Nanaimo Bars (Classic Canadian Recipe) (2024)

Published | Julia Frey (Vikalinka)

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Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian three layer holiday treat you will fall in love with! These no-bake chocolate covered bars with a creamy custard filling on a crumbly chocolate coconut base are just waiting to conquer the world the same way as it did its home country!

Curious to taste another classic Canadian treat? Take a look at our Maple Butter Tarts! Or explore the entire Holiday Dessert Section in Christmas Recipe Collection.

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Do you want one? You do but don’t know what they are? It’s okay go ahead and make them anyway!

Nanaimo Bars and Butter Tarts are both very Canadian! We wish we could be home with family this holiday season but it’s not in the cards. So instead I am baking an array of Canadian treats.

What are Nanaimo Bars?

Nanaimo bars are a triple layer confection with a crunchy chocolate and coconut base, creamy centre and a chocolate glaze. They are very traditional in Canada and are rumoured to be invented in a bakery in the city of Nanaimo, a West Coast town in British Columbia we lived just an hour away from.

Are we sure we know who invented them? Not at all, despite endless effort being put into finding out and many claims made throughout the years. They have been traced to a point of time, though, gaining renown in the 1950s.

What does seem clear is that the richness and sweetness of the bars is a direct response to the a passion for all things sweet and buttery after years of war-related shortages and rationing. Butter and sugar were now available, and people wanted to use them!

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Nanaimo bars have a very devout following in its native land. You will understand why once you try one. You’d be forever sold on this triple layer confection with a chocolate coconut base, creamy center and a chocolate glaze.

When we lived in Canada I rarely felt the need to make them myself because they would be served at 3 out 4 homes we’d be visiting around Christmas.

Now that we live in England we feel like we NEED to have things that remind us of home, and thus bring us much needed comfort.

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How To Make Them

Like the best sweet bars recipes, these treats are quite easy to make and a recipe I enjoy making with kids. The hardest part is waiting for the layers to set to continue with the recipe!

The process is pretty similar to a cheesecake. The base is a mixture of graham cracker crumbs, cocoa, butter, sugar, dried coconut and one egg. You can successfully use Digestive biscuits instead of graham cracker crumbs if you are in the UK.

All you do is mix everything and bake quickly for 10 minutes, then add a no-bake custard cream layer and top with melted chocolate. Done!

Serving suggestions

These bars are sweet. Really sweet. That means a relatively small bar will go a long way! It’s best to cut them into manageable serving sizes, which I would say is a maximum of 5 cm/2 inches square. Smaller will do no harm too.

I don’t have the sweetest of teeth, which means that I like to have something to go with Nanaimo bars when I decide to indulge. Nothing too complex is needed. A cup of coffee or hot tea will do nicely!

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Recipe tips and notes

  • What sets the middle layer is a custard powder. The powder also gives it that telltale yellow colour. Custard powder is absolutely necessary for true Canadian Nanaimo Bars.
  • You can use a vanilla pudding mix but it’s won’t be exactly the same. It’s worth tracking Bird’s custard powder online if you can’t find it in your local supermarkets.
  • The bottom layer is traditionally made with crushed graham crackers but they were impossible to find in the UK so I gave digestive biscuits a try. They worked very well so I’m happy to recommend!
  • It’s best to let each layer set before adding the next. It won’t take too long but will help to keep the layers separate.
  • Please don’t forget to pre-cut your bars when the chocolate is partially set, about 30 minutes after you complete the final layer. This will prevent the top from cracking once the bars are chilled and firm.
  • Although not a part of the traditional recipe, I love sprinkling my Nanaimo bars with flaked sea salt at the end. It gives very sweet bars a much needed balance, not to mention the sea salt looks like a light dusting of snow. Absolutely gorgeous!

Storage and leftovers

These bars freeze well. In fact that’s how everyone stores them back in Canada. Simply put them in an airtight container with parchment paper or wax paper between the layers and freeze until needed.

Take out of the freezer 30-40 minutes before serving to allow them to thaw. These bars taste best when served at room temperature.

More holiday bar recipes

  • English Fridge Cake Bars
  • Raspberry Cheesecake Bars
  • Blackberry Crumble Bars
  • Slow Cooker Chocolate Butterscotch Cookie Bars

Nanaimo Bars (Classic Canadian Recipe) (5)

Nanaimo Bars

Julia Frey of Vikalinka

Nanaimo bars are a triple layer confection with a chocolate and coconut base, creamy center and a chocolate glaze.

5 from 7 votes

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Prep Time 30 minutes mins

Cook Time 10 minutes mins

Cooling time 1 hour hr

Total Time 40 minutes mins

Course Dessert

Cuisine Canadian

Servings 24

Calories 317 kcal



  • 190g/3/4 cup butter melted
  • 50g/1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 egg large
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 220g/2 cups graham cracker crumbs I used Digestive biscuits in the UK
  • 100g/1 cup dried coconut

Middle Layer

  • 125g/1/2 cup butter softened
  • 6 tbsp milk
  • 4 tbsp custard powder I used Bird’s Custard powder
  • 520g/4 cups icing sugar

Top Layer

  • 250g/8 oz dark or milk chocolate chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter


  • Preheat your oven to 350F/180C. Mix all ingredients for the base in a large bowl. Line your 9 inch X 13 inch pan with parchment paper and pack your crumb mixture firmly into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool in the pan.

  • While the base is chilling beat the middle layer ingredients until smooth and spread over the base. Chill for 60 minutes.

  • Melt chopped chocolate with a tablespoon of butter in a double boiler. Or if you don't have one, set a bowl with chocolate over a pot of simmering water and melt your chocolate this way.

  • Spread melted chocolate over the cream layer. Let the chocolate set for 30-40 minutes. Then cut into bars, so your chocolate layer won't crack later when the chocolate hardens. Chill until firm for several hours or overnight.


Calories: 317kcalCarbohydrates: 38gProtein: 2gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 44mgSodium: 163mgPotassium: 108mgFiber: 2gSugar: 29gVitamin A: 379IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 25mgIron: 1mg

Keyword nanaimo bars

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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About Julia Frey (Vikalinka)

Julia Frey is a London based recipe developer and photographer. Julia founded Vikalinka in 2012 with the main mission to provide her readers with delicious and accessible everyday recipes, which could be enjoyed by everyone.
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Nanaimo Bars (Classic Canadian Recipe) (2024)


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