Nanaimo Bars


Damn but I do love me a Nanaimo Bar.

I might have skipped this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, citing an unusually overloaded week (multiple article assignments, an out-of-town class, Blog Aid, traffic reporting on CBC, miscellaneous meetings and tying up of loose ends, an unpleasant, expensive and far-too-drawn-out audit) if the assignment wasn’t Nanaimo bars. They’re just my thing. So I couldn’t let my comrades down.

I’m not sure at what point I fell so head over heels in love with Nanaimo bars. It was during my childhood, surely. I don’t recall anyone making them from scratch; it could be that they were the elusive store-bought chocolate treat that made them so appealing. (My parents could be described as granola-types, who bought Bran Buds and hardcore multi-grain bio-bread, made extra-lean ground beef burgers heavily subsidized with oat bran, and sent me to school with a big old carrot for recess snack instead of a much-coveted Fruit Roll-Up. Things changed as we grew up and they got a Costco card. It wore off on me though – I now adore all things grainy and put ground flax in everything.)

I have memories of Nanaimo bars on the Christmas party buffet table, and of me hiding underneath, reaching out from under the tablecloth to sneak more from the dwindling pyramid. (I loved it when my parents were distracted by the taking of coats to the upstairs bedroom and the filling of glasses as company arrived.) With their chocolate bookends and thick band of frosting spiked with Bird’s custard powder within (I’m the one who goes for the corner slice -loaded with icing roses- from a cheap grocery store cake, then finishes the ones politely left on plates too) how could you not love them? PLUS: they are Canadian. (Although I have seen them in cookbooks labeled New York Slice – probably for the benefit of those who have never heard of Nanaimo, BC, and wouldn’t know how to pronounce it, let alone spell it.) They were invented in a small town on Vancouver Island – a lovely place we take the ferry to from Horseshoe Bay on our way to Tofino, where we shop for groceries and gas up before crossing the island. They are no-bake treats of the very best ilk; generally I glaze over the no-bake section of a cookie book, but these are worth every calorie. And quick to make, really – if you don’t count the chilling of each layer, which you shouldn’t, because it’s not actual work.

Lauren, a Canadian (Calgarian, even) food blogger over at Celiac Teen (hi Lauren!) chose this one. Good pick. She went one further and offered up a gluten-free graham cracker recipe that I wish I could have tried – experimenting with gluten-free baking is on my to-do list – but I just couldn’t swing it this week. You can mosey over to her site and check them out, if you’re interested.

So here’s the text we have to include for the sake of the webcrawler who checks up on us to make sure we did our posts proper-like: The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

And here are my two cents: Baked goods need a little bit of salt, otherwise they taste flat. The original recipe called for unsalted butter (not always necessary – in this case not worth a special trip to the grocery store) but no salt – if you do use unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt. Otherwise go for salted.

The recipe calls for almonds, but you could swap pecans or walnuts, or ditch them altogether (add a bit more coconut) if you can’t use nuts.

Nanaimo Bars are notoriously high in fat. They’re tough to whittle down, but I managed to (after giving up once or twice) – I posted a lower-fat version on Canada Day 2008.

Nanaimo Bars


Yields1 Serving

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut
Middle Layer
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp. cream or milk (plus a bit extra if needed)
2 Tbsp. custard powder (Such as Bird’s - available in the pudding section)
2 cups icing sugar
Top Layer
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter


Bottom Layer: Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. (Or if you promise to be gentle, you can do it on the stovetop in a regular pot over low heat.) Whisk in the egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8"x8" or 9"x9" pan.


Middle Layer: Cream the butter, cream and custard powder in a large bowl with an electric mixer; gradually add the icing sugar and beat until smooth and spreadable, adding a little extra sugar or cream if needed to achieve a frostinglike consistency.


Top Layer: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer, spread evenly, and chill. Cut into squares.


