Nanaimo Bars

August 1, 2020  ·  Published January 2, 2013

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Nanaimo Bars – a deliciously tempting treat made with decadent chocolate, honey sweetened graham crackers, crunchy nuts, rich butter and custard powder. A no-bake dessert that’s a summer must!

Image of four stacked Nanaimo bars with two resting on the side.

What is a Nanaimo Bar?

Some of you are likely asking, what are Nanaimo Bars? They are a popular Canadian confection, basically a layered bar cookie, that to me tastes very similar to a richly chocolaty, loaded fudge. They are named after the west coast city of Nanaimo, British Columbia.

They consist of 3 layers, a cracker crumb and chocolate base, a custard flavored icing and then they’re finished with a chocolate coating.

The instructions for these treats may appear to be long and tedious but these tasty treats are surprisingly super simple to make. They are a no-bake bar, after all.

After one taste you’ll be wondering where these delicacies have been your whole life!

What do they taste like?

To me they are reminiscent of fudge, or an Almond Joy – but much better of course. It’s something about the chocolate, almond coconut combo. A great combination!

Image of ingredients used to make Nanaimo Bars. Includes sugar, coconut, powdered sugar, cream, custard powder, cocoa powder, egg, almonds, chocolate, graham crackers, butter, and salt.

Nanaimo Bar Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter: This ingredient is used in all 3 layers, must be what makes them so delicious!
  • Granulated sugar: Brown sugar should work fine here as well.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder: Just use regular not Dutch or sweetened.
  • Salt: This helps balance the sweetness. You can also mix in a pinch or two with the cream in the middle layer.
  • Egg: Note that egg is not fully heated to 160 degrees, so for food safety it is not recommend to serve such dishes to the elderly, those with a compromised immune system or young children.
  • Graham crackers: Don’t crush down to powder, they should have some texture still.
  • Almonds: Another variation is to use pecans or walnuts but almonds are more traditional.
  • Shredded coconut: I use sweetened coconut, though unsweetened should be fine too.
  • Heavy cream: Don’t substitute milk or this layer won’t be as thick and creamy.
  • Custard powder or powdered milk: Bird’s custard powder is the most authentic option but I do prefer the option without it, using the powdered milk variation instead. It’s richer, less sweet, more natural and filling is white instead of yellow.
  • Powdered sugar: Only use powdered sugar in the filling or it will be gritty with any other type.
  • Semi-sweet chocolate: Don’t sub milk chocolate or bars will be too sweet.

Scroll down for full recipe with ingredient amounts and directions.

Collage of 6 images showing steps of preparing first layer of nanaimo bars. Made with cocoa, sugar, graham crackers, coconut and nuts.

How to Make Nanaimo Bars

  1. Prepare the baking dish: Butter an 8 by 8-inch baking dish. Line with parchment paper and butter parchment, set aside.
  2. Melt butter in double boiler: Melt butter in large heat proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water set over medium-low heat.
  3. Mix in dry ingredients, add egg: Remove from heat, add in sugar, cocoa powder and salt and whisk until well combined. While whisking vigorously, very slowly pour in beaten egg in a thin stream.
  4. Cook just until slightly thickened: Return mixture to heat and cook until mixture has just thickened.
  5. Add mix-ins: Remove from heat and add in graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds and toss until evenly coated.
  6. Press into dish, chill: Press mixture into prepared baking dish. Chill while preparing the filling, bottom layer shouldn’t be warm when adding the custard frosting layer.
  7. Make custard flavor icing: see how-to for two possible variations in recipe box below.
  8. Spread over bottom layer, chill: Spread mixture into an even layer over bottom layer. Chill preferably in the freezer while melting chocolate.
  9. Melt chocolate, spread over top, let set: Melt semi-sweet chocolate along with butter in a heat proof bowl, set over a pot of simmering water until smooth. Spread mixture into an even layer over filling layer.
  10. Let set, cut: Chill until chocolate has set. Cut into squares.

Collage of four images showing how to prepare second layer, icing custard flavored layer of Nanaimo bars. Mixing butter, custard powder, cream and powdered sugar in a mixer then spreading over first layer. Collage of four images showing how to make third layer of Nanaimo bars. Shows melting chocolate and butter and spreading over Nanaimo bars.

How to Store

Store Nanaimo bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator (because of the egg and dairy). Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tips

  • I’ve did a side by side taste and personally I do prefer the dry milk vs. the custard powder but if you are going for authenticity then use the Bird’s custard powder.
  • Chill between layers so the don’t blend, for a pretty presentation. Also you don’t want that icing layer to melt.
  • Use a clean sharp knife to cut into bars, Also I like to cut across instead of downward for cleaner cuts.

Cut nanaimo bars laying on a piece of parchment paper set over a cutting board.

