Nanaimo bars are a delicious Canadian treat made with graham crackers, nuts, a creamy custard filling, and decadent chocolate on top – this no-bake treat is the type of thing that gets you re-invited to potlucks.
A potluck is actually where I first experienced the Nanaimo bar. I won’t lie to you, bestie…that particular bar was not good. In fact, it was downright awful (though I’m sure it was made with the best of intentions)! The base layer was basically shredded coconut with a hint of graham cracker, the middle custard had this powdery-chalky texture to it, and the chocolate topping was barely even there.
As you can imagine, I immediately wrote these little Canadian treats off as something that just wasn’t for me. And then years (yes, years!) later, I was at a different potluck where someone had made 3 different flavours of Nanaimo bars. I tried them out of curiosity and was hooked immediately. It was one-of-those “I want to eat more than a bar, but I don’t want anyone to see me stuff my face” situations.
What are Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars are one of Canada’s most popular sweet recipes – they are a no-bake dessert made up of three layers: a graham/nut base layer, a custard middle-layer, and a chocolate upper-layer.
They have a nutty chocolate bar consistency to them with a hint of coconut, softened with a sweet custard center.
Check out my Nanaimo Bar recipe video on YouTube!
Where do Nanaimo bars come from
Nanaimo bars originate from the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia (located in the West Coast of Canada). (Pronounced “nuh-nai-mo”.)
When were Nanaimo bars invented
According to the Food Network, the first official Nanaimo bar recipe was recorded in 1952, but was labelled as a ‘chocolate square’. The first instance of the Nanaimo bar moniker was a year later in a cookbook by Edith Adams.
Chill each layer while preparing the next – that way they won’t blend into one another when you spread a layer on top of another. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will make life easier and lead to much prettier presentation.
For lovely looking slices, use a clean, sharp knife. Wipe your knife clean between cuts!
How to incorporate the egg
While preparing the base layer: Be careful adding the beaten egg. If the bowl or the melted cocoa butter mixture are too hot, you’ll end up cooking the egg – there are many great ways to create variations on Nanaimo bar recipes, but a scrambled egg base is not one of them. Make sure to stir the egg so that it stays cool enough to incorporate without scrambling…but warm enough to still cook safely.
Using a blender to chop ingredients
These are all optional suggestions to make your life a bit easier.
Break graham cracker sheets in half, add to the blender 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…you can also throw them against the wall while cursing at your boss. Either is fine.
Once the graham crumbs have been removed, add the nuts and pulse in short bursts until chopped into small pieces, transfer to bowl with the graham crackers. The nuts can also be chopped fine by hand. I often give them an extra chop with a knife before combining them with the graham cracker crumbs.
Same deal with the shredded coconut. If you, like me, don’t like to get prominent bites of coconut in your sweets, I’d suggest you give the shredded coconut another chop by hand.
If you don’t have access to custard powder, instant vanilla pudding mix is a popular 1:1 substitute. (I’ve also read that you can swap it out for a quarter cup of powdered milk mixed with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. But I’ve never tried this.)
You can use your preferred nut, but walnuts and almonds are standard. From what I understand, walnuts are a bit more traditional, while almonds are a more modern take. Hazelnuts or pecans could be fun way to mix things up.
The semi-sweet chocolate can be swapped out for bittersweet or dark chocolate. However, I’d urge you to avoid using milk chocolate unless you like your desserts extra sweet.
It’s easy to mix up this recipe – depending on how you want to go about it, you may need to adjust ingredient proportions accordingly. Here are a few ideas:
- Swap the dark chocolate top layer for a different type of chocolate.
- Add crushed candy, nuts, or fruit to the chocolate layer (like you would with a chocolate bark!)
- Add a flavour to the chocolate – essence of mint, orange syrup, coffee are all great places to start.
- Swap out the middle layer with something else – I’d love to personally try a raspberry centre with a dark chocolate top.
Nanaimo bars can be refrigerated for 2-3 days in an airtight container. Ideally, allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
To freeze: Individually wrap your Nanaimo bar slices using clingfilm, or in Ziploc bags, and freeze for up to two months. Allow them to thaw before serving!
More dessert recipes
Here are a few other dessert ideas you may enjoy:
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No special tools required for this recipe, bestie! Nanaimo bars are pretty great that way. An electric mixer is handy for making the middle layer though.
And that’s it! What do you think of this Nanaimo bar recipe? Have you ever tried them before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.Print