These Nanaimo bars are a classic Canadian treat! Coconut, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate, and a delicious custard layer. No-bake, super easy to make!
How many times have YOU used your hair dryer in the kitchen?
I’m up to twice already. The first time I used it was to save some thawed swiss meringue buttercream that basically looked like cottage cheese soup (lovely, right?). I was this close to tossing it, but was too lazy to make more.
Laziness pays off sometimes. Shockingly, heating the bowl of the mixer with a hair dryer did the trick, and the buttercream came back together better than ever.
The second time was with these Nanaimo bars, because I’m a crazy person and my perfectionism gets a little out of hand sometimes.
What Are Nanaimo Bars?
Nanaimo bars are a Canadian tradition dating back to the 50’s. They are named after the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
The Nanaimo bar consists of three layers:
- A graham cracker, coconut, and chocolate base
- A custard frosting filling
- A chocolate ganache on top
They’re identified by their signature yellow custard layer which is a frosting of sorts traditionally made with Bird’s Custard Powder.
I actually never used to like them. I found them chalky, chewy, and kinda bland. The reality is that I’d never had a good one before!
The first time I had a good Nanaimo bar was from this little Italian bakery close to where I live. My friend Karen brought some over one night, so I tried one and actually liked it (read: loved it).
Karen assured me that the recipe she used to make them was even better. Well this I needed to try! Rest assured, these are the BEST Nanaimo bars you will ever have. EVER!
Plus, no-bake. I mean… come on, that should be a selling point right there.
How to Make The Perfect Nanaimo Bars
Now you’re probably wondering where the hair dryer comes in. Well, that was purely for aesthetic reasons.
You see, I didn’t like what the chocolate layer on top looked like. I can almost hear you rolling your eyes right now.
It wasn’t smooth enough for me, but it had already hardened against the chilled custard. I kid you not, I whipped out that hair dryer and melted the chocolate so I could smooth it out.
This ended up being pointless, as I decided I wanted a thicker chocolate layer anyway, so I made more and added it over the top (note: the recipe below lists the total amount of chocolate I used).
Now, before some of you get all worked up about the “hair dryer in the kitchen” being unsanitary, I can assure you I ate (most of) these on my own – they were too good to give away. Plus my hair dryer is spotless thankyouverymuch.
These days though, I’d probably bust out my kitchen torch instead, though that has proven to be more of a safety hazard than the hair dryer.
Nanaimo bars are a delicious combination of chocolate, vanilla, and coconut. The key ingredient is custard powder which has a vanilla flavor. You really can’t make these without it. You can try substituting vanilla pudding or cornstarch, but it will not yield the same results and therefore not be a true Nanaimo Bar (I’m sure they’ll still be delicious though).
It is best to use fine coconut, not just the shredded kind – make sure it says fine. It really improves the texture.
Good quality chocolate for the top layer makes a huge difference. I use Callebaut because that’s what is available to me, but you could just as easily use chocolate chips and they would still be delicious!
If you’re a Nanaimo bar hater like I was, give these a try. You won’t regret it. And if you’re a die-hard Nanaimo Bar fan, you MUST try my Nanaimo Bar Cake!
Tips for Making Nanaimo Bars
- Use finely shredded coconut for the base layer. It will yield a better texture.
- I do not recommend making substitutions for the custard powder. It will not yield the same results and not be a true Nanaimo Bar.
- If you don’t have Dutch-processed cocoa powder, regular will work just fine.
- I recommend using good quality dark or semi-sweet chocolate for the top layer if you can (I like Callebaut), but good old chocolate chips will work fine too.
Classic Nanaimo Bars
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder sifted
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 cup fine coconut unsweetened
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp custard powder
- 3 Tbsp milk room temperature
- 8 oz good quality dark or semi-sweet chocolate chopped
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Grease a 9 x 9" pan and line with parchment.
- Place 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 3 Tbsp cocoa powder into a large, heatproof bowl over a pot with simmering water. Whisk until combined.
- Slowly pour in egg while whisking vigorously. Add vanilla. Continue whisking over simmering water until mixture has thickened and resembles a pudding.
- Remove mixture from heat and stir in graham cracker crumbs and coconut.
- Spread mixture evenly into the bottom of your 9×9 pan. Press down firmly to pack in. Chill in fridge while making custard.
- Cream together butter and powdered sugar, add in custard powder and milk and beat until smooth.**
- Spread evenly over base layer and return to fridge. Chill for 30mins.
- Place chopped chocolate and butter in to a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir. Continue microwaving in 10 second intervals, stirring in between, until chocolate has melted.
- Spread evenly over custard layer. Chill in fridge until set (about 1 hour).
- Cut with a hot serrated knife.
I am confused about directions # 2 and 3 in your recipe:
“Place 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 3 Tbsp cocoa powder into a large, heatproof bowl over a pot with simmering water. Whisk until combined.
Slowly pour in egg while whisking vigorously. Add vanilla. Continue whisking over simmering water until mixture has thickened and resembles a pudding.”
