the moveable feasts

Nanaimo Bars

with 30 comments

nanaimo bars

Nanaimo bars—ever heard of them? If you haven’t, you should. They’re no-bake bars made of a graham cracker-walnut-coconut cookie base, a custard middle layer, and a smooth chocolate top. They get their name from Nanaimo, a Canadian city right across the border from Washington. I don’t think it’d be a stretch at all to say that they’re my favorite thing Canada has contributed to the world (well, besides Neil Young. And Anne of Green Gables. And Katie, of course).

press it down
pressed down

Anyway, despite the fact that these may be one of the most delicious treats that come out of my (mom’s) kitchen, I don’t make them too often. For one, they’re not the healthiest thing in the world. Obviously. Secondly, they’re almost a little bit too rich for me. As in, I have a bite of one, swoon and declare it to be the most delicious thing ever, then set it down for at least a good half hour until I can take another bite. This might actually be a good thing, considering what I just previously mentioned. Still, the point is that I don’t often have the appetite to make a whole batch of them most of the time.

custard is thick

Luckily I have a boyfriend who, though he can’t stand more than one serving of any type of cake, cookie, or pie, loves to devour these things. When he found out that some of his coworkers had never tried nanaimo bars before, he asked me to make him some to bring to work. I happily obliged, and happily (and somewhat selfishly) warmed inside when I heard the positive reviews from his coworkers that Waylon relayed back to me.  Friends, if you want to please someone, make these treats.

last layer
spread it out

And did I mention these are no-bake? While we’re all in the midst of weather that I honest-to-God wish occurred year-round,  it’s a nice surprise when you don’t have to crank on the oven to make something. Furthermore, they don’t require much energy nor skill, and all they ask of you is a little time and patience. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with a batch of chilled bars with a taste that is pretty indescribable. All in one bite, you’ll get the flavors of coconut, graham crackers, walnuts, chocolate, vanilla, with the texture of this ice cream, in bar form. (That’s honestly the best I can do in terms of translating the wonder of these cookie-bars into a typed format.) Instead of trying to imagine how these taste, just go ahead and make them for yourself.


One Year Ago: Italian Chocolate Almond Torte  and Honey Ice Cream & Honey Snaps

Nanaimo Bars
From Nordstrom’s Friends and Family Cookbook
Makes 16-20 2-inch square bars

In terms of brands, I like Baker’s sweetened flaked coconut—the kind you can find in the blue packet in your baking aisle. Custard powder is a little hard to find, but it should be in most better-stocked supermarkets and in specialty stores. I like Bird’s custard powder. Also, if you don’t have a 7 x 11 inch baking pan, an 8 x 8 inch one would work fine—you’ll just end up with thicker layers.

1/2 cup (113 g) butter, melted
1/4 cup (35 g) firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons (12 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 large egg whites
2 cups (200 g) graham cracker crumbs (about 25 crackers, processed until very fine)
1 cup (100 g) sweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 cups (225 g) powdered sugar
4 (55 g) tablespoons butter, softened but not melted
1/4 cup (80 g) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (16 g) custard powder

2/3 cup (115 g) semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons (55 g) butter

Line a 7 x 11 glass baking dish with a strip of parchment paper along the widest part to make a sling for easy lifting and removal of the finished dish. Butter any exposed parts of the baking dish. Set aside.

For the first layer, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, cocoa powder, egg whites, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and walnuts in a large bowl. Mix until everything looks pretty evenly distributed and all the graham cracker crumbs look lightly coated in butter. Press firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish, and place in the freezer to set for 30 minutes.

Once the first layer has set sufficiently, make the second layer. In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, butter, cream and custard powder with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. It should be pretty stiff and thick, but that’s just fine. It’ll translate to a sturdy middle layer once cooled. Spread evenly over the chilled first layer, and place to set in the fridge while making the final chocolate layer.

