Nanaimo Bars

5 from 35 votes
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Nanaimo bars are a Canadian dessert staple! There is probably nothing as famous as a Nanaimo bar when it comes to Canadian cuisine, excepting the butter tart, of course. This buttercream custard filled bar is a sweet-tooth’s dream! Try my Magic Bars recipe or my Chocolate chip fruitcake skillet cookie for another treat!

Nanaimo Bars - buttercream custard filled bar

Nanaimo Bars The Famous Canadian Dessert

The Nanaimo bar is a no bake bar dessert that is (supposedly) named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. There are a few arguments over where it came from, but generally we all agree that it was made famous by Nanaimo at the least.  It consists of a walnut and crumb based bottom layer that is pressed into a pan. That layer is then topped by the middle layer that consists of of custard flavoured buttercream icing (which is the best part!) and then  covered with melted chocolate. The melted chocolate then hardens, creating a hard chocolate topping.

What is in a Nanaimo Bar?

The Nanaimo bar is a relatively easy bar to make since you don’t have to bake it and consists of these layers:

Bottom Layer

  1.  butter
  2.  sifted cocoa
  3. granulated sugar
  4.  egg
  5. 1 graham cracker crumbs
  6. unsweetened coconut
  7. finely chopped walnuts

Middle Layer

  1. icing sugar
  2. butter
  3.  milk
  4.  custard powder

Top Layer

  1.  chocolate chips
  2.  butter
3 pieces nanaimo bars, mint leaves and walnuts
Nanaimo bars

The real secret to a nanaimo bar is the custard powder, but what if you don’t have custard powder? If you want to replace the custard powder in a nanaimo bar, you can use instant vanilla pudding instead. It’s not the exact same and the color won’t look the same pale yellow, be warned, but it will be very close!

Can you freeze Nanaimo bars? I am sure that the reason these are so popular is that Nanaimo bars are probably one of the BEST bars that you can freeze! Remember to wrap them up and place them in layers in an airtight container and they will freeze up perfectly for a month or two.

close up Nanaimo bars ready to be enjoy!
Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo Bar Recipe – Baking Tips & Tricks

  • While I don’t think the original recipe has cooling the crust as a step in it, it IS better to cool the crust in between. While you are making the middle filling pop the bottom crust into the fridge.
  • This is easiest to cut when it’s colder. Scour lines in the top of the chocolate before it hardens, then cut through those exact lines when the bars are cold. You will get perfect squares without cracking chocolate!
  • Keep them chilled as they get melted in the middle a bit when at room temperature!

This nanaimo bar recipe is one that my family has been using for years and I suspect it’s the one from Company’s Coming cookbooks, as a lot of bars are. However, she didn’t invent the nanaimo bar….so I would love to know which recipe is THE original Nanaimo bar recipe. Does anyone know or is it a lost cause to ever truly pin down who came up with Nanaimo bars?

No matter who, a big thank you for inventing my favourite square!

Happy baking!



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Nanaimo Bars

The classic nanaimo bars recipe! 
5 from 35 votes
Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Total Time
25 minutes
Karlynn Johnston


Bottom Layer

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup sifted cocoa
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Middle Layer

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons custard powder

Top Layer

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  • Start with the bottom ingredients. 
  • In a large pot, melt the butter, sugar and cocoa together until it’s smooth. 
  • Quickly beat in the egg, making sure there are no lumps. 
  • Add in the graham crumbs, coconut and walnuts. Firmly press into the bottom of an un-greased 9×9 pan. Chill in the refrigerator while you get the middle layer ready.
  • Get your middle ingredients together. Custard powder should readily be available in any store and is what gives the middle layer the yellow color. 
  • Cream the icing, butter, milk and custard powder together with a mixer, then spread onto the bottom layer. 
  • Melt the cup of chocolate chips and 2 tbsp of butter together. 
  • Spread the chocolate on top evenly, then cool in the fridge for a couple hours. The nanaimo bars are best chilled, they hold together the best, since the middle layer is well, butter!

Nutrition Information

Calories: 347kcal, Carbohydrates: 36g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Cholesterol: 51mg, Sodium: 194mg, Potassium: 98mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 27g, Vitamin A: 445IU, Vitamin C: 0.2mg, Calcium: 40mg, Iron: 1.1mg

All calories and info are based on a third party calculator and are only an estimate. Actual nutritional info will vary with brands used, your measuring methods, portion sizes and more.