What do you mean by “over a pot with simmering water”? Am I holding a bowl over a pot that has simmering water in it?
Hi AG! Yes except you shouldnt have to hold it. Just have it sitting over the pot (but make sure the water doesnt touch the bottom of the bowl. Like this: https://www.rachaelraymag.com/real-life/technique-how-to-diy-double-boiler
At custard, 240g of sugar is way too much!! It is extremely sweet!
Hi DJ! It’s supposed to be sweet. If that’s not your preference you can reduce the sugar.
Melissa Leblanc says
I’m from Canada and I’ve ate these bars my entire life. these did not taste like they normally do. It seemed to be a lot of coconut which I have not seen like this before and the custard was chalky.
Hi Melissa! Sorry to hear you didn’t love these. I am also from Canada (Vancouver) so have had these all my life as well. My version tastes just like the ones I grew up with but perhaps there are slight differences depending on where you’ve gotten them before.
Can you suggest a substitute for the graham crackers, looked all over in Mexico and just can’t find them!!
Hi Sharma! Do you have digestive cookies you can grind up? It won’t be exactly the same but similar 🙂
Martha Milagro says
Olivia me encantan tus recetas. Todos los pasteles que me ordenan para cumpleaños los hago siguiendo tus recetas y siempre han sido un éxito. Ahora me gustaría preparar las barras Nanaimo pero aquí en Colombia no es posible encontrar la crema pastelera en polvo. Cómo la puedo reemplazar, así no quede tan deliciosa pero que se pueda disfrutar igualmente. Gracias
Hi Martha! If you can’t find custard powder I would look for a powdered instant vanilla pudding mix to substitute 🙂
Kanika Burman says
I was looking for an eggless versions for Nanaimo bars ? Any suggestions.
Hi Kanika! You can make a flax egg instead (https://jessicainthekitchen.com/how-to-make-a-flax-egg/). Or you can try just leaving it out altogether.
Perfect. Speaking as Canadian from BC, these are the real thing.
I like to ask one question though. As I get older I prefer less sweet desserts. Would you have any suggestions on how to lower the sweetness? (I do realize I’m committing Canadian blasphemy but no choice : )
Hi John! So happy these are up to your standard! You can cut back a bit on the sugar in the custard, but just know that will make it a bit softer. I would just add a little at a time until you like the flavour but it’s still stiff enough to spread. You could also add a pinch of salt to the custard and the base. That will help cut some of the sweetness too 🙂 You can probably get away with cutting 1/4 cup sugar from the base as well. Let me know if you try any of these suggestions and how they turn out 🙂
I made these a couple of days ago, and had to make some adjustments. My microwave burned my chocolate ganache, so I had to reduce power to 50% and go for 8 second bursts, stirring well in between to ensure even melting and no scorching. I also have found that the ganache could have used more butter to make it creamier. The proportions used in this recipe for each layer were a bit off, for my own personal taste. I would reduce the base layer by about half and slightly increase the middle custard layer, but wouldn’t go as far as doubling it. The recipe really is great, the balance within each layer is delicious, and everyone loved them tremendously.
Hi Laura! Thanks for your feedback. I’m so happy everyone loved these 🙂
For st patrick’s day, I swapped Bailey’s Irish Cream for the milk in the custard. So good! Also did a combo of coconut and ground walnuts in the base. The custard was crazy thick. I added an extra 1.5 Tbsp of Irish Cream to make our workable. Well definitely make again!!
Hi Joelle! Yum! Sounds delicious. I love your festive version 🙂
Gisele McGraw says
The original recipe included chopped walnuts for the base. I am a fifty year old Canadian woman who grew up making and eating these–they were a pervasive staple at every church and school bake sale. We have family and friends living across Canada in most provinces from west to east and I can assure you that chopped walnuts are traditionally used. Not almonds or pecans, walnuts. They do help to make the base more moist and walnuts are very healthy–a great way to include healthy oils in your diet.
Hi Gisele! Interesting, good to know. I’ll have to try it with walnuts next time!
So awesome! I made these last night and they are almost gone already lol 🤤. The only change I made was with the chocolate. I used to 4oz of dark and 4oz of semi sweet. Perfect, not too sweet not too bitter. Thanks for the recipe! 🥰
Hi Tracey! Yay! So happy you loved the recipe 🙂
Also I would like to know how long the egg (or till what temperature) should be cooked through to ensure its cooked through? And any substitution for Graham crackers? We don’t get it here in India
Hi Meera! The egg should be cooked to 160F and you can try digestive biscuits instead.
Great, thx a bunch Olivia for your quick response. I am gonna try them soon 🙂👍
Sorry for too many questions.. But the base I can bake too right? 160C for 10 mins? Will that b fine or if not how long & what shd b test for doneness if so.
Hi Meera! This is a no-bake recipe, so I haven’t tried baking the base 🙁
No problem Olivia. I googled and checked & baked it at 177 C for 8 mins..added almonds too. This is the 1st time I ever tasted this bar and I liked it a lot
And thanks for clarifying all my doubts 🙂