There is nothing quite like the best Nanaimo bars. If you’ve tried this classic Canadian dessert, you’ll know what I mean! This no bake dessert is a layered bar recipe bursting with sweet flavours. These are bars that freeze well, making them perfect for the summer, Christmas or when unexpected guests stop by. However, they likely won’t last in the freezer because these bars are so good!
What are Nanaimo Bars?
If you haven’t heard of this classic Canadian dessert, you’re probably curious what they are. I used to live in Nanaimo which is a west coast city in British Columbia. So it goes without saying I’ve had the best Nanaimo bars and love how fun and easy they are to make.
This no bake dessert is made in three layers. First you have a chocolate and cracker crumb base, followed by a custard icing. On top is a chocolate coating.
The chocolate, coconut, almond, and custard flavours are incredible together. Since these are bars that freeze well, it’s always worth having some in the freezer.
Ingredients in the Best Nanaimo Bars
All the ingredients in this layered bar recipe are easy to find. The basic bar recipe ingredients like butter, sugar and egg are in there.
Then you need the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, cocoa powder and almonds for the crust. The custard filling calls for heavy cream and custard powder. Finally you need chocolate which is melted and then spread over the top of the bars.
Use unsalted butter in this no bake dessert. Don’t sub margarine here – it won’t work! Make sure the cocoa powder is the regular unsweetened kind. I typically use sweetened coconut flakes but if you want to use the unsweetened kind I imagine that would work. You might want to add a little more sugar to balance it out or else just expect a slightly less sweet flavour.
In the custard layer, you need to use icing sugar which is also known as powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar. Don’t use another kind because it won’t blend well with the cream and custard and you will have gritty sugar grains in there.
I always make this layered bar recipe with semisweet chocolate. I haven’t tried using milk chocolate but I think that would be too sweet paired with all the other sweet ingredients in this.
It’s hard to describe the flavour of this classic Canadian dessert. It’s something like a cross between Almond Joy, chocolate, fudge, and custard pie. You will just have to make the best Nanaimo bars yourself and see what you think!
Nanaimo Bars Variations
I think the best Nanaimo bars are those made exactly like in the traditional recipe. But if there are certain ingredients you aren’t keen on or you have allergies, there are variations you can make.
For example, the almonds can be switched for walnuts or pecans. This isn’t as traditional but it would work just fine in the recipe if that’s your preference.
The traditional Nanaimo bar recipe uses custard powder (I like the Bird’s brand which comes in a tin). If you don’t have it or you want a lighter flavour, swap the 2 tablespoons of custard powder for ¼ cup of powdered milk plus a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Handy Tips for Making this Classic Canadian Dessert
These bars that freeze well are simple to make. But it’s still worth knowing a few handy tips of course!
First of all, ensure you have all the ingredients to hand and also an 8 by 8-inch pan to make them in. If you only have a 9-inch round pan that would work but of course your bars will be strange shapes instead of squares!
This is a no-bake dessert but you do need to melt some ingredients with a double boiler. If you melt the chocolate in the microwave instead, it tends to crack when you cut the bars up.
What is a Double Boiler?
A double boiler is basically two pots. You put the smaller one inside the bigger one and pour some water into the bigger one. This sends heat into the little one. Double boilers are useful when melting delicate ingredients like chocolate, as well as keeping sauces or gravies warm but not simmering or boiling.
It’s worth investing in a double boiler if you often melt chocolate for chocolate-dipped strawberries and so on. If not though, you can make a DIY version. Set a steel or tempered glass bowl over a pan of simmering water.
I love making this layered bar recipe during the summer months and I never get tired of them. The best Nanaimo bars that freeze well and are refreshing are one of the sweetest parts of my summer!
The Best Nanaimo Bars Recipe
The BEST Nanaimo Bars – No Bake Dessert
- 1/2 Cup unsalted butter softened
- 1/4 Cup sugar
- 5 Tbsp. cocoa powder unsweetened
- 1 egg
- 1 3/4 Cup graham cracker crumbs use gluten free for a gluten free bar
- 1 Cup sweetened coconut flaked
- 1/2 Cup almonds very finely chopped
- 1/2 Cup unsalted butter softened
- 3 Tbsp. heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp. custard powder
- 2 Cups icing sugar
- 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- 4 Tsp. unsalted butter
- In the top of a double boiler, combine 1/2 cup butter, sugar and the cocoa powder. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth.
- Beat in the egg (if required, temper the egg so not to curdle), stirring until thick for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and the finely chopped almonds. (Note: you can also grind in a food processor. The finer they are chopped the better the bottom layer presses into the pan).
- Press very firmly and evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 8×8 inch pan.
- For the middle layer, cream together 1/2 cup butter, heavy cream and the custard powder until light and fluffy. Mix in the icing sugar until smooth.
- Spread over the bottom layer in the pan. Chill to let this layer set. Make sure it is completely chilled before moving to the next step.
- While the second layer is chilling, melt the semisweet chocolate and butter in a double boiler or over low heat. The chocolate on top tends to crack when you cut the bars if you melt in the microwave.
- Spread over the chilled bars. Score through the top chocolate layer as soon as it starts to set to avoid cracking later. Let the chocolate set before cutting into 1 or 2” squares. I find that the cuts are cleaner when you cut the bars slightly chilled with a warm knife. Clean between each cut for the best presentation.
The nutrition information provided are only estimates based on an online nutritional calculator. I am not a certified nutritionist. Please consult a professional nutritionist or doctor for accurate information and any dietary restrictions and concerns you may have.
I don’t live in Nanaimo anymore, but this no bake dessert recipe will always be close to my heart. Let me know if you try out this recipe for the BEST Nanaimo bars.