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Nanaimo bars are a Canadian dessert staple! This buttercream custard filled bar is a sweet-tooth's dream! #square #bar #dessert #nanaimobars #sweet #sugar #recipe #nobake #chocolate #easyrecipe

Karlynn Johnston

I’m a busy mom of two, wife & cookbook author who loves creating fast, fresh meals for my little family on the Canadian prairies. Karlynn Facts: I'm allergic to broccoli. I've never met a cocktail that I didn't like. I would rather burn down my house than clean it. Most of all, I love helping YOU get dinner ready because there's nothing more important than connecting with our loved ones around the dinner table!

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Reader Interactions

Comments & Recipe Tips Share a tip or comment!

  1. Debbie says

    I am going to make these sometime over the Christmas season. I was born and raised in Kamloops, British Columbia and my parents moved to Nanaimo in 2007 when my dad retired after teaching for 30+ years. Nanaimo bars have always been my downfall. I moved down to the USA after graduating from college and still live in the USA but I will try the recipe with vanilla pudding instead of custard because ordering custard online in very expensive!

  2. BarbiAnne says

    Custard powder is an egg custard base in powder form, it has a really good vanilla flavor. It’s used a lot in Ireland, Scotland and England for many, many desserts when they don’t have time to make custards by hand or as an additive to make a dessert thicker. A touch also can be added to protein drinks or blended coffees for a little added flavor. I hope this helps ?5 stars

    • Kate says

      I thought the Canadian version used heavy cream instead of milk… along with the custard powder?

  3. Leigh says

    My personal memory of ‘Nanaimo Bars’ comes from childhood, some 55 years ago.

    It was a tradition to get these treats on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo…and I had always assumed they were developed by some clever chef on the B.C. Ferries system and named for the port of arrival.

    My Mom often made them at home, too, like most British Columbian Moms in those days.

    We always used ‘Birds Eye’ custard powder.

  4. Pamela Houdashell says

    I would also like to know what custard powder is.

    • Lynda says

      From what I can tell o. google its like a powdered mix to make custard. Much like the powdered mix we use to make pudding. Google it, you can easily make your own with average pantry ingredients.

  5. Chris says

    I’ve always thought that Canadians were the sweetest people, and now I know why! I’m definitely making these for the family this weekend. Thanks for sharing dear!5 stars

    • Chris says

      Oh, now I have a question. What is custard powder? I don’t know that I’ve seen it in the States?

  6. Brenda says

    Yet again a kitchen magpie, no fail recipe that takes me back to my prairie childhood. She really has perfected these food staples and her Nanaimo bar recipe will not disappoint.5 stars

  7. Margaret Buffie says

    Hello from Winnipeg. Just found your site today when I was looking for the source of whipped “shortbread”. I make traditional Scottish shortbread and wondered where the shipped form began. I think it was in the 30’s or 40’s but no real proof.

    One question: Is it me(?) or is your list of the three levels for Nanaimo bar upside down. You say the bottom layer (of crumbs etc) is the “top layer.” and the chocolate and butter layer is the bottom layer in your recipe. Nanaimo bar has been around for quite a long time before the Bridge cookbooks. Great books. I have all of them. I found Nanaimo Bars in one of my mother’s old church recipe books put out by the women’s auxiliary – c 1940 – and I also have an old CCF cookbook I found a long time ago in a book sale (the CCF is of course, now the NDP.) A terrific book with many local recipes. Not sure of the date, but the CCF cookbook was probably printed at least 50 years ago. I am looking forward to seeing some of your recipes! Love the site.

    • Margaret Buffie says

      That’s whipped, not “shipped”! Lol. I will try your version of Nanaimo as my old recipe is too dry/ crumbly on the bottom and it falls apart.

  8. Shelly says

    These look so good! I’m wondering if I have to cook the base layer for a bit so the sugar will dissolve???


    5 stars

  9. B Hamilton says

    I have used this recipe many times. Turns out perfect every single time. A little chilling between layers does help for sure but I usually can’t wait that Also I found it a lot nicer without the walnuts in the crust, i sprinkle them on top of the chocolate instead. Sooooooo good. Way better then store bought variety.

    5 stars

  10. Skeeezx says

    hi great recipe just wondering if base and middle need to be chilled before trying to apply icing my attempt did nothing but smear and mix with the middle…thanx again

    5 stars

  11. Seagullgal2002 says

    First time making this and its chilling now cant wait

    5 stars

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