars are rich and decadent, but they’re also straightforward to make! Plus, they can easily be made ahead and kept in the fridge.
So, if you want something that’s both decadent and nostalgic, try this classic Nanaimo bars recipe today!
- Butter – You’ll use this in all three layers, so be sure to get good-quality, unsalted butter.
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder – It adds a rich, chocolatey flavor to the base of the bars.
- Graham Crackers – Crushed crackers add a satisfying crunch to the base of the bars. However, you can use other cookies if you like.
- Almonds – Almonds are optional for this recipe. But if you want to incorporate them, make sure to chop them evenly. That way, you get a nice, even bite.
- Shredded coconut – Coconut is the signature flavor and texture of Nanaimo bars, so don’t leave it out! You’ll want shredded coconut for a better texture.
- Heavy cream – You’ll add just a dash to the filling to make it smooth and creamy. Avoid substituting this.
- Egg – The egg holds the base together, and you’ll cook it with the hot butter and cocoa powder.
- Custard Powder – Bird’s custard powder is the best option for authentic flavor. But it’s not readily available in the states, so feel free to swap it with powdered milk or instant vanilla pudding.
- Chocolate – This recipe calls for semi-sweet chocolate, but I like dark chocolate instead. The rich flavors balance the sweetness of this dessert.
- Sugar – No sweet treat is complete without sugar! You’ll need granulated for the base and powdered for the filling.
Tips for Making the Best Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars are an iconic Canadian treat and have long been some of my faves.
I first tried them at a friend’s house years ago and was instantly hooked.
So, needless to say, when I went to Vancouver Island, I had a few too many in Nanaimo and on the ferry!
If you’re ready to try them for yourself, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure the butter and eggs are at room temperature. This step ensures they don’t curdle when you add them to the mixture.
- Line the pan with parchment paper for easy slicing and no-fuss cleanup. This is useful even with non-stick pans!
- Get all the butter out at once, so it’s nice and soft when you make the filling. That’s how you get it silky smooth and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
- Let each layer cool completely before adding another layer. It’s a crucial step to keep the different layers from melting and becoming one big blob.
- After adding the final chocolate layer, gently tap the pan on the counter. This step evens out the chocolate and removes any air bubbles.
- Add a teaspoon of vanilla to the buttercream for a more decadent taste. Be sure to use paste or extract.
- If custard powder isn’t available, use powdered milk with vanilla or vanilla pudding as a substitute. That said, you can get custard powder online!
- Nanaimo bars are best the following day. Let them sit in the fridge overnight before devouring them!
How to Store Nanaimo Bars
If you’ve allowed each layer to chill completely before adding the next, Nanaimo bars will last for about 3-4 days in the fridge.
If not, you might find they turn a bit soggy as the filling seeps into the base.
To store in the fridge:
Put the Nanaimo bars in an airtight container and store them in the fridge for three to four days.
Put a layer of parchment between layers, so they don’t stick together.
To store them in the freezer:
You can also store Nanaimo bars in a freezer for up to three months.
Wrap each bar individually in wax or parchment paper and then in plastic wrap. Finally, put them in a freezer bag or container.
The wrappers will protect them from freezer burn and keep them from sticking together.
Can You Freeze Nanaimo Bars?
Yes! Nanaimo bars freeze really well when double-wrapped in parchment and plastic wrap.
And they’re an excellent dessert to have on hand to curb your sweet cravings.
They’re best enjoyed chilled, but freezing will give them a longer shelf life.
To thaw, place them in the fridge overnight.
If you’re a purist, you won’t want to see the classic Nanaimo bar any other way. But if you want to have a little fun, try these flavors:
- Peanut Butter – The easiest option is to add a drizzle of peanut butter over the top. But you can also add a spoonful to the filling.
- Salted Caramel – I like this as a fourth layer between the filling and the chocolate top.
- Peppermint – Add some peppermint extract to the filling and throw some crushed candies over the top.
- Mocha – Mix espresso powder or instant coffee into the filling.
- Different Filling Flavors – Since you’re more or less making buttercream for the filling, feel free to add different flavors to the mix!
- I like it with almond butter, pistachio paste, and fruit reductions (fruit juices boiled with sugar, so it’s syrupy and thick).
- Just add a bit more powdered sugar to account for the added moisture.
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