Bottom Layer
 1/2 cup butter
 1/4 cup sugar
 5 Tbsp. cocoa
 1 large egg, beaten
 1 1/4 cups graham crumbs
 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts
 1 cup shredded coconut
Middle Layer
 1/2 cup butter, softened
 2 Tbsp. cream or milk (plus a bit extra if needed)
 2 Tbsp. custard powder (Such as Bird’s - available in the pudding section)
 2 cups icing sugar
Top Layer
 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
 2 Tbsp. butter



Bottom Layer: Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. (Or if you promise to be gentle, you can do it on the stovetop in a regular pot over low heat.) Whisk in the egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8"x8" or 9"x9" pan.


Middle Layer: Cream the butter, cream and custard powder in a large bowl with an electric mixer; gradually add the icing sugar and beat until smooth and spreadable, adding a little extra sugar or cream if needed to achieve a frostinglike consistency.


Top Layer: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer, spread evenly, and chill. Cut into squares.

Nanaimo Bars

One Year Ago: Caramelized Onion Dip, then Shepherd’s Pie


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57 comments on “Nanaimo Bars

  1. tara
    January 27, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Gosh, friend, those are gorgeous. Nanaimo bars hold a nostalgic spot in my heart, the stuff of bake sales and my friends’ houses after school.

  2. Christi
    January 27, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Looks great!

  3. Kathryn
    January 27, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Sometime in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, my Mother gained a recipe named in her hand-written recipe book, “Tish’s Western Bars”. Tish was a neighbour who grew up in British Columbia and they are the Nanaimo Bars I grew up with. Similar to your recipe, but not quite the same. I make them every Christmas, as my Mother used to.

    Another variation comes from one of Susan Mendelson’s cookbooks (I think “Mama Never Cooked Like This”): Nanaimo Easter Egg Cake. Tasty too.

  4. Jean
    January 27, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Oh man I love Nanaimo bars — the kind of my childhood, not those store-bought immitations. Money was tight and Mom was frugal, so sometimes graham wafers were replaced by stale cereal or cookies crushed with the rolling pin. Fruit Loop Nanaimo Bars, anyone?

  5. LisaGee
    January 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

    My mouth is watering from that picture! I want one of those SO bad right now…do you deliveries downtown?

  6. Cheryl
    January 27, 2010 at 11:17 am

    When are you bringing those over to my busted ass self? I was sad to have missed this month’s challenge.

    I get picky about my nanaimo bars, sometimes they are missing the right flavour in the crucial yellow layer. You HAVE to use Bird’s, in my opinion. And yes, they should be sweet.

    Now I must hobble over to my bookshelf because I have that Susan Mendelson book. A cake that tastes like this?

  7. Natalie B
    January 27, 2010 at 11:17 am

    ohmygod… so good! I live in Victoria, BC, and whenever I meet someone who hasn’t had a Nanaimo Bar I can barely contain myself: you HAVE to try one! I have serious cravings for them sometimes… definitely a fav 🙂

  8. fairy_mi
    January 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

    yummmm, your nanaimo bars version looks really great!
    and the making of pictures are fabulous.
    Great job!
    (also a DB)

  9. JulieVR
    January 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Yes Bird’s is crucial – although I don’t know of any other brand of custard powder available in these parts!

  10. tia
    January 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

    AWESOME!!! the topping looks great with the ridges and swirls.

  11. Mama JJ
    January 27, 2010 at 11:27 am

    So, aren’t you going to tell us poor US folk how to pronounce it?

    And is there any substitute for custard powder?

    They look scrumptious. I’m assuming they’re stored in the fridge, right?

  12. Mama__B
    January 27, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Oh yeah. My mother made these every year for Christmas (wish she still did). The store bought ones (at least around here) are far too sweet and the filling tends to be gritty. And made with vanilla pudding mix, quite often. The horror!

    I need to get out to the local nut farm for some walnuts. Our son’s peanut allergy prevents me from getting them from the grocery store, unless I happen upon them still in the shell. Then I am going to make these up (though with Harry Horne’s custard powder, as per my mother’s recipe).

  13. brandy
    January 27, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I just found out my husband loves nanaimo bars – if he would have told me sooner – he would have had as many homemade nanaimo bars that his heart desired. This recipe is my hint to make them for him!

