With a rich, chocolatey base, sweet filling, and chocolate glaze on top, Nanaimo Bars are a chocolate-lovers dream come true. These easy peasy no-bake Nanaimo Bars are perfect for sharing or just enjoying with a cup of coffee.
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My dad would tell me stories about how he’d take a ferry to get Nanaimo Bars. He remembers sitting on the bank and eating his sweet treat, thinking that life couldn’t get any better. I still make these for him every Christmas, but you can make them any time.
What’s a Nanaimo Bar?
Once only found north of the border in Canada, Nanaimo Bars are now being made and shared by home cooks all over the country. This is a no-bake dessert and a layered treat. There’s some cooking involved, as you have to bake the base and melt the chocolate.
This is an easy Nanaimo Bar recipe, and it makes plenty. Cut them small because they’re super-rich and sweet.
- Butter – You’ll need more than a cup of unsalted butter for this Nanaimo Bar recipe, and you use it in a few places. Let it soften on the counter before using it.
- White sugar – Granulated sugar.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder – Any brand is fine.
- Egg – Just 1 egg, lightly beaten.
- Graham cracker crumbs – Buy them already crumbed or pulse the crackers in your food processor to make your crumbs.
- Flaked coconut – I use sweetened coconut but unsweetened would work fine too
- Almonds – Finely chopped. Almonds are optional, but they add so much crunch.
- Heavy cream – A few tablespoons is all you need.
- Custard powder – What’s custard powder? See my notes below.
- Confectioner’s sugar – Also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar.Semi-sweet
- Baking Chocolate – I used the 1-ounce squares for this recipe.
What is Custard Powder?
Custard, used in desserts and as the filling in pastries, is a thick, creamy pudding-like dessert made with milk, eggs, vanilla, and sugar.
Some enterprising individuals found a way to make custard even easier: by starting with a powder.
We use custard powder in this recipe – instead of custard – to get rich custard flavor in the filling while keeping the filling firm and delicious.
Where do you buy custard powder? I can find Bird’s Custard Powder in the ethnic aisle of most large grocery stores or wherever they sell English ingredients. Or, you can find it on Amazon.
Nanaimo Bars with No Custard Powder
No custard powder to be found? You can also use instant vanilla pudding powder or instant vanilla pudding mix. It won’t be the same, and it’ll be a bit sweeter, but it’s a close match.
How To Make Nanaimo Bars
For the bottom layer:
Add ½ cup of the butter to the top of a double boiler, then add the white sugar and cocoa powder. Stir until melted and smooth.
Beat in the egg, then stir until thick.
Remove from the heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds (optional). Press into the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch pan.
For the middle layer:
Cream ½ cup of butter, heavy cream, and custard powder in your stand mixer or a hand mixer, until light and fluffy.
Beat in the confectioners sugar gradually to avoid a sugar shower.Spread this over the bottom layer in the pan. Refrigerate to set.
For the top:
Melt the semi-sweet chocolate and remaining butter in the microwave until melted.
Spread this over the chilled custard layer. Cool until set and cut into squares.
Classic Nanaimo Bars will keep in an airtight container in the fridge (there’s egg in them, so the counter isn’t a great idea) for about a week. If you need to keep them longer, freeze Nanaimo bars for up to 3 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
I love almonds in my Nanaimo Bars, but they’re optional. If you love nuts, add them! They add such a wonderful crunch, but they’re not essential. You could also use chopped walnuts or chopped pecans. But, if you’re worried about nut allergies or don’t care for them, omit the chopped nuts.
You can in some places, especially in the Pacific NorthWest closest to British Colombia, the birthplace of Nanaimo Bars. But, they’re not common – your best bet is to make Nanaimo Bars from scratch.
With a hard, chocolate layer on the top, Nanaimo Bars are notoriously difficult to cut. You have a few choices. You can pop them out of the baking dish and chill them until they’re hard. Then, cut them upside down, pressing the knife through the chocolate to cut it evenly. Or, you can let the bars soften on the counter and then use a super-sharp knife to cut through the softened chocolate.
- 1/2 Cup butter softened
- 1/4 Cup white sugar
- 5 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 egg beaten
- 1-3/4 Cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1 Cup flaked coconut
- 1/2 Cup finely chopped almonds optional
- 1/2 Cup butter softened
- 3 Tbsp heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp custard powder
- 2 Cups confectioners sugar
- 4 1oz squares semi sweet baking chocolate
- 2 Tsp butter
- In the top of a double boiler – combine 1/2 cup butter, white sugar, and cocoa powder. Stir often until melted and smooth. Beat in the egg, stirring until thick – about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds (if using). Press into the bottom of an untreated 8×8 inch pan.
- For the middle layer, cream together 1/2 cup butter, heavy cream, and custard powder until light and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners sugar until creamy. Spread over the bottom layer in the pan. Refrigerate to set.
- After the bars have chilled & set; melt the semisweet chocolate and 2 teaspoons of butter together in the microwave or on the stovetop over low heat. Spread the mixture over the chilled bars. Let the chocolate set up before cutting in to squares. You can refrigerate the bars to speed that process up if you like.