Nanaimo Bars - A Canadian Classic!

Updated: Nov 2, 2019

Canada Day is here and I felt the need to show my American coworkers some Canadian love! I thought long and hard on all sorts of Canadian dishes, but stopped on Nanaimo bars, knowing no one under the sun is going to hate those!

Trying to figure out the right recipe though was a little harder! I called my mother to ask how she made them. She told me her secrets but suggested I also look online to see if anyone was making them differently. She told me that each time she makes them, they come out differently and that it probably had something to do with the vanilla custard vs vanilla pudding. You see, I’m used to the yellowish center, but the recipes I was finding was showing white. To be honest, I’ve seen both in Canadian bakeries, but my theory is the type of butter being used.

The great thing about Nanaimo bars is they’re really hard to screw up! So whether your center turns out white or yellow… it really doesn’t matter! It took me a bit of trial and error before I figured out the way my mother used to make them (she lives up in Ottawa and I live in DC, so she couldn’t really show me), but this is the result… and I promise you… they’re delicious!

Now before we get started, you should understand why Nanaimo bars are a Canadian favourite! And yes… Favourite is spelled with a “U’ ;)

The creamy treat is a mystery, no one’s 100% sure who made the first bar, but we can all agree that it came from Nanaimo, British Columbia, hence the name. A gorgeous coastal town by the way! Some people call them Mabel Bars, and those people would be wrong. Apparently, they were first called London Fog Bars, buuuut no Canadian I know has ever called them that! Either way, it looks like they first arrived on the scene in 1953 and they’ve been a staple of Canadian desserts ever since!

I’m going to show you how to make them in 3 steps because there are 3 layers. This way it makes it so much easier for you and can even allow you to make the dessert over a long period of time (if you’re not wanting to do it all at once).

All the ingredients you will need

- 1 1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured makes the yellow center)

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 5 Tbsp. cocoa

- 1 egg beaten

- 1 3/4 cups graham wafer crumbs

- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

- 1 cup coconut

- 3 Tbsp and 3 tsp of heavy cream

- 3 Tbsp vanilla custard powder (or pudding powder)

- 3 cups icing sugar

- 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Notes on Ingredients:

- It’s better to have more chocolate in the pot, but you can add or reduce the amount of chocolate depending on how thick you want your top layer.

I am now going to separate the ingredients for you per layer:

Bottom Layer


1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)

1/4 cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 3/4 cups graham wafer crumbs

1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

1 cup coconut


1. First, you’re going to need a double boiler (or a homemade one, like what I used)! In order to make one like me, use a big pot, fill with water and then place an additional pot inside the water. Make sure no water gets into the second pot, as that is where you’re going to do your melting!

2. Melt the butter, the sugar, and the cocoa in the top pot

3. Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add to the melting pot. Stir to cook and thicken.

4. After about a minute or two, remove from heat. Set double broiler to the side (we will be using it again)

5. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts.

6. Once combined, press firmly into an un-greased 9” x 13” pan. I use a wooden spoon to get a firm press!

7. Place in the fridge to cool and harden

The results should look something like this:

After this, you can leave it overnight if you’d like, or you can continue to bake.

Middle Layer


3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

3 Tbsp. and 3 Tsp. cream

3 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder

3 cups icing sugar


1. Whip together the butter, vanilla custard, icing sugar and cream.

2. Beat until light, but not runny! You want to be able to spread it.

3. Once at the right consistency, spread over the hardened bottom layer. Make sure you’ve pressed the bottom layer down enough because you don’t want anything to get mixed into the center layer (ruins the aesthetic).

4. Place in the fridge to let harden.

Again, once you’re done the middle layer, you can let this sit overnight in the fridge if you’d like. I didn’t, I just kept baking.

Top Layer


2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup of unsalted butter


1. Heat the double boiler back up and place the butter into melt.

2. Once partially melted, add in the chocolate chips.

3. Once melted and runny, set aside and let cool for about 1-2 minutes.

4. Once it’s cooled down just slightly, spread the mixture onto the top of the middle layer. Make sure you don’t pick up any of the creamy center. You can either spread the chocolate thin or add more chocolate to get a thicker crust. It’s totally up to you!

5. Once the top layer is covering the creamy center layer. Place in the fridge for 2 hours before eating!

I hope you really enjoy this Canadian Dessert, and Happy Canada Day!

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