nanaimo bars (a recipe)

A friend at work told me about these amazingly delicious bars that originated in British Columbia (her homeland) a little while ago.  You know, it’s generally easy for me to fall into any conversation about food any time of the day.  🙂 

Fast forward to the present day and a semi-grim situation where we were all on edge about this same friend being approved to cross the border back from Canada and hoping she could get an extension on her visa.  Luckily, we got word that she successfully crossed the border and would be back in the office the next day.  So naturally, this became a reason to celebrate and a couple of my coworkers and I managed to pull together little party for her.  (Any reason for cake is a good reason, right?!)

But instead of making cake, my mind reeled back to our conversation about British Columbia and those Nanaimo bars that she oh-so-loved (and missed).  I Googled for a recipe and came across quite a few, but decided to use this one since it is from the city of Nanaimo, who claim that the bars originated from that city.  Despite the triple layers and the number of ingredients in the recipe, I have to say that it’s a pretty simple dessert to put together.  And what’s even better is that you don’t have to bake it and it sets in the refrigerator.  Warning: you might pass out when you see how much butter goes into this thing!  But alas, they’re so rich that you’ll really only eat 1/24th of it so you know, it’s not thaaaaat bad. 

Here’s my interpretation/translation of the recipe based on the ingredients I found and used:


Bottom Layer
– 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 5 tbsp of Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 egg beaten
– 1 and 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs (they come pre-crumbled now – what a time saver!)
– 1/2 cup of almonds (I used slivered but the original recipe calls for chopped)
– 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut

Middle Layer
– 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature (soft but not melted)
– 2 tbsp and 2 tsp of heavy cream
– 2 tbsp of instant vanilla pudding mix
– 2 cups of confectioners sugar

Top Layer
– 4 squares of semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. per square)
– 2 tbsp of unsalted butter

Note: I used an 8″ x 8″ glass dish for the bars but they came out very tall.  I think you could easily get away with using a 9″ x 9″ pan or even a small jelly roll pan to get a thinner product in the end.


1.  Put some water in a small pot (less than half full) and bring to a light boil, turn the heat down so that it’s not a rolling boil and kind of just simmering.

2.  To construct the bottom layer: in a heatproof bowl, melt the first three ingredients (butter, sugar, cocoa powder) over the pot of simmering water (or use a double boiler).  Add the egg and stir to cook and thicken.  Remove the bowl from the heat then add the coconut, crumbs, and almonds.  Pour into an 8″ x 8″ pan or dish lined with parchment or wax paper (makes it easy to clean up later plus easier to remove for cutting).  Set aside.

3.  To construct the middle layer: cream the butter, cream, vanilla pudding powder, and the sugar together really well (basically until you don’t see any more of the white sugar particles) then spread on top of the bottom layer.

4.  To construct the top layer: Using the pot of simmering water (or a double boiler) again, melt the chocolate and butter by stirring constantly until all of the butter has melted and it is a nice and smooth consistency.  Remove from the heat and set aside to let it cool down a little bit.  While it’s cool but still liquid-y, pour over the second layer and spread it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon.

5.  Refrigerate to let all the layers set properly. 

6.  When you’re ready to serve: remove from the refrigerator (ideally about an hour before to allow it to thaw a tiny bit; just makes cutting into a little easier) and lift the parchment or wax paper to remove from the pan.  Cut into pieces and serve.  Goes down nicely with a glass of milk.

And then last but not least, here’s a little card I made for us to sign for her to celebrate the successful border crossing:


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