  14. Kathryn
    January 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Hey Cheryl,

    On consideration, I think it is the children’s cookbook — “Let me in the Kitchen”?

    I have made it and it is very good.


  15. Amy Lucille
    January 27, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Your nainimo bars look great! This was my first daring bakers challenge and the first time I ever heard of nainimo bars. What a great experience. Glad to have this recipe under my belt.

  16. Manon from Ontario
    January 27, 2010 at 11:51 am

    They look great, bet they are low in fat too!

    I don’t like the store bought kind at all, too dry I think…I might just have to try these one day.



  17. sandie
    January 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    They look great (your pictures are super)

  18. jacquie
    January 27, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Every attempt I’ve ever made to make Nanaimo bars has ended in a messy (but still edible) disaster. I now buy them at Costco at Christmas, ’cause it’s not Christmas if there are no frozen Nanaimo bars to sneek from the freezer. You’ve inspired me to try again, Julie!

  19. jacquie
    January 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    “sigh” make that sneak…

  20. bellini valli
    January 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I think I have been eating Nanaimo Bars from when I was knee high to a grasshopper.

  21. Jan (Family Bites)
    January 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Yum! I too have been eating these since my childhood, although I only attempted to make them once. It was not a successful venture, and I’ve been hesitant to try again, but maybe I’ll give this a shot.

  22. Lisa
    January 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    As a Canadian (from BC no less) living in the US I always feel like I’m letting people down when I admit I have never had a Nanaimo bar! Unfortunately I’m allergic to eggs and nuts. One of these days I’ll have to try to make it with egg replacer and leave out the nuts and see if I can get some semblance of what all the fuss is about. If you have any good tips on an eggless bar, I’m all ears!

  23. Aimee
    January 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    K, I’ve never made these….and I never knew they called for Bird’s Custard!! That’s so awesome!

    Don’t throw things at me, people, but I’ve always found them too sweet. I know, I’m usually all about the sugar.

    However, Julie, your version is really tempting..

  24. Laurie
    January 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    “Mama JJ on 27 Jan 2010 at 11:27 am – So, aren’t you going to tell us poor US folk how to pronounce it?”


    “And is there any substitute for custard powder?”

    You could make custard – it’s still delicious, but not the same taste. Only someone from here would know the difference.

    “They look scrumptious. I’m assuming they’re stored in the fridge, right?”

    Usually, yes. I arrived in Canada when I was 22. Nanaimo bars were one of the first treats I was introduced to, and have loved ever since. I get offended when I see stores selling “mint Nanaimo bars” and other such heresies. 😉

    I’m with Aimee – the store bought ones are too sweet. I make ones that are less sweet – love them!

    Lisa, I never put nuts in mine, but I don’t know how you would make them without eggs. That’s an interesting challenge.

  25. Lauren
    January 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    I’m so glad you enjoyed my challenge! Your bars are stunning =D. I’m so glad you managed so make them amid all of the chaos!

  26. Rose
    January 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Store-bought, homemade, a year in the freezer, gritty middle, too sweet, not sweet enough, it does not matter to me, I LOVE nanaimo bars. Main problem is if they’re on the table, I can’t stop at four or five. They’re absolutely addicting. Have never made them and I don’t think I will cause I know what would happen to the whole pan.

    Thanks Julie

  27. Amber
    January 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Ohhh I love these too. And I agree with the other people about store-bought ones just not tasting right. My mom doesn’t make them anymore but her bars were the best. Not sure where she got the recipe from but they were yummy. And it is very hard to stop at one…not sure I’ve ever done it! Glad these ones are a whole province away;)

  28. Cheryl
    January 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Kathryn, thanks for the clarification. I was sad when I couldn’t find it in my book. Any chance you would email it to me?

    PS Julie, I’m still waiting… (just kidding, sort of)

  29. Alison @ Hospitality Haven
    January 27, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I’ve seen people posting Nanaimo bar recipes all over this week!!! They all look so delicious. I live in Victoria, 1.5 hours from Nanaimo, and up there they serve these delicious bars deep fried! Talk about fattening. 🙂

  30. JulieVR
    January 27, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Sorry I’m falling behind on my comment-reading today – one of those days! Cheryl – I’d love to do a home delivery, but I’m just slammed. Plus there would have to be Nanaimo bars left…

    Thanks for covering my butt Laurie!

