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!
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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 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.
Who invented Nanaimo bars?
They were invented in or near the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. No one knows who created this dessert, or when they were first made. We do know that this dessert has been around since at least the early 1950s, and have been popular throughout Canada for decades.
Do you need to use custard powder?
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.
Are they gluten free?
They aren't gluten free, since they contain graham cracker crumbs. To make a gluten free version, 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 they 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.
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 they 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.
Do Nanaimo bars need to be refrigerated?
If you live in a warm climate or it's the summertime, you'll need to keep them 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 them in your garage during the winter; it will keep them semi-frozen.
Can they be frozen?
Absolutely! These treats 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 them, or they will melt.
How to Make
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.
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.
Mix together the coconut, graham cracker crumbs, and chopped walnuts until combined.
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.
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.
Lightly butter an 8x8-inch cake pan, then line it with parchment paper. Pack the chocolate graham mixture into the pan and chill for at least 30 minutes.
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.
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.
Spread the vanilla filling on the chilled base. Chill again for at least 15 minutes.
While the vanilla filling is chilling, get the chocolate topping ready. You'll need dark chocolate chips and a tablespoon 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.
Chill the bars for 30-45 minutes, until the chocolate is hardened. Lift them out of the pan by the parchment paper, place on a cutting board, and slice into individual pieces. Enjoy!
- 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 into small pieces, since they are very rich.
- Keep them in the fridge if you live in a hot climate. Keep them on the counter if you live in a cold climate.
- Freeze leftovers 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.
- 8x8-Inch Pan: this sturdy metal pan is the perfect size for bars, brownies, and small cakes.
- Parchment Paper: effortlessly lift the bars out of the pan and keep the pan clean with this paper.
- Silicone Spatulas: these are my all-time favorite spatulas for scraping out bowls and pans.
- Handheld Electric Mixer: this little workhorse is definitely a must-have kitchen tool.
- Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips: I use these excellent dark chocolate chips for almost every chocolate recipe.
Other Chocolate Desserts
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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)
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped (65g)
- ½ cup unsalted butter (115g)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar (50g)
- 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (30g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg, beaten
For the Vanilla Filling
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened (115g)
- 2 ½ 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)
- Very lightly grease an 8x8-inch cake pan with butter and line with parchment paper.
- Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts in a medium-sized bowl until well blended.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pack the mixture into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Making the Vanilla Filling (15 min + 15 min chilling)
- 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.
- 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.
- Spread the icing evenly over the chilled base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Making the Chocolate Topping (10 min + 30 min cooling)
- 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.
- Let the chocolate cool for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, then spread the chocolate evenly over the chilled vanilla filling layer.
- Refrigerate until the chocolate has fully set, at least 30-45 minutes.
- 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.
- Line the pan with parchment to make it easy to remove the bars.
- Pack the base tightly into the pan so the bars aren't crumbly.
- Slice in small pieces, since this treat is very rich.
- Store leftovers in the fridge if it's hot or on the counter if it's cold.
- Freeze leftovers for up to 3 months and defrost at room temperature for 20 minutes. Do not microwave.
- Prep Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Category: Bars
- Method: Chilled
- Cuisine: Canadian
Keywords: nanaimo bars recipe without custard powder, nanaimo bars recipe
This recipe was originally published on December 7, 2017.