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Nanaimo Bars

For those of us that have grown up with the Nanaimo Bar, it hardly seems possible that the rest of the world has had to go without this treat at Christmas time. I'm sure that Joyce had no clue that her famous bar would become such a favorite when she entered a contest in her hometown of Nanaimo. For the whole story you can click right here to read it. 

I do recall learning to make these before I was a bride. I even made them for the day that I had my bridesmaids over to wrap the Wedding cake in foil and netting for our wedding favours. Sadly, that day I made a few errors that I am going to make sure you never make. Pay attention to the little details and you too can serve the perfect little layer bar with your Christmas goodies.
First of all, you will want to use a 9X13 pan instead of the 8X8 pan. I like it nice and thin. You may like yours thicker, go for it. The other thing you will want to do is to line your pan with parchment paper or foil. If you don't do this you will not be able to lift it out to cut once it has been chilled

The other thing you will need to do is to ensure fresh ingredients. Make absolutely sure your graham wafer crumbs are fresh. Taste them. Don't trust that because your package is sealed, they will be fine. Also, make sure that your nuts whether you choose to use walnuts or almonds or pecans are also fresh. Taste them. The coconut I use is fine unsweetened. While you can use flaked or shredded, it cuts nicer if the bits are tiny.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom layer 
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons of cocoa
  • 1 farm fresh egg slightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup of graham wafers
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup of fine unsweetened coconut
  1.  Put the butter in a microwave safe bowl and melt it until it is nearly but not entirely melted.
  2. If the butter is too hot it will instantly cook your egg in the next step.
  3. Add the cocoa and sugar and stir until it is combined.
  4.  Add the slightly beaten egg and stir until well combined.
  5. Put back in the microwave for about a half minute.
  6. Your mixture should be a bit like a custard.
  7. You may need to put it in for another half minute, stir and repeat until it has slightly thickened.
  8. The egg should have now slightly cooked and thickened the mixture.
  9.  Add the nuts and coconut and stir until well combined.
  10.  Add the graham wafers last. Don't add all the crumbs at once. I have found that some makes of graham crumbs are more powdery and thereby can dry the mixture faster. I think you'll be okay with this amount of butter, but as I learned years ago, if the mixture is too dry, it will crumble and not cut nicely later on when it is chilled. Spread the first layer into your prepared pan and chill for an hour. Do not skip the chilling step.
Second layer 
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Birds Eye Custard Powder. (non-sweet custard powder meant to be cooked)
  • 3 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • 2 cups of icing sugar or (powdered sugar)
  1.  Cream the butter and add the custard powder and combine well. 
  2.  Add the Icing sugar next and stir slowly to combine.
  3. Add the cream a drizzle at a time to make a nice smooth icing.
  4. Beat it well until it is light.
  5. Take your chilled crumb base out of the fridge and spread your icing evenly on top.
  6. With your offset spatula, spread it out nice and smooth or as smooth as you can.
  7. Put it back in the fridge for an hour. 

Third Layer
  • 6 squares of semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  1. Put this in the microwave for half a minute or combine and heat over in a double boiler.
  2. Stir the chocolate at a half minute intervals until it is perfectly smooth.
  3. Take your chilled bar out of the fridge and put your chocolate on again using your offset spatula. Put it in the fridge to chill for 15  - 20 minutes.  
  4. The bar needs to chill until the chocolate has set but not so so chilled until the chocolate is hard. If this happens you will crack your bar when you slice it.
I keep it well wrapped in the refrigerator. 
The instructions might seem daunting but it really is easy and very quick with no baking involved.


  1. Lovella, these I have not tried making! I'm so impressed with how perfect yours look and I'm sure taste better than any of the bought ones I've had. Beautiful picture!

  2. I'm actually making those tomorrow- however we call them vamino bars- wonder where the different names come from??

  3. It certainly looks delicious! I've heard about these things for years, but I have never tasted them. Shocking!

  4. sOkay, I was just wondering why they are casled Nanaimo Bars. I remember once flying over Vancouver Island and the pilot (who was obviously not from these parts) told us that we were flying over "neigh-neigh-mo"! We had a good laugh and still refer to it as such.

  5. Sorry about the typos. Sometimes I wonder.

  6. Lots of work in making these bars but so worth it to the 'rich chocolate' lovers.
    Oh Anneliese..I like that translation..'neigh-neigh-mo'..we have cousins in Nanaimo and I must share this with them!!

  7. This looks like a real treat, but I have never heard of Birds Eye custard powder. Is this a typical Canadian type of ingredient?

  8. I make these also, my 2nd layer uses instant vanilla pudding

  9. Mmm...these are so good! My Canadian college roomies introduced me to these little delights:) I've made them a few times, but it's been a while. I should make some this year! Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Oh Lovella, how Canadian, West Coast and Christmasy! Love these...I think my son kept a local bakery in business by the amount he consumed over the years stopping in for a treat. Making them looks sounds so easy when you walk us through the steps. Thanks...I am going to try. Your recipe looks better than any I have ever seen...and cuts so beautifully.