    Mama JJ – Laurie’s right about making custard from scratch, but it wouldn’t apply here since it’s just the powder that’s used, not the custard itself. You could probably get away with vanilla pudding powder or some such, but I wouldn’t bother – just add some vanilla extract and make it straight-up frosting – in which case you could flavour it however you like!

    And although many people would store them in the fridge, I don’t. Like anything else (particularly chocolate things) their flavour is better at room temperature. And they don’t last long enough to spoil (which would take awhile at room temp, much like a sugary cake).

    And yes – nuh-nie-mo.

  31. rachel
    January 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Looks delicious. Well done on the challenge.

  32. ladyloo
    January 27, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Oh man, I tried to make Nanaimo bars once for folks here in Mississippi. I don’t know what I did wrong, but they were not the beautiful layered confections you’ve pictured. They were a marble-y mess. A delicious marble-y mess that no one wanted to take form the potluck table, so I got to eat the whole pan.

    And then I died. But I died happy.

  33. Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks
    January 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Never had a Nanaimo bar. Looks like I’ve been missing out. Wondering about the texture/consistency of the final product. I’m liking the chocolate coconut nut crust and thinking a nice energy snack on the trail without the custard filling. Is it packable or would it be a crumbly mess, leaving more for the squirrels?

  34. Nicki
    January 27, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Yes! I love seeing step-by-step pictures!

    Looks very yummy!

  35. Donna
    January 27, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I always have trouble spreading the top chocolate layer
    over the middle layer. It gets too thick and won’t flow.
    Maybe I shouldn’t melt the chocolate in the microwave.

  36. mmac
    January 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    I can taste the middle layer (my fave) just looking at these. I haven’t made them in years but I do adore them (and mine NEVER looked this perfect and even). I think I might need to make some again. Thanks for the inspiration.

  37. JoJo
    January 27, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Yes, Kathryn – any chance of giving up the recipe for the Nanaimo Easter Egg cake?

  38. margo
    January 27, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Your recipe is almost identical to my mom’s, and what fond memories I have of eating way too many of them at Christmasses. That was back in the day when I didn’t gain weight so easily! They were amazing, frozen, room-temperature, anything in between. I occasionally try a store bought one, but they are never the same. Now that my mom is older, she’s quit making them, so I guess it’s my turn.

  39. Erica B.
    January 27, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Oooh I don’t know which I love more, Nanaimo bars or the possibility of a cake with the same flavours. I wonder if you did a chocolate cake with the custard layer as a filling and a chocolare glaze? You’d have to work in coconut somewhere though…

    Anyone know where to find the cookbook? or if the recipe is in her newest book? “Mama Never Cooked Like This” seems to be out of print. Thanks 🙂

  40. ap269
    January 28, 2010 at 4:40 am

    I enjoyed reading your post. I also hopped to your lower-fat version and bookmarked it, because I definitely want to make Nanaimo bars again. Before the DB challenge, I’ve never had one, much less heard of them. I thought they were soooo delicious. I made the gluten-free crackers and also thought they were divine!

  41. Christina
    January 28, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Oh these look beautiful Julie! I made my first attempted at Nanaimo bars this past Christmas and they were good but not near as pretty as yours. My custard was too runny but I’ll know for next time! Looking forward to trying them again, especially after seeing your picture! Mmmmm!

  42. molly
    January 28, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Bless you, you are a SAINT! I fell, fast and hard, for nanaimo bars years ago, and could every so often find them for sale in Seattle. But in our new home, have seen nary a one, and have not one recipe in one of my (dozens of) cookie books. I am a very, very happy lady (with one bar cookie to bake).

  43. colesangel
    January 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    i often make my Nanaimo bars with Oreo cookie crumbs from a box for the bottom layer. and i have often put flavours in the top layer…peppermint is nice at Christmas time and lemon goes well with the colour of the custard.

