Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

Nanaimo bars are the pinnacle of delicious, no-bake sweet treats, and we have the nation of Canada to thank for their invention. Like all great dishes, the exact origins of the Nanaimo bar have been lost to history. We know that they were first written about in the early 1950s and quickly rose through the ranks to become perhaps the most popular dessert in Canada.

Nanaimo bars have three delicious and easy-to-make layers. The base is a mixture of coconut, nuts, cocoa, and cookie crumbs. The middle section is a sweet and creamy custard layer, which is topped with a third layer of melted chocolate. These bars melt in your mouth and are as comforting as they are tasty; it's basically impossible to stop at one. Recipe developer Jennine Rye tells us they are great for picnics, lunch boxes, or an afternoon snack, and pair perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea.

Luckily, it's easy to make these Canadian sweet treats so you can find out for yourself why they are so popular!

Gather the ingredients for this classic Nanaimo bar recipe

To make these delicious classic Nanaimo bars, first you will need to gather the ingredients. For the base layer you will want cookie crumbs (either store-bought or homemade will do), cocoa powder, granulated sugar, desiccated coconut, pecans, and butter. For the cream layer you will additionally require custard powder, a vanilla pod, confectioners sugar, and whipping cream. You will also want cooking chocolate to top the Nanaimo bars.

This recipe can be easily adapted for gluten-free diets by swapping out the cookie crumbs for gluten-free cookie crumbs.

Make the coconut cookie base

To begin this recipe, you will want to start by creating the base layer for these Nanaimo bars. To do this, simply add the cookie crumbs, cocoa powder, granulated sugar, desiccated coconut, and chopped pecans to a large bowl and whisk them together until they are well combined. Then, melt some butter in the microwave or on the stove and add it to the dry ingredients. Mix everything together until the resulting mixture resembles wet sand. Press it into a baking paper-lined 9 x 9 inch tray — the back of a measuring cup is a great utensil for pressing down the mixture to create a nice even layer. Once this is done, place the tray into the fridge to allow the base layer to harden. 

Make the custard cream layer

While the base layer for the Nanaimo bars is hardening in the fridge, it is time to make the custard cream layer. To do this, add softened butter to a stand mixer or bowl, along with the custard powder and vanilla pod seeds. Then, begin to beat the ingredients together and slowly add the confectioner's sugar in increments. Remember to reduce the speed of the beaters before adding more sugar, so that you don't end up in a sugar cloud! 

Once all of the sugar has been incorporated, add the whipping cream and beat everything for a few seconds more. This will loosen the cream layer a little and make it lighter. Then, spread this as evenly as possible on top of the hardened cookie layer, and return it to the fridge to set for at least half an hour.

Finish the bars with chocolate

When the cream layer has set sufficiently, it's time to create the final layer of the Nanaimo bars. In a heatproof bowl, break up the chocolate and add the remaining butter. Then slowly melt the chocolate and butter by microwaving it on a medium setting in 20 second intervals, stirring between each break, until both are melted and fully combined. Leave the chocolate to stand for 5 minutes so that it is cool. Remove the Nanaimo bar tray from the fridge and pour the melted, cooled chocolate over the cream layer, and then smooth it out to fully coat the layer beneath. Tap the tray a few times to bring any bubbles to the surface, sprinkle with sea salt if using, and then place the tray back into the fridge to allow the Nanaimo bars to fully set.

To serve the Nanaimo bars, use the baking paper to ease the Nanaimo slab out of the baking tray, and then use a sharp knife to cut it into 16 roughly equally sized squares. Nanaimo bars are best stored in an airtight container in the fridge and consumed within 1 week.

Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe
4.9 from 29 ratings
Learn how to make this three-layer Canadian dessert that features creamy custard and chocolate.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Nanaimo bars on a table
Total time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
  • 12 ounces cookie crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • ½ cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1 ¾ cups + 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 4 tablespoons custard powder
  • ½ vanilla pod
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate
Optional Ingredients
  • Sea salt to sprinkle
  1. Prepare a square 9 x 9 inch baking tray by lining it with baking paper, so that it comes up and over the edges. This will make it easier to remove the final product from the tray.
  2. To prepare the base, in a large bowl whisk together the cookie crumbs, the cocoa powder, the granulated sugar, the desiccated coconut, and the chopped pecans, until all of the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  3. Melt ¾ cup of butter and then mix it into the dry mixture until it is throughly and evenly spread throughout, and the mixture resembles wet sand.
  4. Press the mixture into the base of the lined baking tray and smooth it out as best as possible. The back of a measuring cup is a great utensil to use for pressing and smoothing down the base.
  5. Then, place the baking tray into the fridge to allow the base to harden whilst making the middle layer.
  6. To make the cream layer, simply add 1 cup of butter, the custard powder, the seeds of half a vanilla pod, and the confectioners sugar to a stand mixer, and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the whipping cream and beat everything together for 10 seconds more; this will help to loosen and lighten the layer.
  7. Spread this over the chilled and hardened base layer, and then return the baking tray to the fridge for at least half an hour, for the middle layer to set.
  8. To complete the Nanaimo bars, melt the dark chocolate and remaining 3 tablespoons of butter together in the microwave on a medium setting, until completely melted. Stir until the ingredients are throughly combined, remove the Nanaimo baking tray from the fridge and pour the melted chocolate mixture on top, spreading it out in an even layer so that it covers the top. Tap the baking tray onto the kitchen counter a few times, this will help to release any trapped air bubbles, then sprinkle with sea salt if using. Place the completed Nanaimo bars back into the fridge to set for another half an hour.
  9. Remove the baking tray from the fridge, carefully lever up the Nanaimo slab from the baking tray, using the baking paper. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the block into 16 bars.
Calories per Serving 552
Total Fat 38.0 g
Saturated Fat 20.6 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 66.4 mg
Total Carbohydrates 53.1 g
Dietary Fiber 3.3 g
Total Sugars 40.9 g
Sodium 123.6 mg
Protein 3.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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