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Rich and fudgy Nanaimo bars are the perfect no-bake dessert. A chocolate, graham cracker, almond, and coconut base layer is topped with a creamy custard filling and chocolate ganache. You’ll be hooked on this classic Canadian treat!
What are Nanaimo bars?
You may be unfamiliar with Nanaimo bars, and you aren’t alone! Your friends and family will be begging for the recipe when they try this decadent and unique bar. Nanaimo bars are a Canadian classic, named after the city Nanaimo (pronounced nuh-NAI-mow) in British Colombia.
Nanaimo bars have three distinct layers. The first layer is a chewy mixture of graham crackers, shredded coconut, chopped almonds, and chocolate (think of an Almond Joy brownie). The next layer is a sweet and creamy custard vanilla filling, it’s so decadent! The third layer is a delicious melted chocolate ganache. All three of these work together to be the perfect no-bake treat!
Nanaimo bar ingredients
For the base:
- Butter: Butter is in each layer of the Nanaimo bar, contributing to its rich and decadent flavor! I recommend using a high quality unsalted butter.
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar keeps the brownie layer moist and chewy. Make sure to pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup to get the correct measurement.
- Cocoa powder: Although any cocoa powder will work, my preference would be to use a Dutch cocoa powder. I typically buy mine in bulk at Winco since it is the most cost-efficient.
- Egg: The egg helps keep the first layer together. It helps with texture, thickness, and chewiness. Make sure to use a large egg.
- Vanilla: Essential for flavor. Try to use real and authentic vanilla to get the realest and deepest flavor!
- Graham crackers: You can buy graham cracker crumbs pre-made, or you can crush your own with a food processor or a rolling pin. You don’t want them to be too fine of a powder, rather have enough chunks to give the bars some crunch and texture.
- Sweetened coconut flakes: Adding both texture and flavor, coconut flakes are a critical addition to the bars. If you have unsweetened coconut flakes, that would work as well.
- Sliced almonds: I typically buy pre-sliced almonds, but you can also chop your own to be the size that you prefer.
- Butter: Once again, I use unsalted butter because it tends to be fresher.
- Heavy cream: This is what gives the filling its creaminess. Heavy cream, when heated, will also thicken the filling until it’s the perfect texture.
- Custard powder: A typical Nanaimo bar recipe will recommend using Bird’s custard powder. If you want to, you can also substitute vanilla pudding powder. See below for more details.
- Powdered sugar: Powdered sugar will make the filling sweet without it being grainy. This will keep the filling the perfect smooth texture, keeping it thick.
- Semi-sweet chocolate: You can use whatever chocolate is your preference, but I recommend semi-sweet. Milk chocolate, I have found, is too sweet in these bars. You can melt down your favorite chocolate chips, chocolate melting wafers, or chocolate bar (like the Trader Joe’s Pound Bars).
- Butter: The third and final use of butter in this recipe! Butter gives the ganache its shine.
How do I make Nanaimo bars?
It can be a little intimidating at first glance to figure out how to make Nanaimo bars. Surprisingly, the layers aren’t too difficult to make and can be done pretty quickly!
- Start with the base layer, which will be cooked almost entirely on the stovetop. Melt the butter on medium to low heat so that it doesn’t burn, then stir in the brown sugar and the cocoa powder. Remove from the heat and cool for about 5 minutes. Add the egg and stir well.
- Return to the heat and cook until the mixture starts to thicken.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Then, stir in the graham cracker crumbs, chopped almond, and shredded coconut.
- Press the mixture into a greased pan and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
- Now for the custard filling! Cream together the butter, heavy cream, and custard powder until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat for about another minute.
- Spread custard filling over chilled graham cracker layer. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill or in the freezer for 15 minutes.
- Microwave the butter until it’s completely melted. Add in the semi-sweet chocolate chips and stir together until the chocolate has melted and become smooth. Spread over the custard layer and chill for at least 15 minutes. These are best served chilled!
What is a substitute for custard powder?
If you don’t have any custard powder on hand or you don’t want to go out and buy some, you might be looking for an easy substitute. Another great option instead of custard powder would be to use vanilla pudding mix. Instant vanilla pudding will give the same vanilla flavor to the Nanaimo filling while simultaneously giving a good and thick texture.
- Make sure that you give each layer time to chill! If you layer it all on top of each other at once, the layers are more likely to blend instead of being a crisp and distinct line.
- I love that Nanaimo bars store so well! They can last in the refrigerator for up to 1 week in an airtight container. They can also be frozen for 1-3 weeks. Just take them out and let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight before eating!
If you love Nanaimo bars, here are some other recipes you’ll want to try out!
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- 1/2 cup Butter
- 1/3 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
- 1 Egg
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla
- 1 3/4 cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
- 1 cup Sweetened Flaked Coconut
- 1/2 cup Sliced Almonds
- 1/2 cup Butter softened
- 1/3 cup Heavy Cream
- 3 Tablespoons Custard Powder such as Birds. May substitute instant vanilla pudding
- 2 cups Powdered Sugar
- 1 cup Semi-sweet Chocolate
- 3 Tablespoons Butter
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in brown sugar and cocoa powder and stir well for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Add 1 egg and stir well.
- Return mixture to stove and cook for 1-2 minutes until mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
- Stir in graham cracker crumbs, flaked coconut, and sliced almonds.
- Press mixture into a greased 8 by 8-inch or 9 by 9-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, heavy cream, and custard powder until light and fluffy –about 3-4 minutes. Add powdered sugar and mix for 1 minute longer.
- Spread custard filling over chilled graham cracker layer. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill or in the freezer for 15 minutes.
- In a microwave-safe bowl, place butter in the microwave and cook for 30 seconds or until melted. Stir in semi-sweet chocolate chips and keep stirring until glossy and smooth. Spread chocolate into an even layer over custard layer.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes until chocolate has set. Cut into squares. Best served chilled.
- *Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.