Nanaimo bars

To Canada from Boston with love

Hey Canada, why have you been holding out on me? I mean, yes, growing up in Southern California I didn’t have much contact with your delectable treats (maple syrup being the exception), but my husband lived in Vancouver for a short time when he was a boy, and he neglected to tell me about them. It took a slip of the tongue from a Whisky Wednesday friend to break the silence (it was at the end of the tasting, so don’t blame him). Now I know, and I’m going to share your secret with the world…Nanaimo Bars exist, and they’re pretty damn great!

What are these underrepresented (at least in the US) delicacies, you ask? They’re a layered bar with a chocolate graham cracker & coconut base, a thick white buttercream frosting filling, and topped with melted chocolate. Keith Corbett, my WW friend who hails from Toronto, let slip that he missed the Nanaimo bars that his college roommate used to make (they would pair them with brandy). I once visited Nanaimo, a ski resort outside of Vancouver, but that’s really irrelevant to these bars. Keith offered to send me his roommate’s recipe, and once he did I headed off to Pinterest to find out more. There I learned that these bars are a particular Christmastime treat in Canada, although since they’re a no-bake treat I wouldn’t be surprised if they were made year-round.


Nanaimo Bars recipe

Keith’s roommate’s version, including tripling the base amounts, doubling the filling, and quadrupling the topping. His bars were VERY tall!


There was a bit of research I had to do before starting out…the recipe calls for something called “custard powder,” a Canadian product which basically is cornstarch flavored with vanilla (maybe that’s how Canada kept us Americans in the dark about Nanaimo Bars? One never knows…). I found a recipe for The Best Nanaimo Bars on Bake. Eat. Repeat.  which basically resembled the recipe Keith sent me (when doubled). So far, so good.

Me, being me, I adapted the recipe to suit my tastes. First, I’m not a fan of coconut, so I just left it out of the base (that sound you hear is a collective gasp from north of the border). I found this note in the comments section of the recipe:

Regarding the Coconut: Crisped rice would be an okay substitution, but I don’t think it could be called a Nanaimo bar then, the coconut is a pretty integral flavour in them! But it would be tasty I’m sure! To make them coconut free though, I might be more inclined to just increase the graham crumbs, then the texture would still be the same, although the flavour would be different.

I guess I’m not the only one who’s thought about leaving out the coconut. Hopefully Canada will just collectively shake their heads at us, sigh deeply, and move on.



An Americanized version of Nanaimo bar ingredients

The Best Nanaimo Bars

Adapted from Bake. Eat. Repeat

Yield: 48 1”x2” Bars

These are the absolute best Nanaimo bars, an amazing sweet treat that’s a perfect addition to your holiday dessert table!

Prep Time: 30 min

Total Time: 30 min



  • 2 ounces (57g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (114g) butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons (28g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5mL) vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons (60mL) pasteurized egg whites (or one large egg)
  • 2 cups (244g) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup (74g) unsweetened coconut (Note: I omitted this and just added more graham cracker crumbs)


  • 1/2 cup (114g) butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons (34g) custard powder or cornstarch
  • 4 cups (454g) powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (90mL) milk
  • 1 tablespoon (15mL) vanilla


  • 4 ounces (113g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) butter



  1. Place the 2 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium microwave safe bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate is almost melted. Continue to stir until it is completely melted. Add the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, egg whites, graham cracker crumbs and unsweetened coconut (if using) and mix well. Press into a 9×13 inch pan and chill for 20 minutes.
  2. In another bowl, cream the butter for the filling. Make a slurry with the cornstarch, vanilla, and milk, mix into the creamed butter, then beat in powdered sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Spread the filling evenly over the chilled base. Chill for another 15-20 minutes.
  3. In a microwave safe bowl, place the 4 ounces chocolate chips and the butter and heat at 50% power for 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is almost melted. Continue stirring until it is completely melted. Spread evenly over the chilled custard layer. Chill for several hours or overnight.
  4. Cut into bars and store covered in the refrigerator for a week, or remove from the pan and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Tips for cutting:

Let them sit on the counter for about 10 minutes before cutting them so the chocolate isn’t quite so cold. Dipping the knife in hot water before each cut seems to work well. And cut slow!


Making the layers


A couple of final thoughts…I lined my pan with foil to make removing the bars easier, but then the foil stuck to the bottom as I cut them. Maybe parchment paper would work better? Having the butter softened made the making of the base and filling much easier…I left my (frozen) butter out on the counter for several hours before starting. I’m also thinking that maybe next time I’ll flavor the filling with mint so it’s not so cloying (especially since the coconut flavor isn’t there). Can they really be called Nanaimo bars then? A rose is a rose, and all that. Anyway, the bars did cut cleanly, and I decided to firm up the filling by freezing the bars before serving them.

Where did I serve them? Why, at Whisky Wednesday, of course! I made sure Keith would be there, and he (and the rest of the WW crew) loved them. He even commented that these bars may be even better paired with the single malt scotches we were tasting than with the Courvoisier VSOP from his college days. Canada, your secret is out, but I, for one, am grateful. To Canada from Boston, with love!

Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!


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