More No-Bake Desserts to Try

Image of four stacked Nanaimo bars with two resting on the side.
4.93 from 28 votes

Nanaimo Bars

A no bake bar made with three layers of pure decadence! You get a chocolatey, graham cracker-coconut base, a sweet cream filling, and they're finished with a layer of rich semi-sweet chocolate.
Servings: 9
Prep25 minutes
Cook45 minutes
Ready in: 1 hour 10 minutes

Ingredients

Bottom Layer:

  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, diced into pieces
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 5 Tbsp (30 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 3/4 cup (180g) graham cracker crumbs* (about 12 sheets)
  • 1/2 cup (76g) almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (83g) sweetened shredded coconut

Filling

  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 - 3 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp Bird's custard powder, or 1/4 cup powdered milk and 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) powdered sugar

Top Layer

  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp (28g) unsalted butter

Instructions

  • Butter an 8 by 8-inch baking dish. Line with parchment paper and butter parchment, set aside.
  • For the first layer: Melt butter in large heat proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water set over medium-low heat.
  • Remove from heat, add in sugar, cocoa powder and salt and whisk until well combined. While whisking vigorously, very slowly pour in beaten egg in a thin stream.
  • Return mixture to heat and cook until mixture has just thickened.
  • Remove from heat and add in graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds and toss until evenly coated.
  • Press mixture into prepared baking dish. Chill while preparing the filling, bottom layer shouldn't be warm when adding the custard frosting layer.
  • For the second layer: If you are using the custard powder option then simply add powdered sugar, butter, custard powder and 2 Tbsp heavy cream to mixer fit with paddle attachment. Whip until very pale and fluffy while adding another 1 Tbsp cream to thin if needed.
  • If you are using the powdered milk option, add 1/4 cup powdered milk and 3 Tbsp heavy cream to the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Whisk vigorously to dissolve powdered milk. Add in butter, powdered sugar and vanilla, set mixer with paddle attachment and beat mixture until very light and fluffy.
  • Spread mixture into an even layer over bottom layer. Chill preferably in the freezer while melting chocolate (otherwise the warm chocolate can melt this layer).
  • For the third layer: Melt semi-sweet chocolate along with butter in a heat proof bowl, set over a pot of simmering water until smooth (or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl in 20 second intervals stirring between each, until melted and smooth).
  • Spread mixture into an even layer over filling layer (spread quickly before chocolate begins to set). Chill until chocolate has set.
  • Cut into squares (tip for best appearance, cut squares from side to side rather than cutting downward). Store in an airtight container in refrigerator, bring to room temperature before serving.

Notes

*1. To chop ingredients I recommend using the food processor:
  • Break graham cracker sheets in half, add to the food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Transfer to a bowl. To crush by hand place graham crackers in a gallon size resealable bag and crush using a rolling pin.
  • Add the almonds and pulse in short bursts until chopped very small, transfer to bowl with the graham crackers. Almonds can also be chopped fine by hand.
  • I even like to also chop up the coconut until it's about half the original size in the food processor, though this is optional. 
Important note: I don't recommend serving these bars to the elderly, young children or those with a weakened immune system. Though the egg is cooked, in testing twice I found 140 - 145 degrees was as high as I dare let the temp go or I felt the egg would begin to curdle and the mixture would also become too dry. The USDA recommends a safe temp of 160 degrees.
Recipe adapted from Nanaimo Tourism.

Nanaimo Bars shown on a white serving platter set over a blue striped cloth.

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181 Comments

  • K Murphy

    Found an article on Yahoo about this thing in how other countries celebrate the holidays. Tried on a whim. Coworkers loved it.

    I made a triple batch, but you will need more than X3 for the top layer, barely covered it all.

    Walnuts over almonds and throw a banana or two in the cream layer. Even with Bird’s custard the vanilla extract hits nicely.

  • Virginia smoliak

    I use a 9 by 9 pan instead, just so the crust is thinner, also use walnuts, tastes so much better, when making the custard, mix up butter, cocoa, sugar, vanilla and beaten large egg in thick glass bowl and cook over pot of water that it fits tightly on top of pot! Mix , mix and cook , steady mixing until consistency of custard! Pour over mixed dry ingredients and use your hands to mix until thoroughly until well combined and easier to had press in your parchment lined pan, well pressed! Use birds vanilla custard only, use a great mixer to make this creamy, press on top of cooled off base, make your chocolate topping, I double up on topping! 4 chocolate semi-sweet chocolate squares and 2 tablespoons butter, melt, can not to burn, spread over top evenly, works every time! I have been making these for 50 years !

  • PtP in CT

    Jacklyn, you seem very nice, but this recipe was a total bust. The crust is too thick. You also need to specify that you can’t use boxed Graham crackers bc otherwise the crust is WAY too dry and almost unworkable, and you need to specify roasted almonds bc as a no-bake, eating raw almonds in a thick crust like that equals a serious stomach ache. AND, although the powdered milk option tastes fine, you need far more than 2 T heavy cream. Super disappointed in the outcome.

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like these! I found the recipe from Nanaimo city tourisms website (as noted) with only minor modifications (such as the dry milk option if you don’t have Bird’s custard powder). So maybe you had something else in mind?

  • Peggy

    I have only ever used good semi-sweet chocolate and don’t see Baker’s chocolate in the recipe?

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      It is listed as an option but traditionally it is custard powder that is used :)

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      I might try malt powder – definitely not traditional but it would add some flavor.

      • Sean

        Turned out beautifully! Taste just like nanimo bars. Only homemade and even better. Use quality ingredients, follow the recipe and you’ll be pleased. Everyone loved them! Really need to use the custard powder here. Taste even better as they cool and set. Thank you for the post Jaclyn!