  11. Your bars are perfect!! .. Lovella, we really must be cousins.. smile.. I just made these a few days ago.. my gluten-free recipe..I'll have to post it! I love Nanimo Bars, except I know I commit the unpardonable omission of the coconut. I have never learned to enjoy the taste and I find the texture soo unpleasant. Funny how different we can be in our tastes !

  12. There's nothing like home-made Nanaimo Bars. My sister always makes these. They are to die for.

  13. I am glad that you included step by step instructions for these. I have made several pans of these things before, but was never quite excited about them. I always disliked the base. Now you say to not add all the graham crackers at once and it worked so much better. Thank you. I really enjoy this site.

  14. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I recently moved to the US and I'm giving these to my fella's family for Christmas -- though it was VERY hard to find custard powder here! No regular grocery stores carry it... but all the Indian foods stores do :)

    Thanks for the great recipe and the helpful hints.

  15. Wonderful! I love these because I grew up with them - and my son loves Nanaimo Bars from visits with family in BC (and friends who remember and bring some for him when they travel all the way across the continent!). I've never made them and if my son ever finds this blog I'll be under alot of pressure!

  16. I grew up with Nanaimo bars so I thought they were a common bar - how wrong I was. I didn't realize they were specific to BC until I moved to the US. First I found out they were Canadian because none of my American friends had heard of them, but then I found out they were BC bars because none of my Eastern Canadian friends had either. They soon became a 'taste of home' treat. I had always thought their name being the same as Nanaimo, BC was simply a coincidence.

    We've had to import the custard powder for years, but finally can now buy it in City Market & Safeway - Yay! We always celebrate Canada Day and Canadian Thanksgiving with these bars as well as enjoying them at Christmas.

    I was taught to make them using a double boiler - the process is very specific (almost a religious experience) - but am really happy to see your success using the microwave. I'll have to try it. Also, we never put wax paper in the bottom of the pan, because the first bar or two is guaranteed to break up, so the cook simply has to eat it.

    -TL (dj kosmotronix' wife)

  17. Nanaimo Bars are Gluten Free??? (big cheesy grin) :-D

  18. JUST made them not 10 minutes ago. My recipe's slightly different but I'll have to try yours some time. I had a question....someone mentioned that they call them "Vamino bars" I was just wondering where they were from...I was curious as to the name difference.

  19. This bar has its origins in BC's west coast town of Nanaimo. It is reported that in the 1950's it was sold in many of the coffee shops on Nanaimo's Commercial Street and tourists in the region came to refer to these as "Nanaimo Bars" even though these were originally referred to as Mabel bars, or W.I. bars. The earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe using the name "Nanaimo Bars" appears in a publication entitled His/Her Favourite Recipes
    (1957), with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress,

  20. I decided to make these for Christmas this year--the picture of them was so gorgeous I knew they would be a perfect addition to my Christmas gifts! After my husband and son tasted them, I may not have any left to give away!! I am hoping to save a few for my grandchildren, but that may not happen! These are really delicious. I was fortunate to find Bird's Custard Powder at World Market although I read that you can substitute vanilla pudding mix if you can't find it. I love all the recipes I have tried so far from your blog; you all must have very happy families with the wonderful food you serve them!!

  21. I have made these for years and use instant pudding which works wonderful....also I use the cinnamon graham crackers for just an added touch. When putting on that top layer, I often just tip the pan to spread rather than risk digging into the soft middle layer with a grandma VanSolkema told me they were Dutch :) Dr. Yvonne Alles

  22. I've been making Nanaimo bars at Christmas since the late 50's. I also lived in Nanaimo at the time of the Nanaimo bar contest you have provided a link for. The Nanaimo bar contest that was held in the 80's was not for the original Nanaimo bar recipe, ( that's courtesy of a home cook in Ladysmith British Columbia )it was for an enhanced Nanaimo bar ie; an adaptation of the original recipe. Joyce Hardcastle won for using 'cultured' unsalted butter in her Nanaimo bars. Cultured unsalted butter has a distinct tang to it, whereas regular unsalted butter does not. That slight tang helps cut down on the sweetness of the bars. If you use regular unsalted butter, you'll not have the unique taste of the Joyce Hardcastles winning recipe. A hint so you'll not have to line your 9x13 pan. When you put the final chocolate layer on, score the chocolate lightly with a knife into bars or whatever shape you prefer. When your tray of bars are cold, cut through the score lines with a knife that has been warmed under hot tap water. An off set spatula will soon take care of removing the cut bars from the tray.


  23. Jay. ..thank you so much. I appreciated knowing all that background information and will make that change to uncultured unsalted butter next time I make them.
    This years batch is already in the fridge...and just like you I scored the chocolate before it was set. I'll add that part to the recipe.

  24. I have made Nanaimo Bars since I was 14, growing up in the Fraser Valley, so I'm well familiar with this tasty "to-die-for" treat. This recipe to cook the custard in the microwave is such a time-saver. Thanks so much for saving us precious minutes at the stove cooking this in a double boiler.

  25. I made these for the first time, my mother always said they were too hard to make and I believed her. Good thing I decided to try these cause they are really easy, supper yummy and I love the thinner bar made in the 9x13 inch pan. Thank you so much for the advice.


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