Home Desserts Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

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!

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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!

Nanaimo Bars on a plate

Ingredients

  • 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.
Pile of Nanaimo Bars Served on a White Plate

Tips for Making the Best Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars are an iconic Canadian treat and have long been some of my faves.

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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.

Fun Variations

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.

More Dessert Bars You’ll Love

Chocolate Chip Blondies
Slutty Brownies Recipe
Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars
Gooey Butter Bars
Keebler Bars

Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

Servings

16

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

30

minutes
Calories

311

kcal

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.

Ingredients

  • For the Base
  • 1/2 cup 1/2 butter, softened

  • 5 tablespoons 5 unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/4 cup 1/4 white sugar

  • 1 1 egg, beaten

  • 1 3/4 cups 1 3/4 Graham Cracker crumbs

  • 1 cup 1 flaked coconut

  • For the Filling
  • 3 tablespoons 3 heavy cream

  • 2 tablespoons 2 custard powder

  • 2 cups 2 confectioner’s sugar

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 butter, softened

  • For the Topping
  • 4 4 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate

  • 2 teaspoons 2 butter, softened

  • Optional
  • 1 3/4 cups 1 3/4 finely chopped almonds

Directions

  • Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • Bring 2-3 inches of water to a low simmer in a tall pot. Place a heat-proof bowl over the top (big enough to cover the whole rim) and add 1/2 cup of softened butter, cocoa powder, and sugar.
  • Be sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl. Gently stir the butter, cocoa, and sugar until melted and smooth.
  • Slowly pour the pre-beaten egg into the bowl, whisking constantly until thick – about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and turn off the stove.
  • Add the Graham Cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds (if using) and mix until well combined and evenly coated.
  • Pour and press the mixture into the lined baking pan, ensuring it’s flat and even. Let it chill in the fridge.
  • For the middle layer, add the remaining 1/2 cup of softened butter, heavy cream, and custard powder to a large bowl or stand mixer. Beat with an electric mixer or paddle until light and fluffy.
  • Add the confectioner’s sugar and gently stir to combine. When it’s mostly mixed in, beat with an electric mixer or paddle until there are no clumps. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom layer and leave to chill in the fridge.
  • For the last layer, combine the semi-sweet or dark chocolate and 2 teaspoons of butter in a small heat-proof bowl. Melt in 20-second intervals in the microwave until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • Spread the melted chocolate mixture in an even layer over the chilled bars. Lift the dish a few inches above the counter and drop to help the top flatten.
  • Chill until the chocolate has set, cut into squares, serve, and enjoy!
Nanaimo Bars

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INSANELYGOOD

Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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