Make Ahead

Nanaimo Bars

July 31, 2013
6 Ratings
Photo by Lillie Auld
  • Prep time 6 hours
  • Cook time 5 minutes
  • Makes 1 8x8-inch pan
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I originally made these bars—many moons ago—to thank my supervisors upon the completion of my first college internship but had completely forgotten about these gems until I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. —buttermeupbk

What You'll Need
  • 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
  • 1 pinch 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Yvette
  • Joni
  • Stephanie Bourgeois
    Stephanie Bourgeois
  • bmallorca
  • nancy essig
    nancy essig
I was born and raised in Seattle. I moved to New York in 2004, and it has been a love/hate relationship ever since. I moved to Brooklyn in 2010. I have no idea what took me so long. Brooklyn is filled with awesomeness. I love all things made with butter, drinking bourbon, and wearing leggings. I do not own a Kitchen Aid mixer (because I haven’t gotten married yet) or have one single drawer in my kitchen (the joys of apartment life) and my counter can’t accommodate a rolling pin without hitting the stove. Yet, somehow baked goods and other kitchen treats make it out alive to butter y’all up. Please email me at [email protected].

16 Reviews

Yvette June 16, 2023
Being a Canadian living in Australia, I was keen to make these although I probably haven't eaten one in over 20 years. These were delicious and even better than I remembered. The only changes I made were to use the entire sleeve of graham crackers (brought over from my last visit back home) instead of the almond flour due to a nut allergy. I also only used 1/2 cup of desiccated coconut just so that it didn't dominate the base. Great recipe - will definitely make again!
Megan March 29, 2020
Loved the flavors made as written, although I thought a little sweet overall. Second time through I used a crushed sleeve of Saltines as a substitute for the Graham crackers and added 3TBSP of peanut butter powder to the filling mix (and a little more 1/2 &1/2 to get the consistency correct) Loved the twist with a little more salt to balance it out.
jy2nd July 2, 2017
I should add that they are very popular here in west Michigan, and a local grocery store's bakery makes a killer version. I don't know why the popularity - maybe the connection of Dutch ancestry common in the pacific northwest and here?
jy2nd July 2, 2017
My aunt lived in Nanaimo and introduced her family -- all in the States -- to these. They are a guilty pleasure. And I prefer unsweetened coconut in the base. Re the origin of the name, I have read that these were submitted as part of a nation-wide cookie contest. The woman who submitted them didn't give them a name, but she was from Nanaimo. Who knows?
mummer July 31, 2016
Would the base consistency change if the cocoa powder is not added? Would you need to substitute something else?
Cat December 19, 2015
Jeanne Robertson talks about Nanaimo in her very funny video: Don't Bungee Jump Naked.
elaine December 19, 2015
I am not supposed to have much sugar although these sound wonderful! I have relatives in Canada and lived in England so we are quite familiar with the custard powder and keep some on hand. I would think that after you make the originals to see how wonderful they are and share those with others, you could cut a little sugar by: Using unsweetened coconut mixed with the graham crackers in the bottom layer; I think the custard powder would have less sugar than the pudding; and I have other recipes with just chocolate for the topping and have always used semi-sweet and it has been wonderful.
Cookengram December 4, 2015
I've been making these for 50 years and my Mom, (who was born in Nanaimo), before me.
Always called them Nanaimo Bars!! Now my kids make them.
Joni July 1, 2015
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 ?!
nancy E. August 10, 2015
NEVER! " why would they be called that when they were invented in Nanaimo?" Asks the lady from Vancouver Island
lacey August 24, 2013
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?
Stephanie B. August 24, 2013
I think a one-to-one substitution should work well.
Stephanie B. August 7, 2013
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.
bmallorca August 7, 2013
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....
Stephanie B. August 7, 2013
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.
TarHeelCook August 6, 2013
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!