These no-bake Nanaimo Bars have a crunchy base made with chopped graham cracker crumbs, almonds, and coconut, a creamy custard filling, and then finished with a decadent melted chocolate topping. These delicious bars are perfectly paired with a cold glass of milk!
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I love the mixture of crunchy and creamy textures in these bars, as well as the chocolatey, nutty, and vanilla flavors! They are one of the BEST no-bake treats and perfect for taking to potlucks or adding to cookie plates during the holidays.
If you have never had one, a Nanaimo Bar is a classic Canadian no-bake treat from British Columbia made with three delicious layers that are full of textures and flavors.
There are lots of Nanaimo Bar recipes, but authentic Nanaimo Bars are made with Bird's custard powder for the creamy middle layer, whereas a lot of recipes choose to use instant vanilla pudding mix.
If you can't find Birds custard powder then you can certainly make these with the pudding mix, but the end result will be slightly different, but still delicious though! I have had good luck finding it at most grocery stores in the baking aisle, and it's easy to get off Amazon if you want to try the real deal.
What You'll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient amounts and full instructions.
- Butter - We'll be using salted butter for each of the three layers. Salted butter will enhance the flavors throughout these bars.
- Granulated Sugar - White granulated sugar will bring sweetness and also a bit of structure to the bottom layer.
- Cocoa Powder - Use unsweetened natural cocoa powder for the bottom layer to add a rich chocolatey flavor.
- Egg - Helps to bind the bottom layer ingredients together.
- Vanilla - Vanilla extract adds a warm, subtle sweetness to this dessert and also helps blend the flavors together.
- Graham Crackers - You'll need to use graham cracker crumbs for the main substance of the base.
- Coconut - Shredded sweetened coconut will add some structure to the base as well as a smooth coconut flavor.
- Almonds - Use finely chopped almonds in the base for a crunchy texture, as well as an added nutty flavor.
- Heavy Cream - Full-fat heavy whipping cream is best to give the custard layer a really creamy flavor and great texture.
- Custard Powder - You'll need some Birds original custard powder to make these bars truly authentic but instant vanilla pudding mix is a good substitute in a pinch!
- Powdered Sugar - Use powdered sugar to sweeten the middle layer and also give it some substance.
- Chocolate - Use bittersweet chocolate for a deep and decadent chocolate flavor in the top layer. You can use semi-sweet chocolate as well, but it will have a slightly less deep flavor.
- Salt - Use flaky Maldon salt to sprinkle on top of the bars as a finishing touch if you like.
How to Make Authentic Nanaimo Bars
- Chop almonds and crush Graham crackers. Firstly, line an 8x8-inch baking pan with a parchment paper sling. Then finely chop the almonds and coconut in a food processor . Crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs. This is also easiest to do in a food processor.
- Make butter mixture. Combine butter, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large heatproof bowl. Then set over a medium pot of simmering water to create a double boiler. Whisk until the butter has melted. Add the egg and whisk it for 2-3 minutes until the mixture has thickened slightly.
- Combine mixtures. Remove the double boiler from the heat and stir in the vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds.
- Make bottom crust. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan but make sure it's in an even layer. Transfer it to the fridge to set up for at least 15 minutes.
- Mix ingredients for middle layer. Beat the butter for 1 minute until creamy and smooth, then add cream, custard powder, and powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until combined. Then increase the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add custard layer. Then spread the custard layer evenly over the cooled crust. Chill for 30 minutes to set while you make the top layer.
- Melt chocolate and butter. Heat chocolate and butter in the microwave in short 20-second bursts. Stir between each burst until the mixture has melted and is smooth.
- Lastly, add chocolate and chill. Spread the chocolate in a smooth, even layer over the creamy middle layer. Finally, sprinkle with salt, if using, and chill for 30 minutes to set.
PRO TIP: To avoid cracking the chocolate, score slice marks in the bars with a sharp knife partway through chilling before the chocolate has completely hardened.
- Slice and serve. Slice into 16 bars, allowing them to come to room temperature before serving.
The Nanaimo Bar is a Canadian no-bake sweet treat named after the city of Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island. It gained popularity after the second world war. Since then, it has become an internationally loved no-bake dessert!
Store these bars in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Serve these bars chilled. Be sure not to leave them at room temperature for too long. They are great for making ahead!!
You can freeze these bars for up to 3 months. Simply cover in plastic wrap or store in a freezer-safe container in the freezer. Put them in the refrigerator to defrost overnight and serve chilled.
Tips for Success
- The middle layer should be creamy but thick and fairly stiff so it doesn't squish out when you bite into the bars. It's slightly thicker than a buttercream I might use for frosting a cake.
- To avoid cracking the chocolate, score slice marks in the bars with a sharp knife partway through chilling before the chocolate has completely hardened.
Authentic Nanaimo Bars
True, authentic Nanaimo Bars always have custard powder. However, instant vanilla pudding or even dry powdered milk can be used as good replacements for that milky, creamy taste. You can even make the middle layer by just leaving the custard powder out and still have a tasty bar with a creamy buttercream layer.
Substitutions and Variations
- Cookies. You can adjust the recipe by using a different cookie for the base. Crumbled Biscoff Cookies or Vanilla Wafers could work well, though I haven't tried this myself.
- Nuts. Use walnuts or pecans instead of almonds in the base if you prefer. You could even add some crushed nuts on top of the ganache for extra texture and flavor.
- Chocolate. Use different kinds of chocolate in the topping for a different flavor and different look. Milk chocolate would make for a sweeter bar, so we tend to stick with semisweet.
- Drizzle. Melt some white chocolate and drizzle it on top for an extra special finish and a bit of extra sweetness.
More Bar Dessert Recipes
- Frosted Coconut Sugar Cookie Bars
- Cherry Pie Bars
- Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bars
- Pecan Pie Cheesecake Bars
- Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe
- ½ cup salted butter, cubed
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (235g)
- 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
- ½ cup finely chopped almonds (or walnuts or pecans)
- ¼ cup salted butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons Bird's custard powder or vanilla pudding mix
- 2 cups powdered sugar (245g)
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 tablespoons salted butter, cubed
- Flaky Maldon salt, for finishing (optional)
- Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with a parchment paper sling. Finely chop the almonds and coconut in a food processor. Crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs in the food processor.
- Combine butter, cocoa powder, and sugar in a large glass bowl and set it on top of a double boiler. Whisk until the butter has melted. Add egg and whisk for 2-3 minutes until the mixture has thickened slightly.
- Remove the double boiler from the heat and stir in vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds. Press into an even layer in the prepared pan and transfer to the fridge to set up for at least 15 minutes.
- Cream butter for 1 minute with an electric mixer until creamy and smooth. Add cream, custard powder, and powdered sugar.
- Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Spread the custard layer evenly over the graham cracker base layer. Chill for 30 minutes to set.
- Heat chocolate and butter in the microwave in short 20-second bursts, stirring between each burst, until melted and smooth. Spread in a smooth, evenly layer over the creamy middle layer. Sprinkle with salt, if using. Chill for 30 minutes to set.
- PRO TIP: To avoid cracking the chocolate, score slice marks in the bars with a paring knife partway through chilling before the chocolate has completely hardened.
- Slice into 16 bars. Allow bars to come to room temperature before serving.
- Storage: Keep any leftover bars in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Freezing: These bars freeze well for up to 2 months. We like to freeze them individually wrapped with plastic wrap. Thaw in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours. Let them come to room temperature before serving.