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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!

Craving something sweet and delicious? Look no further than this recipe for Nanaimo bars! The perfect blend of chocolate, custard, and coconut.

You might also like to make Lucky Charms Rice Krispie treats, this rainbow layer cake or this strawberry shortcake if you have a sweet tooth. These Michigan cherry oat bars are just like the ones at Starbucks if you have a hankering for those!

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 the City of Nanaimo which is a west coast city in British Columbia on Vancouver Island. So it goes without saying I’ve had the best Nanaimo bars and love how fun and easy they are to make. It is a delectable dessert that Canadians love and you will fall in love with, too. This is the original recipe my mom has made my entire life, so I hope you enjoy it. If you are ever in Nanaimo, you can tour around to taste the best Nanaimo bars in Nanaimo.

This great recipe just happens to be a no bake dessert that is made in three layers. I find it works better to cool between each layer.

  1. Base Layer: The base of a Nanaimo bar is a chocolate coconut cookie layer. This is a classic Nanaimo bar recipe that is no-bake but you will find recipes that bake this bottom layer. Flaked or shredded coconut can be used.
  2. Middle Layer: The middle layer is a buttercream layer with custard powder. You can find custard powder at most grocery stores in the pudding or British food section of the store or online here. Bird’s Custard Powder in the yellow and blue can is the most popular brand.
  3. Top Layer: The chocolate topping on a Nanaimo bar is a tasty chocolate ganache layer of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate. I prefer to make the melted chocolate a double boiler as the chocolate layer tends to crack when you cut the bars if you melt in the microwave.  

The chocolate, coconut, almond, and custard flavours in this Nanaimo bar recipe are incredible together. Since these are bars that freeze well, it’s always worth having some in the freezer.

Nanaimo Bar Ingredients

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, unsweetened 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.

A nanaimo bar on a wooden spoon.
Nanaimo Bars. Photo credit: xoxoBella.

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 and haven’t tried using milk chocolate but It may be too sweet paired with all the other sweet ingredients in this. I prefer to use the pre-ground graham crumbs but you can grind graham crackers if you prefer.

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 Bar 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. Instant vanilla pudding mix will also work as a substitute, too.

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!

A nanaimo bar on a wooden spoon.
Nanaimo Bars. Photo credit: xoxoBella.

First of all, ensure you have all the ingredients to hand and also an 8 by 8-inch square 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 into squares.

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.

Nanaimo bars on a board.
Nanaimo Bars. Photo credit: xoxoBella.

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!

Nanaimo Bar FAQs

Can you freeze Nanaimo bars?

One of the reasons that Nanaimo bars are so popular is because they freeze so well! Place the bars in layers with parchment paper between each layer in an airtight container. You can freeze them for a 2 to 3 months.

What can you use instead of custard powder?

If you want a substitute for the custard powder in a Nanaimo bar, you can use instant vanilla pudding powder instead. The colour will be different, but it will be close. Alternately you can swap the 2 tablespoons of custard powder for ¼ cup of powdered milk plus a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

How do you store Nanaimo bars?

Store Nanaimo bars in the refrigerator in an airtight container. You may find they get too soft if left at room temperature.

Nanaimo bars on a board.
Nanaimo Bars. Photo credit: xoxoBella.

The Best Nanaimo Bars Recipe

5 from 42 votes

The BEST Nanaimo Bars – No Bake Dessert

By: Bella Bucchiotti
There is nothing quite like the best Nanaimo bars. If you’ve tried this classic Canadian dessert you’ll understand! This no bake dessert is a layered bar recipe bursting with flavours. These are bars that freeze well, making them perfect for summer or Christmas.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Chilling: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 16

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 Cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 Cup sugar
  • 5 Tablespoon 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 Tablespoon heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoon custard, powder
  • 2 Cups icing sugar 
  • 8 Ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 4 Teaspoon unsalted butter

Instructions 

  • 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. 

Nutrition

Calories: 378kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 49mg | Sodium: 87mg | Potassium: 231mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 27g | Vitamin A: 451IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 2mg
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

I don’t live in Nanaimo anymore, but this no bake dessert recipe will always be close to my heart. This classic Canadian dessert is now one of the most favourite chocolate squares worldwide. Let me know if you try out this recipe for the BEST Nanaimo bars.

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Bella Bucchiotti

Bella Bucchiotti is a Canadian-based syndicated food, travel, and lifestyle writer, photographer, and creator at xoxoBella. She founded xoxoBella in 2015, where she shares her love for food, dogs, sustainability, fitness, crafts, outdoor adventures, travel, and philanthropy to encourage others to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places, and stand for a cause. Bella creates stress-free and family-friendly recipes for weeknight dinners and festive feasts.

 

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    1. You can find custard powder at most grocery stores in the pudding or British food section of the store or online https://amzn.to/3iJGHgH. Bird’s Custard Powder in the yellow and blue can is the most popular brand.