Nanaimo Bar Recipe: A Classic Canadian Dessert

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My mom and I make nanaimo bars every Christmas. It’s been our tradition for as long as I remember and despite the fact that these are one of my all-time favourite desserts, for some reason, I always associate them with Christmas. Which means, usually, I only make them once a year.

This year at Christmas time, when I shared the nanaimo bar making process on my Instagram stories, a lot of followers were curious. After all, a nanaimo bar isn’t something you will find in the cafes of New York City or the pastry shops of Paris. Nanaimo bars are Canadian.

 So, since none of us can physically travel during COVID-19 times, many of us have turned to cooking and baking foods and treats from different cultures as a way to still experience some of the joy of travel. A lot of you seemed to like my Canadian butter tart recipe that I posted a few weeks ago so I thought I would share this one too.

So, what the heck is a nanaimo bar?

Nanaimo bars are, as I said above, a Canadian dessert. The first recipe was published back in 1952 (though it’s expected they have been around for much longer) and they get their name from a city of the same name in the province of British Columbia. Oh, and if you are wondering how to pronounce it, nanaimo sounds like nah-nye-mo

Nanaimo bars are layer bars. The bottom layer is a chocolate/coconut/graham cracker mixture. The middle layer is a creamy vanilla filling, and then it’s topped with another layer of chocolate. They are very sweet, but also very delicious.

Like any other favourite dessert, there are multiple recipes and ways to make nanaimo bars. Traditionally, you don’t cook the base but my family recipe does (I mean, it does have an egg in it). We also add nuts to the base, which many recipes call for but another Canadian friend of mine vehemently disagrees with. Basically, everyone has their own idea and adaptations for what’s best.

Here’s my family recipe for nanaimo bars.

Nanaimo Bar Recipe


You Will Need:

Ingredients for the nanaimo bar base

  • ½ cup of unsalted (sweet) butter
  • 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • ¼ cup of granulated white sugar
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cup of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup of sweetened, shredded coconut
  • ½ cup of chopped walnut pieces

Ingredients for the nanaimo bar middle

  • ¼ cup of unsalted (sweet) butter (softened)
  • 2 tbs of vanilla pudding powder
  • 2 cups of icing sugar
  • ¼ cup milk

Ingredients for the nanaimo bar top

  • 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tbs of sweet butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C)
  2. In a double boiler, melt down the butter, chocolate and sugar for the base. When melted and mixed, cool a little bit and add in the egg and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the graham cracker mixture and stir until completely combined. Press into an 8×8 pan and bake for 15 minutes. The base will be a little darker around the edges, but still very soft. Leave to cool completely.
  5. For the filling, add all ingredients into a mixer and mix up until combined. It will be about the consistency of buttercream icing. When the base layer is cool, spread the filling on top. Then put the pan into the fridge to chill and harden.
  6. When the vanilla custard layer is firm, you can add the top layer. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a double boiler so you don’t burn the chocolate. When it is smooth and silky, pour over the squares and spread to cover the entire pan. Place back in the fridge to chill again before slicing into bars.
  7. Enjoy!

As I said above, there are different versions of this nanaimo bar recipe. If you like, you can omit the walnuts in the base completely, or substitute them for pecan pieces or even almond slices.

It is important to use an 8×8 pan. Because these are layer bars, you want to have proper amounts of each layer per bar. If you use a bigger baking pan, then the middle and top layers may be spread too thin.

If you decide to make this recipe, let me know what you think!

1 Comment

  1. […] I’m starting off this list of Christmas desserts from around the world with my favourite, nanaimo bars. Named after after a city of the same name in British Columbia, Nanaimo bars are a chocolate Canadian dessert that are especially popular during the holiday season. The bottom layer is a graham cracker, chocolate, and coconut crust. Then you have a silky vanilla cream layer, and it’s topped with a thin layer of chocolate. They are sweet, but they are delicious. You can find my family recipe for nanaimo bars here. […]

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