Award-Winning Nanaimo Bars

A stack of three canadian nanaimo bars on a plate.
Recipe At-A-Glance
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Holiday Recipe30 min
Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert that are rich, decadent, and impressive! My family recipe took first place at a local baking competition a few years back—they're THAT good.

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Being a born and raised Indiana girl, I can safely say I had never even heard of a Nanaimo Bar—a classic Canadian dessert bar—until I met a cute Canadian boy who would eventually become my husband. The first bite I ever had of a Nanaimo Bar was in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, and let me tell you, I fell deeply in love with the boy AND the dessert all at the same time!

I immediately went to work crafting my own Nanaimo Bar recipe, and by the time my soon-to-be-husband had immigrated to the States, I had perfected my very own piece of Canadian food culture for us to enjoy while away from the Great White North. I’ve now been making my Nanaimo Bars (and married to my husband) for closing in on 15 years, and these bars get raves every time I serve them.

Close-up of a nanaimo bar with a bite taken out of it on the edge of a plate.

We’ve fully indoctrinated my Indiana family to the joys of Nanaimo Bars, and I always get requests for “those Canadian chocolate bar things” at family gatherings. I even entered them in a local baking contest a few years back where they received the grand prize, and I received lots of requests for my recipe! Let me show you how to make these family favorite dessert bars.

What are nanaimo bars?

A nanaimo bar is a classic Canadian dessert bar that consists of three-layers—a chocolate graham cracker crust, a velvety vanilla custard filling, and a rich chocolate ganache.

What do they taste like?

Nanaimo bars taste like classic chocolate and vanilla. They are also super rich! Cut them into small, small pieces so that nobody gets overloaded before they get to try everything else on the cookie plate!

Overhead of two nanaimo bars on a plate with one on its side to show its layers.

How do I make nanaimo bars?

You’re going to be making three separate layers, so let’s walk you through each of them!

First up, the chocolate graham cracker crust. For this one, you’ll:

  1. Melt the butter and whisk in the sugar and cocoa powder.
  2. Temper some egg and add it in. This just means that you are whisking the egg with a little of the warmed butter before you mix it into the whole butter bath. Don’t skip this step! If you drop the egg in all at once, you’re going to end up with scrambled eggs in your crust.
  3. Add the rest of the crust ingredients and stir.
  4. Press the crust into a pan and refrigerate while you make the other layers.

Wholefully Protip

Don’t skip the tempering step, or you’ll end up with scrambled egg pieces in your crust!

A single layered bar sits on a plate.

Next up, the custard layer! This one is super simple: beat all the ingredients together, and spread the vanilla custard over the crust layer.

Wholefully Protip

Classic nanaimo bars use custard powder for the middle layer, but that can be hard to find in the United States. Instant vanilla pudding mix works just fine as a substitute!

Finally, we have the chocolate ganache layer. Melt the chocolate and butter together, and smooth over the other two layers. Let the bars cool completely before slicing. Ta-da! You just made nanaimo bars.

A hand holds a finished square bar showcasing its different layers.

Wholefully Protip

You can also flavor the filling, like we did with our mint nanaimo bars.

Uh, won’t the eggs still be raw?

Since you are tempering the egg with hot, melted chocolate, the egg won’t be raw, per se, but it isn’t fully cooked through either. If you’re freaked out about the undercooked egg from a food safety perspective, you can use pasteurized eggs. You should be able to find them in major supermarkets!

How do you store nanaimo bars?

Because they contain undercooked egg, the refrigerator is the best place to store your bars. They will last for up to a week.

A nanaimo bar with a bite taken out of it sits on a countertop.

Can I freeze nanaimo bars?

Yes—they freeze beautifully! I recommend cutting them and wrapping in plastic wrap individually. Store them in a zip-top bag or food storage container in the freezer until you are ready to eat. Let them warm up at room temperature on the countertop for about a half hour before serving.

Wholefully Protip

Cut the nanaimo bars into small pieces—they are super rich!

 
A stack of three canadian nanaimo bars on a plate.

Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

Yield: 16 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Nanaimo Bars are a Canadian dessert that are rich, decadent, and impressive! My recipe took first place at a local baking competition—they're THAT good.

Ingredients

Layer One

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional

Layer Two

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Layer Three

  • 4 ounces chopped dark chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions

For Layer One

  1. Line a 8” x 8” baking pan with two strips of parchment paper laid perpendicularly, allowing the paper to hang over the outside of the pan on all four sides. Set aside.
  2. In a double boiler on low or in a mixing bowl fitting over a small saucepan with simmering water on low heat, add in the butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg until smooth. To temper the egg, scoop a small amount of the melted butter and chocolate mixture (about a tablespoon) into the beaten egg, whisking well to combine. Continue adding the butter mixture to the egg a tablespoon at a time until you’ve added about half of the butter mixture. 
  4. Pour the tempered egg into the remaining butter mixture, and stir until the mixture is thick, about two minutes. 
  5. Add in the salt, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, pecans, and espresso powder, if using. Stir until well-combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan, making an even crust layer. Use a wet pastry roller to get a flat layer, if desired. Place the pan in the fridge while you prepare the next layer.

For Layer Two

  1. Using an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter, heavy cream, and instant pudding mix until light and fluffy. 
  2. Add in the powdered sugar in three additions, stirring well after each addition. Beat for an additional 1-2 minutes after all the powdered sugar is incorporated to get a fluffy filling.
  3. Spread the filling evenly over the chilled crust layer. Use a wet pastry roller to get a flat layer, if desired. Place the pan in the freezer to help set the filling for the next layer.

For Layer Three

  1. In a double boiler on low or in a mixing bowl fitting over a small saucepan with simmering water on low heat, combine the dark chocolate and butter. Stir frequently until melted and smooth.
  2. Pour the melted chocolate over the top of the second layer, making sure the layer is even in thickness.
  3. Let the bars cool completely (either at room temperature or in the fridge), then use the overhang of parchment paper to lift the bars out onto a cutting board. Cut into 1-2” squares. 

Notes

  • These are very rich, so you can get by with slicing into 1” squares for a crowd, or make larger squares for those with a sweet tooth.
  • A traditional nanaimo bar calls for vanilla custard powder as the middle layer. It’s a tricky product to find here in the States, but instant vanilla pudding mix is a good substitute.
  • It’s important to temper the egg before adding it to the melted butter mixture so you can avoid having scrambled eggs floating in your chocolate. Not good eats!
  • If you are worried about undercooked/raw eggs in this dish, feel free to use pasteurized eggs (most grocery stores sell them or you can pasteurize your own eggs). 
  • Hesitant to use the espresso powder? Don’t be! It doesn’t make these bars taste like coffee, it just intensifies the chocolate flavor.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 221Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 23mgSodium: 88mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 2gSugar: 25gProtein: 2g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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