Nanaimo bars are a classic Canadian dessert that everyone loves!  The graham cracker and coconut base is topped with vanilla icing and chocolate.  These Nanaimo bars are made without custard powder.  Enjoy this popular treat from Canada!

Prep Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
stack of Nanaimo bars on a plate
Bars, Christmas, Desserts Under 300 Calories, No Bake Desserts

Easy Canadian Nanaimo Bars

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This recipe was originally published on December 7, 2017.

Nanaimo bars are a Canadian treat that are really popular in our house.  Something amazing happens when chocolate, coconut, butter, and vanilla are made into one attractive and memorable dessert.  This classic Canadian treat will be popular with your family and friends, too!

side view of a plate of Nanaimo bars

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Where did Nanaimo bars come from?

Ask any Canadian where Nanaimo bars came from, and they’ll tell you that this delectable treat originates from the little town of Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island.  There’s even a Nanaimo Bar Trail with 39 stops for you enjoy all the Nanaimo bar goodness!

Americans would disagree with the name, and say that these bars are called New York Special and come from the state by that name.  Since I’m Canadian, I prefer to stick to the Canuck version.

top view of a plate of Nanaimo bars

Who invented Nanaimo bars?

Nanaimo bars were invented in or near the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.  No one knows who created the bars, or when they were first made.  We do know that Nanaimo bars have been around since at least the early 1950s, and have been popular throughout Canada for decades.

Do you need custard powder for Nanaimo bars?

Traditionally, the vanilla filling includes 2 tablespoons of vanilla custard powder, but I omitted this for a more homemade filling.  If you’d like to use custard powder, just omit the cornstarch and decrease the vanilla extract in the filling to 1 teaspoon.

person holding a Nanaimo bar

Are Nanaimo bars gluten free?

Nanaimo bars aren’t gluten free, since they contain graham cracker crumbs.  To make gluten free Nanaimo bars, use gluten free graham crackers or digestive biscuits.  Also, make sure that all of your ingredients are certified gluten free, and avoid cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods.

Do Nanaimo bars contain nuts?

Yes, Nanaimo bars do usually contain walnuts.  If you have a nut allergy, feel free to leave them out or substitute them for a different kind of nut that you are not allergic to.

plate of Nanaimo bars

Can you eat Nanaimo bars when pregnant?

My Nanaimo bar recipe does have a lightly cooked egg in the bottom layer.  Raw or undercooked eggs may pose a slight health hazard for pregnant women, young children, or the elderly, so consult your doctor if you feel concerned about eating raw or lightly cooked eggs.  If you want to ensure that the base is fully cooked, you can bake it at 350 F for 10-12 minutes, then let it cool before topping with the vanilla icing.

Are Nanaimo bars baked?

Most Nanaimo bar recipes do not need to be baked.  Certain recipes bake the bottom layer to ensure that it is fully cooked, but this is not necessary with my recipe.

person holding a plate of Nanaimo bars

Do Nanaimo bars need to be refrigerated?

If you live in a warm climate or it’s the summertime, you’ll need to keep Nanaimo bars in the fridge so they don’t melt.  If it’s cooler in your house because of winter temperatures, they should be okay out of the fridge.  Or you can be a true Canadian and put the bars in your garage during the winter; it will keep them semi-frozen.

Can Nanaimo bars be frozen?

Absolutely!  Nanaimo bars freeze exceptionally well.  Just make sure to cut them into individual pieces, then seal them in an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.  Let the bars thaw at room temperature for 20 minutes, then enjoy.  Don’t microwave the bars, or they will melt.

How to Make Nanaimo Bars

Gather the ingredients for the Nanaimo bar base.  You’ll need graham cracker crumbs, cocoa powder, sweetened coconut flakes, chopped walnuts, sugar, a beaten egg, unsalted butter, and vanilla extract.

ingredients for Nanaimo bar base

Make your own graham cracker crumbs by breaking the crackers into smaller pieces and sealing them inside of a zip-top bag.  Crush with a rolling pin until the crumbs are small and all the same size.

crushing graham crackers with a rolling pin

Mix together the coconut, graham cracker crumbs, and chopped walnuts until combined.

graham cracker and coconut mixture in a bowl

Dump the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and egg into a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of gently simmering water.  Stir the mixture until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth and thickened.  It should reach about 155 F (68 C) on a thermometer.

bowl of chocolate mixture with a spatula

Once the chocolate mixture has thickened, pour it all into the graham cracker mixture and mix well.  Feel free to get your hands in the bowl to mix; it’s a lot easier than using a spoon.

