Canada – Nanaimo Bars

Why did I pick the Nanaimo bar as my first bake?  I don’t especially love coconut, almonds, or vanilla custard. In fact, I have a rather strong dislike of coconut (I foresee that this may be an issue going forward).  I chose the Nanaimo bar because, honestly, I am not very confident with my baking skills quite yet and this making this dessert seemed easy. No oven, no proofing, no fancy flavors. Pretty foolproof, right?

Well, before I get into details of to the bake, a little background on the Nanaimo bar. According to the City of Nanaimo website, the history of the bar is “shrouded in mystery” but the bars originated in Nanaimo, British Columbia (hence the name). According to a 2012 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation survey, Nanaimo bars were one of the 10 “most Canadian foods” ranking just below poutine (so good) and maple syrup (what a surprise). In my google search for “Canada national dessert” the Nanaimo bar appeared the most of with mentions in Buzzfeed (semi-reputable, right?), Food Network, and HuffPo to name a few.

The Bake

Was the bake (or non-bake, in this case) as easy as anticipated? Mostly.


The bottom layer is very straight forward: melt then mix. The recipe says to use a double boiler but I think that is unnecessary. I’m also impatient generally so anything to get me to the dessert at the end faster is a win in my book. Next time I will simply melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the sugar and cocoa. Make sure to add the egg slowly to avoid curdling!


Since I already had a double boiler going I opted to start the third layer next by simply. Added bonus, since this layer has to cool anyway it saved time to start this layer first and let it cool while I finished the second layer. After starting my chocolate going on the double boiler I dove into the second layer.

The second layer is even easier than the first: mix the heck out of everything. I let my mixer run longer than was needed because I was envisioning that this layer should be more like a fluffy frosting than a creamy custard. That vision was wrong. This layer is not like an easily spreadable frosting but this is a good thing. Since the mixture is thicker it can stand up to the heavy chocolate layer on top.


Meanwhile, back to the chocolate layer. OOF. This layer, the simplest one, was the most frustrating. I actually made this layer twice – both with the same result. Maybe because I opted to use cheap chocolate chips once I added the butter to the melting chips the whole concoction seized up. Since by this time I was a early morning, frustrated, no-morning tea version of myself I just said screw it and piled the ugly, but tasty, chocolate as my third layer. Lesson learned: buy the good chocolate.


I put the whole thing in the fridge to chill. This turns out to have been a mistake. The bars got too cold and when I tried to cut them the layers peeled apart. However, after letting them sit at room temperature for half an hour the layers came back together and voila, Nanaimo bars!


The Moment of Truth

Minus the ugly looking chocolate top, which resulted from user error, these bars were easy to make and taste very decadent. They could be a good dessert to make with kids—or when you are in a rush but want something that looks slightly fancier than cookies.

The Recipe

This recipe comes from Joyce Hardcastle, the winner of a contest held by the City of Nanaimo to determine the bar’s official makeup. The original recipe can be found here. As discussed above, I modified the ingredients and directions slightly.

Bottom Layer:

½ cup unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs

½ cup finely chopped almonds

1 cup coconut

Melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and almonds. Press firmly into an ungreased 8” by 8” pan.

Second Layer:

½ cup unsalted butter

2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. cream

2 tbsp. vanilla custard powder

2 cups icing sugar

Cream the ingredients together until light and airy. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer:

4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

2 tbsp. Unsalted butter

Melt ingredients together and cool. Once cool but not set, pour over second layer and set aside to set.

Cut and serve. Makes 16 2” by 2” squares.

Fun Fact

Since the 1930s, Canada and Denmark have been fighting over an uninhabited island by leaving each other bottles of whiskey and changing their flags. Canadians, eh?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Guess who says:

    Why don’t you like coconut Kevin?! Why?!!?!? What is your illogical fun fact that goes with this story #ff


    1. DessEarth says:

      #FF death by falling coconut is a thing.


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