Nanaimo Bars

By • July 31, 2013 8 Comments

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Author Notes: If you grew up in Canada or in the Pacific Northwest then you may be familiar with this no-bake triple-layered confection, which gets its name from Nanaimo, a city on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. (Pronounced Na-NYE-mo.)

I originally made these bars – many moons ago – to thank my supervisors upon the completion of my first college internship but had completely forgotten about these gems until I found an old journal containing the recipe while recently cleaning out my childhood bedroom. I had carefully transcribed the ingredients and instructions from a page clipped from The Seattle Times and the entry contained not only the recipe, but also my review and commentary, and I guess you could say it was just analog foreshadowing for what would turn into my “food blog” of today.

Makes one 8x8 pan

For the bottom layer:

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-process
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (from 1 sleeve or 9 crackers)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour (or very finely chopped almonds)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

For the middle and top layers:

  • 1/2 cup butter, very soft
  • 3 tablespoons custard-flavored pudding powder (or vanilla flavor)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon half-and-half or heavy cream, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinches salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Butter an 8×8 pan and line with foil. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add the crushed graham crackers, almond meal, and coconut, and stir until combined. Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. I used the bottom of a measuring spoon to make sure it was firmly pressed into the pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, custard powder, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Add vanilla, salt and one tablespoon half-and-half. Beat for several minutes until smooth and spreadable, adding more half-and-half one teaspoon at a time as needed. Spread evenly over the base layer.
  3. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate chips, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Pour over the top of the bars and use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate all the way to the edge.
  4. Refrigerate for several hours until firm, then slice into squares. I find that “scoring” them about 10 minutes after the chocolate sets helps to cut clean lines. I use a sharp knife and a very gentle “sawing” motion to slice them into five equal bars and then into 25 smaller squares. Store your bars in the refrigerator.

More Great Recipes: Desserts|Coconut

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Comments (8) Questions (0)


2 months ago Joni

Has anyone else ever heard them called New Yorkers or New York Squares? Though Canadians, in the 80s our recipe was called New Yorkers. The more easterly ?!


23 days ago nancy essig

NEVER! " why would they be called that when they were invented in Nanaimo?" Asks the lady from Vancouver Island


about 2 years ago lacey

I am in Canada so I can probably find the custard powder, would I use the same amount as you would if you were using the pudding?


about 2 years ago Stephanie Bourgeois

Stephanie is the Head Recipe Tester of Food52.

I think a one-to-one substitution should work well.


about 2 years ago Stephanie Bourgeois

Stephanie is the Head Recipe Tester of Food52.

I'm not sure I can describe how much I love Nanaimo bars. I always melt 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter in with the topping so that it is slightly ganache-y and easier to cut. Make sure to let them warm up to room temperature before trying to cut. The Canadian version is made with custard powder, but it is hard to find in the States. The only real difference with using custard powder over pudding powder or vanilla flavoring is that you get a custard yellow filling instead of white.


about 2 years ago bmallorca

any chance of reducing the sugar, and maybe substituting the pudding mix, in the middle layer? I'm tempted but I did hear it was really sweet....


about 2 years ago Stephanie Bourgeois

Stephanie is the Head Recipe Tester of Food52.

It's tricky to reduce the sugar since the sweetness is part of what makes them so wonderful! Whenever I make them, I do half unsweetened and half semisweet chocolate in the top layer since the filling is so sweet. I cut them very small as well.


about 2 years ago TarHeelCook

I'm originally from Alberta, and currently living in the States. I love to share these with co-workers who have never heard of nanaimo bars!