Nanaimo bar base mixture in a bowl

Lightly butter an 8×8-inch cake pan, then line it with parchment paper.  Pack the chocolate graham mixture into the pan and chill for at least 30 minutes.

packed Nanaimo bar base in a square pan

While the base is chilling, gather the ingredients for the vanilla filling.  You’ll need icing sugar, unsalted butter, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and heavy whipping cream.

vanilla icing ingredients for Nanaimo bars

Dump the butter into a mixing bowl and sift in the icing sugar.  Add the cornstarch and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add enough heavy cream to make the icing a stiff but spreadable texture.  Keep beating the icing on medium speed until it’s really smooth and fluffy.

vanilla icing with a mixer in a bowl

Spread the vanilla filling on the chilled base.  Chill again for at least 15 minutes.

spreading vanilla icing on Nanaimo bar base

While the vanilla filling is chilling, get the chocolate topping ready.  You’ll need dark chocolate chips and a tablespoon of butter.

bowl of chocolate chips with a pice of butter

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water.

Spread the chocolate on top of the chilled vanilla filling, swirling it decoratively as desired.

spreading melted chocolate on Nanaimo bars

Chill the bars for 30-45 minutes, until the chocolate is hardened.  Lift the bars out of the pan by the parchment paper, place on a cutting board, and slice into individual pieces.  Enjoy!

sliced Nanaimo bars on a cutting board

Pro Tips for Making Nanaimo Bars

  • Add a few drops of food coloring to the vanilla filling to change the color.  Mint green and pale pink are popular and attractive choices.
  • Keep the ratio in mind.  The Nanaimo bar base should be twice as thick as the filling.  The chocolate topping should be thin.
  • Cut the bars into small pieces, since they are very rich.
  • Keep the bars in the fridge if you live in a hot climate.  Keep them on the counter if you live in a cold climate.
  • Freeze leftover Nanaimo bars and pull them out when desired.  Defrost at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Do not microwave.
  • Want flavor variations?  Flavors such as chocolate orange, raspberry, and mint are good ideas.  Rock Recipes has some great ideas for Nanaimo bar variations.

Nanaimo bars on a piece of parchment paper

Our Go-To Kitchen Tools for Nanaimo Bars

Craving more no bake chocolate desserts?  These will satisfy your sweet tooth.

no bake chocolate oatmeal cookies on a cookie sheet taking a bite from one of the chocolate turtles holding a piece of chocolate peanut butter fudge

The pleasure of a 5-star review for these Nanaimo bars would be greatly appreciated.

stack of Nanaimo bars on a plate

Easy Canadian Nanaimo Bars

  • Author: Emma
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 32 bars 1x


Nanaimo bars are a classic Canadian dessert that everyone loves!  The graham cracker and coconut base is topped with vanilla icing and chocolate.  These Nanaimo bars are made without custard powder.  Enjoy this popular treat from Canada!



For the Chocolate Base

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (205g)
  • 1 cup sweetened dried coconut flakes (83g)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (65g)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (115g)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50g)
  • 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (30g)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the Vanilla Filling

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (115g)
  • 2 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted (300g)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (25g)
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

For the Chocolate Topping

  • 5 ounces dark chocolate chips, 60% cacao (140g)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (14g)


Making the Chocolate Base (40 min + 30 min cooling)

  1. Very lightly grease an 8×8-inch cake pan with butter and line with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts in a medium-sized bowl until well blended.
  3. Place the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and beaten egg into a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of gently simmering water.  Stir the mixture constantly until the butter has completely melted and the mixture has thickened.  It should reach 155 F (68 C) on a thermometer.  Immediately remove from the heat.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of cracker crumbs and use your hands to mix it all together.  Be sure that you mix all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Pack the mixture into the prepared pan.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Making the Vanilla Filling (15 min + 15 min chilling)

  1. Beat the softened butter with a handheld electric mixer, then sift in the icing sugar and cornstarch.  Mix on low speed until somewhat blended, then beat on medium to medium-high speed until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  2. Pour in the vanilla extract and just enough cream to make the icing a stiff but spreadable consistency.  Beat on medium speed until the icing is smooth and fluffy.
  3. Spread the icing evenly over the chilled base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Making the Chocolate Topping (10 min + 30 min cooling)

  1. Place the chocolate chips and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water.  Stir constantly until the chocolate and butter have fully melted.
  2. Let the chocolate cool for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, then spread the chocolate evenly over the chilled vanilla filling layer.
  3. Refrigerate until the chocolate has fully set, at least 30-45 minutes.
  4. Once the chocolate topping has fully set, lift the bars from the pan with the parchment paper.  Slice into about 32 small pieces with a sharp knife.  Serve chilled.


  • Make this recipe perfectly the first time.  Check out the step-by-step photos and pro tips before the recipe card.
  • The pleasure of a 5-star review for this Nanaimo bar recipe would be greatly appreciated.
  • 👩🏻‍🍳 Want to see our latest recipes?  Subscribe to our email newsletter to get our latest recipes, fun food facts, food puns, and behind the scenes news about our blog.
  • Category: Bars
  • Method: Chilled
  • Cuisine: Canadian

Keywords: nanaimo bars recipe without custard powder, nanaimo bars recipe

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4 thoughts on “Easy Canadian Nanaimo Bars

  1. It has a lovely crunchy bottom with the graham crackers, walnuts, and coconut. The smooth icing in the middle is almost like whipped cream. The hard layer of chocolate on top is delicious. These bars are really, really good!! ❤

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