  44. Shobha
    January 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    For my last meal on this earth, I would have a tray of Nanaimo Bars. They are my absolutely favorite thing to eat. Thanks!

  45. rea
    January 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    nanaimo bars remind me of a simpler time, a sweeter time. they remind me of the late sixties when my folks would drag us kids around the biannual progressive parties in our cul-de-sac. appetizers at the first house. main entrée at the second. desserts and coffee at the third.

    they remind me of the magic frisson of staying up late and walking home together in the dark. three tired kids clinging together, worrying about what was lurking in the bushes at the bottom of our steep driveway, almost insurmountable after 8 pm. mom and dad holding hands and laughing together about the joke mr. philips repeated one too many times after one too many rye and coke. dad’s cigarette smoke lingering behind.

  46. Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite
    January 28, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Stunning nanaimo bars!

  47. Sue
    January 28, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Julie, YOU are in so much trouble for posting that picture and recipe…. I saw the picture and scrambled to see if I had all the ingredients, and voila! Now I have consumed half a tray of nanaimo bars, and my Wii Fit is wondering why I have gained so much weight! Your fault entirely.
    I love you anyway!

  48. Jaden
    January 29, 2010 at 6:57 am

    when I first saw the name Nanaimo, I thought it was Japanese! Thanks for my little sweet lesson today!

  49. Beverley M
    January 29, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Mmmm I love Nanaimo bars. I have a recipe somwehre at home that won a contest in Nanaimo for the “official” recipe. The middle layer actually uses a little bit of Jello vanilla pudding powder. It’s very good!

    (For anyone still wondering how it’s pronounced, it’s nah-NY-moh. The second a is essentially silent.)

  50. sara
    January 31, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Gorgeous! These look really yummy! 🙂

  51. Laura
    February 3, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Nice looking Nanaimo bars! And you make a good point about needing to add a little salt.
    @ Lisa: I have made these bars egg-free, not a problem. I find that the butter holds the crumbs together in the crust.
    I have heard of these (and made them) before the DB challenge, but I had never heard of the butter tart (your maple butter bars sound amazing).

  52. Jelena
    February 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    These do look fabulous. Growing up in the US, just across the boarder from BC I had the luck to try these on occasion while visiting Canada as a kid. Nobody in the states knew what these were, but I sure did and I loved trying to find them. I ran across a Food Coop in Issaquah, WA that carried them briefly, the baker said they imported them from BC. Go Figure. Some 20 years later and I finally learned to make them, when my father’s girlfriend (a Canadian) did me the treat of making them with me. I look forward to trying out your recipe above.

  53. Ashley
    February 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Wow I had no idea they were also called New York Slices! That’s lame.

  54. Remona Amundsen
    October 5, 2011 at 9:20 am

    I think this is one of the most vital information for me. And i’m glad reading your article. But should remark on few general things, The web site style is wonderful, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

  55. Vivian
    March 24, 2014 at 10:41 am

    The latest 2014 “Master Chef Canada” pressure test ignited my interest in Nanaimo Bars. Sure, its great to stick with the tried and true recipe and ingredients but why not leap off into a fresher venture and try different variations? Chai tea, lemongrass, lavender, saffron, rose water and pistachios!(Ahem, NOT all in one bar, people!) That’s what I’m going to try…any other takers?

  56. Lethbridge Mom
    October 9, 2016 at 11:35 am

    In July, heard the spot on CBC with Julie that included mention of her Nanaimo squares. Tried this recipe and it is fabulous. We used sweetened coconut (would be awesome with unsweetened too) and pecans in the bottom layer. I increased the middle recipe (1.5x all ingredients) and the result was the perfect ratio of bottom, middle and top layers. Thank you for this recipe, it is awesome! Better than any Nanaimo square I have had from a bakery…(sorry to the bakeries I frequent…). I just finished making a double batch….off to lick the bowls, beaters and spatulas….

    • Julie
      October 10, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      So glad to hear it! Nanaimo bars are still my favourite!

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