For the third layer, melt the chocolate chips and butter together by setting them in a medium bowl placed over a saucepan with an inch or two of simmering water (to form a double boiler). Once completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat and let cool slightly for a minute or two. Pour over the custard layer and, using the back of the spoon and working quickly, smooth evenly to create a top chocolate layer. Return to the fridge to set until cool, at least two hours.

Once chilled, use the parchment sling to remove the bars. Use a sharp knife to cut into 2-inch square bars and serve chilled. If the knife ever gets sticky or stuck with some of the layers, wipe clean for smoother cuts. Keep the leftover bars refrigerated, as they melt when at room temperature.

Written by Amy

July 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

30 Responses

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  1. Sounds great, dying to try these. Just a question, what is custard powder? Thanks, Mary


    July 13, 2012 at 2:09 am

  2. I’ve heard mixed things about Nanaimo bars – some people say they’re just too sickly sweet while others absolutely rave. I have to say they do sound pretty intense, but in a good way, and looking at your photos I know I’m going to have to try them – yours look absolutely delicious!


    July 13, 2012 at 4:07 am

  3. Hi Amy! These look amazing and I am especially loving the look of the chocolate layer on top. I love no bake recipes, especially in the summer. This would also be a fun recipe to do with my daughter as she could literally make the whole thing. Could I substitute something like chocolate chips for the walnuts, (my kids hate any sweet with nuts in it) or should I just leave out the nuts?

    Happy Friday!

    • Oh no! Poor you, having to avoid nuts in everything for your kids. :) I would just omit them completely, no need to add in something else. That layer already has cocoa powder, and I think chocolate chips might be chocolate-overload. Have fun making it with your daughter!


      July 13, 2012 at 8:20 am

  4. I was completely overjoyed and a bit taken aback when I saw this post. I was born in Vancouver and raised on M&M Meats’ nanaimo bars (not as a integral part of our daily diet, but a delightful annual treat!). Seeing this brought me right back to the shores of Spanish Banks with my parents, munching on a nanaimo bar under overcast skies. This recipe looks delicious and very true to the original–I will definitely be attempting to recreate this little snippet of childhood! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Naomi Reimer

    July 13, 2012 at 9:15 am

    • Ah, I’m so happy that these treats have such great memories for you. Let me know how your recreation goes. :)


      July 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  5. I think I’ve had these as a kid or at least something very similar. My mom used to make these peanut buddy bars I would devour. They had layers just like this and they kind of remind me of those. Great lead photo and your writing just keeps getting better and better. I should know, I’m now a long time fan and follower ;)


    July 14, 2012 at 3:10 am

    • Haha thanks, Stephanie. And you would know! I think you were my first real follower? Crazy how we’ve both been blogging for over a year now!


      July 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      • It is, isn’t it? I found you through 101 cookbooks and was so happy someone finally commented on something I posted :) I never did a ‘one year’ blogging post. Oh well…


        July 15, 2012 at 1:55 am

  6. I’ve never had a Nanaimo bar before, but I do love the no-bake-bar genre, like 7 layer bars and peanut butter bars, and generally all bars containing nuts and chocolate. The ingredient list will be a bit tricky for me – no graham crackers here and I doubt there is any custard powder to be found – so I’ll have to save this for my next trip home. Also…have you had Canadian oreos? SO good, and somehow oddly better than US oreos. You can add them to your list of things you like about Canada, oo and Crunchie candy bars and Tim Hortons :)


    July 14, 2012 at 3:47 am

    • I do like Tim Hortons, but I’ve never heard of canadian oreos, OR oo and crunchie candy bars! But after looking up the difference between US and canadian oreos, I can definitely see why they’d be better. I swear things made with real sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup (like Coke) taste SO much better!


