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The Nanaimo Bar: Another Reason to Consider Moving to Canada

August  6, 2013

If you grew up in Canada or in the Pacific Northwest, you may be familiar with the Nanaimo Bar, a no-bake, triple-layered confection that gets its name from Nanaimo (pronounced Na-NYE-mo), a city on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. 

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

I originally made these bars—many moons ago—to thank my supervisors upon the completion of my first college internship, but I had completely forgotten about them until I found the recipe in an old journal while 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; I guess you could say it was just foreshadowing for what would turn into my “food blog” of today.

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Nanaimo Bars on Food52

The no-bake bar begins with a base made from melted butter, chocolate, crushed graham cracker crumbs, shredded coconut, and nuts. The middle layer is a custard-flavored buttercream that you willl want to slather on just about everything—especially those few graham crackers that you will have left over from the bottom layer. Then the whole pan is topped with a thin layer of chocolate. You have been warned about these: nanaimo bars are not messing around or for the faint of heart.

Nanaimo Bars

Adapted from the Seattle Times

Makes one 8- by 8-inch 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 (or vanilla) pudding powder
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon half-and-half or heavy cream, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Butter an 8- by 8-inch 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, then stir until combined.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. I use the bottom of a measuring spoon.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

In a large bowl beat the butter, custard powder, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Add vanilla, salt, and one tablespoon of half-and-half. Beat for several minutes until smooth and spreadable, adding more half-and-half one teaspoon at a time as needed.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Spread evenly over the base layer.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

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.

Nanaimo Bars on Food52

Refrigerate for several hours until firm, then slice into to squares. I find that “scoring” them about 10 minutes after the chocolate sets helps to cut bars with clean lines. I used 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.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Lillie Auld

14 Comments

Jenluxy December 8, 2015
Why is there not a print button??
 
Tobius December 21, 2015
If you look at the bottom of the recipe it says click here for full recipe and prrint :-)
 
Scott December 4, 2015
Is there something that can be used in place of almond flour? These sound awesome, however I'm alergic to almonds, everyone else can enjoy almonds but nooooo not me. ?
 
Frederique M. December 4, 2015
OMG! Being from Montréal and always having a love for coconut and chocolate, these were a childhood favorite over the xmas holidays. However, my mom, who would normally bake everything from scratch, never made these. She would buy the kit that they sold (with every layer in a seperate bag, needing only a few ingredients added) by the Robin Hood Flour company. The thing is, they sold it in both the natural original flavor (this recipe) and MINT. We all fell in love with mint and would all moan if she forgot to buy a box and they had ran out at the store! The tradition got lost, but i would LOVE to try and make these with my now 5yrs old -kitchen-competent daughter who has never had one in her young life! Any ideas how I could make these in the mint variation ? Forgo the custard powder and add more icing sugar and mint extract instead? matcha powder and mint extract? Or maybe the matcha would be too strong?
 
FoodFanaticToo August 9, 2015
As Canadian as poutine!
 
FoodFanaticToo August 9, 2015
Because I hate cake, Nanaimo Bars were what my mom made for me instead of birthday cake! Bird's Custard powder is what we use, and we also add a little butter to the top layer to keep it softer, and easier to cut.
 
Stephanie B. August 7, 2013
As a Canadian and hardcore Nanaimo bar lover, I'm excited for everyone to make a batch. I always melt a little butter in with the topping so that it is slightly ganache-y and easier to cut. I also mix unsweetened and semisweet chocolate in the top layer since the filling is so sweet. In New York, you can get Bird's Custard Powder at Gristedes.
 
hsiuda August 6, 2013
meant 'birds custard powder'
 
hsiuda August 6, 2013
My mum and all relatives from her side are from Montreal, Quebec so it was so nice to see this recipe that has been a tradition ( and never duplicated) throughout my childhood from 1970 - <br />I always use 'Eagles Eye Powdered Custard' which I can only find at Amazon.com since we moved from Chicago. Both my daughters (9yrs & 11yrs) grew up on these every Christmas and now enjoy baking them as gifts.
 
Sugartoast August 6, 2013
My Mom used Bird's custard powder for the custard base :) Lovely to see another Canadian treat highlighted here. Thank you!
 
laurenlocally August 6, 2013
This post makes my day!
 
Sophia H. August 6, 2013
Sorry "Victoria"
 
Sophia H. August 6, 2013
AH! I remember these! I had the while in Vitoria. We would drive up from Portland for small vacation. I love them, only had them a few times but I remember them quite well, they make an impression.
 
Jack March 7, 2017
what i thought that was delishus i tried it at home