Nanaimo Bars


This is as quintessential (western) Canadian as you can get. Quebec may lay claim to being the birthplace of poutine, but Nanaimo, British Columbia (on Vancouver Island) is where these heavenly dessert bars get their name. Just ask any Canadian what their favorite dessert is and chances are these will be the first words they utter.

Americans are also increasingly hearing about and falling in love with these bars, although they may stumble on the pronunciation unless they were helped out by a friendly Canadian (who also likely introduced them to the bars). As a public service announcement, aka a helpful hint to our southern neighbors, Nanaimo is pronounced nah-NYE-moe.

The nice thing about Nanaimo bars is that they require no baking, although they do take some time to make. Each layer should be chilled before the next layer is added. In the base layer, almonds can be omitted for people with nut allergies, although they do add to taste and texture.

And, does it really need Bird’s custard powder? A generic vanilla custard powder can be substituted, but it will not taste as original – or as good – IMHO. Also, my sister swears by Bird’s and it was in my mom’s original recipe so who am I to argue.

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Nanaimo Bars
Makes about 49 bite-sized bars


1st Layer:

  • 1/2 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 Tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut flakes, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped

2nd Layer:

  • 1/2 cup butter, unsalted
  • 2 cups icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Bird’s custard powder

3rd Layer:

  • 4 oz. dark chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter, unsalted


1st Layer: Combine the butter, sugar and cocoa in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Once thoroughly melted and combined, stir in the egg and until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and add graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds. Press into an ungreased 9″ square pan and chill for 30 minutes.

2nd Layer: Cream butter, cream and icing sugar together. Beat until light & fluffy or velvety. Spread over the bottom layer and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

3rd Layer: Melt chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over low heat. Let cool slightly (but still liquid) and spread over second layer. Alternatively, you can carefully melt the chocolate in a microwave, first for 30 seconds then every 15 seconds to check and stir. Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Finally, to cut the bars, I find it helps to warm the knife under hot water, wiping the blade clean after every few cuts. I prefer cutting the bars into smaller bite-sized pieces, about 1 1/4″ square.


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