      July 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    • 2When I make a recipe that calls for graham crackers I usually use the cookie “Petit Beurre”, you’ll find it in both Migros and Coop. I just googled recipes for both and they sound fairly similar. Or you could make your own:


      July 15, 2012 at 2:22 am

  7. These sound incredible Amy – Im imagining the custard powder to give the same sort of effect as using sweetened condnesed milk (is that what you call it here too??) which is only like the best thing EVER. Im not totally sure I could make these in good conscience at the moment (everyone else in my class brings in stories of baking the perfect date sweetened raw cheesecake…) but just reading about them brought a smile to my face. Reminds me of desserts we were served in primary school on a Friday! :). Have a wonderful weekend dear!

    Em (Wine and Butter)

    July 14, 2012 at 9:53 am

  8. Your nanaimo bars look delicious. I have seen them on the web before, but never tried them until now. I have the same problem as Talley, though, I don\’t think I can get custard powder here. Wikipedia tells me that it consists of mainly cornstarch, so I think substituting that might work. Together with some vanilla probably.
    What do you think? Is there an ingredients list on your custard powder?


    July 15, 2012 at 2:15 am

    • Lena: Substituting the custard powder for some cornstarch and vanilla would probably be your best bet. I think it has some “natural flavoring” that gives the more egg-y flavor or normal custards, but you probably won’t be missing the richness of it anyway. Let me know how it goes if you give it a try!


      July 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      • If you look on you will find Bird’s Custard Powder. None better in my opinion.

        Lena: Petit Buerre! What a wonderful idea!
        I’m not a super fan of graham crackers, though their taste is really masked in the nanaimo bars. I’ll be trying this.

        Amy: Crunchie bars are sponge toffee covered in chocolate. There are recipes on the net for homemade ones.

        Are you in the States or in Canada?

        Just a word to everyone.

        Do Not Use Vanilla Pudding!!!

        It Will Ruin the Taste of the Bar!!!

        It Is Nothing Like the Real Thing!!!



        July 16, 2012 at 7:04 am

  9. Nanaimo Bars… my favorite!

    I can only have them once a year though and only one because the chocolate gives me migraines. I make them for Christmas.

    I live in Canada and didn’t know there was Canadian Oreos.

    Naomi: If you have only had M&M’s nanaimo bars, you have done yourself a disservice.
    Try these and you will know what I mean.



    July 15, 2012 at 10:28 am

    • Charlie — loved your comment! And I think Canadian oreos are just regular oreos done with better ingredients like real sugar and coconut oil. That’s what we in America get for subsidizing corn so much so that corn syrup replaces good old sugar in all processed things!


      July 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm

      • Thank you Amy!


        September 15, 2012 at 8:29 am

  10. I’ve never heard of these before. They look so very good!


    July 16, 2012 at 5:14 am

  11. Oh my goodness, these look good. I’ve gotta say, the no-bake bit is looking mighty enticing at this moment.


    July 16, 2012 at 11:31 am

  12. YUM. All I have to say.


    July 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

  13. God bless Canada!! This is heaven!

    I Made You A Mixtape

    July 17, 2012 at 8:24 am

  14. Amy, thanks for the mention–that’s really sweet! I’m sorry that I haven’t been around to comment lately. Things have been a little crazy for me lately. I’ve always found nanaimo bars a little too sweet for me, but maybe I just need to make them from scratch…


    July 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    • Well, they are pretty sweet. And even though making them from scratch may help, you’re probably not far off in thinking they’re too much for you. And don’t worry about not commenting Katie, a lot of times their are always more important things. Hope things get to settle down for you soon.


      July 23, 2012 at 9:33 pm

  15. I’m having problems spreading the top layer. It is not pouring as yours appears to be.Please HELP. My email is


    December 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

  16. if you can’t find custard powder use vanilla pudding powder — works great!


    December 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm

  17. […] Crinkle Cookies (probably my personal favorite cookie), Raspberry-Almond Linzer Cookies, Nanaimo Bars, Homemade Thin Mints, Salted Soft & Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies, Ginger Slice, and Stout […]

  18. I want to make these now. Hurray for Nordstrom’s and their recipes, and your blog with all the lovely pictures.


    December 14, 2013 at 8:59 am

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