A Cherished Canadian Food Recipe: Best Ever Nanaimo Bars (2024)

I don’t make the “best ever” claim often, but as something of a Nanaimo bar fanatic, I have tried, and will continue to try, many a Nanaimo bar in many a place, and, call me biased, but I like mine thebest. Ever.

Ok, not MINE, per se, since actually my Mom developed this recipe to perfection and was kind enough to pass it on to her daughters. It involves an extra thick icing layer in the middle, and, like many great treats, plenty of butter. The base may seem unnecessarily greasy when you’re pressing it into the pan, but this is the secret to stable, non-crumbly results. You’ll want to score the top chocolate before it cools completely for crack-free tops when you cut them into squares, and you’ll want to keep an eye on small children if you set them on the ground for a photo shoot since they quickly end up melting in little hands, we discovered :)

These are a no-bake recipe that takes a couple steps, making it perfect to work on while you’re baking something else – which is exactly when these got made.

When Theo was about 2 weeks old I had the brilliant idea of a mass production baking day with my two local sisters so our freezers would be adequately stocked for Christmas and company. We got smart this time – to increase our haul, we each baked two recipes before getting together so we had 6 recipes done beforehand and could complete at least 6 more together.

I must confess, I was less helpful than I normally would’ve been, since the eager beavers were determined to start our adventures at 8:00 AM since they had a noon deadline. I spent the first hour feeding a baby who still forgets how to eat from time to time, despite the fact that eating is pretty much ALL he had to learn to do and, given the regularity of his practice schedule, he should be expert at. When I did finally wander into the kitchen to help, I operated in slow-motion post-baby mindhaze and managed to complete all of one recipe for Caramel Chocolate Oat Bars which, by no fault of my own, got forgotten in the oven and overcooked :P

(Which is not to say I didn’t eat them. I did.)

Meanwhile, my sisters made, cut, and sorted into 3 piles our peppermint bark, peanut butter chocolate Rice Krispie squares, whipped shortbread, fudge, chocolate toffee bars, white chocolate cranberry cookies, gingersnaps, lemon bars, happy cookies, and of course, these Nanaimo bars!

You may recall that they had to leave by noon? Yeah, they’re impressive. My goal of stocking the freezer was more than realized, no thanks to me…if only more than 2 things of the 20 some-odd dozen had actually STAYED in the freezer.


And also, YUM.

And also also, sisters are such an amazing blessing…I have 4 of ’em, and every single one is wonderful.

All our recipes were doubled since we were splitting them three ways, but these were quadrupled – as soon as Chelsea finished making one giant pan, Sarah sweetly asked if she was “only making one pan?” So Chelsea got back to work and made another.

So, to recap: Mom perfected the recipe, Chelsea made them, Sarah photographed them, and I’m telling you about them: family teamwork at its finest :)

I’m torn between these andWhipped Shortbread for my all-time favourite baked good, they’re that good. Which would you prefer? I mean, both have significant amounts of butter, so you know either choice is a good one! If you give either recipe a try, please invite me over :)

A Cherished Canadian Food Recipe: Best Ever Nanaimo Bars (3)*Update on November 26, 2013:

I’m so excited to revisit this recipe to add it to the Canadian Food Experience Project, a project begun by Valerie Lugonja onJune 7, 2013. As we(participants) share our collective stories through our regional food experiences and food memories, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity.

Nanaimo bars are a quintessentially Canadian food that the world is happily adopting, originating in Nanaimo, British Columbia. My family travelled to the city of Nanaimo, on gorgeous Vancouver Island, many summers of my childhood, my parents, their 5 girls, and a big dog filling the van to capacity, the van which then had to haul our trusty tent trailer as well. I have so many memories of the lush scenery, the thickly forested campgrounds, the expansive beaches, and the whale watching we got to experience in and around Nanaimo. When I got married, we spent our brief honeymoon on Vancouver Island as well, and it never disappoints.

Nanaimo Bars bring all that beauty and sense of belonging and relaxation back, and they are an absolute necessity at any Canadian Christmas, or any time through the year when you just want to celebrate the beauty and freedom of our nation.




Total time

Author: Anna {hiddenponies.com}

Recipe type: Dessert

Serves: 35


  • BASE:
  • ¾ cup butter or margarine
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (*see note for substitutions)
  • 1 cup coconut
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (OPTIONAL)
  • ½ cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 6 tbsp milk
  • 4 tbsp custard powder
  • 4 cups icing sugar (aka powdered sugar or confectioner's sugar)
  • 8 oz semisweet or dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp butter


  1. BASE: Combine first 6 ingredients in large saucepan. Heat and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in graham crumbs, coconut, and walnuts. Pack firmly into ungreased 9x13” pan. Chill while you prepare the middle layer.
  3. MIDDLE LAYER: Beat all 4 ingredients together in medium bowl until smooth. Spread over first layer. Chill for 45 minutes.
  4. TOP LAYER: Melt chocolate and butter in a small bowl at 50% power in microwave. Microwave for about 1½ minutes, stir and microwave another 30 seconds or longer if needed, stirring frequently. Spread fairly evenly over middle layer. Chill for 1 hour, then score chocolate with a sharp knife and return to fridge to chill completely before cutting into bars.


Scoring the chocolate just means making shallow cuts in it so that it will not chill into a solid mass, which will crack when you eventually go to cut these into bars. If there is some cracking don't worry about it - they taste just as delicious :) To make these gluten free, replace the graham crumbs with gluten free graham crumbs, ground gluten free Chex cereal or gluten free Rice Krispies. Oreo crumbs can also be substituted for the graham crumbs. The chill times are approximate - you just want each layer to be set enough that you can spread the next layer on without pulling it up. You can also leave the layers to chill for much longer if you're busy with other things, it doesn't matter :)

A Cherished Canadian Food Recipe: Best Ever Nanaimo Bars (2024)
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