These easy Nanaimo bars are inspired by the classic Canadian no bake dessert bars. A simple biscuit base with coconut, almond and cocoa powder, topped off with a creamy filling and chocolate top. Easy, decadent and sure to be a favourite!
What are Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars are a Canadian no-bake dessert bar, referred to by the name of the town that claims their origin - Nanaimo in British Columbia.
The dessert's exact development is a bit disputed, with various versions of similar recipes appearing around the same time in the middle of the 20th century. But, wherever they began, the bar has become a popular Canadian treat.
The bars are made up of three layers: a biscuit base, cream filling (traditionally flavoured with powdered custard) and chocolate top. The key flavours in the bars are chocolate, crushed biscuit, coconut and usually other chopped nuts (such as almonds) and custard cream. There is no baking involved, simply chilling until set and then cutting into chocolate squares.
Nanaimo Bar Ingredients
For the Biscuit Base
- Butter - you'll need a little more than 2 sticks (16 tablespoons or 1 cup) of unsalted butter divided across the three layers of this recipe. For the base, the butter doesn't need to be softened as it will be melted as part of making the layer.
- Sugar - caster sugar (or superfine granulated sugar).
- Cocoa powder - a few tablespoons will give the base a chocolate kick.
- Egg - eggs are great binding agents. One egg will help to thicken the chocolate base before adding the cookie crumbs.
- Crushed biscuits - for this recipe, I used crushed Lotus Biscoff biscuits as a change from the classic digestive biscuits. You could also substitute with graham cracker crumbs.
- Coconut - in traditional nanaimo bars, you would normally use dessicated coconut, but I prefer using sweetened flaked coconut such as Bakers' brand.
- Almond - the almond in this recipe is optional, but about a third of a cup of ground almonds, compliments the coconut and chocolate (classic combination!). You could also use chopped almonds to give a bit of added crunch and texture to the base.
For the Buttercream Layer
The traditional buttercream in a Nanaimo bar is a custard cream. This is usually made by using Bird's Custard powder.
In my recipe for Nanaimo bars without custard powder, you'll need:
- Cream - heavy (whipping) cream or double cream
- Unsalted butter - softened to room temperature.
- Dream Whip powder (or alternatives below).
- Powdered icing sugar
Why Substitute Custard Powder and Other Alternatives
The classic custard cream layer in a Nanaimo bar is quite sweet and yellow due to the colour of the traditional custard powder. Many people prefer substituting milk powder for this, which is slightly less sweet and a bit more natural looking.
Substituting with Dream Whip powder, provides a nice creamy frosting that is reminiscent of ice cream in flavour.
You could also substitute the powder in this recipe with other powdered custards or pudding mixes such as Jell-O pudding powders. This would be an easy way to add other flavours to the Nanaimo bar. For example, you could make a coconut buttercream layer using powdered coconut pudding mixed in to the frosting in place of Dream Whip. Recipe measurements and process will stay the same.
For the Chocolate Top
The top of the Nanaimo bar is a simple silky chocolate layer made with just two ingredients:
- Chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
- Unsalted butter
Making the Nanaimo No-Bake Bar
The process for these Nanaimo bars is simple, but requires stages and a bit of chilling time between.
Start by preparing an 8" or 9" square baking tin with parchment paper lining. Set this aside while you prepare the biscuit base.
Nanaimo Bar Biscuit Base
Add your butter, sugar and cocoa powder to a saucepan. Cook this over a medium heat while stirring until the butter has melted and the sugar and cocoa has dissolved into a chocolatey sauce.
Then, add the egg while whisking continuously. It is important that the egg is whisked in quickly rather than simply stirred or left unattended on the heat. This is because the egg will quickly begin to cook. If unwhisked, this may lead to an unpleasant scrambled egg texture in the batter.
Continue whisking the mixture over the heat for a couple of minutes while it thickens.
Remove from the heat and add in the crushed biscuits, coconut and almond. Stir this together and then pour into the prepared pan and press evenly into a base layer. Chill this for about 10 minutes while preparing the frosting.
The frosting is essentially a buttercream, with added heavy cream and powdered Dream Whip to make a light creamy icing layer.
Simply beat the cream, butter and powdered Dream whip together until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and beat to a creamy spreadable frosting. This will be quite thick, but should be soft. Top the biscuit layer with this and spread evenly. This is best achieved with a small offset spatula.
Return to the refrigerator and chill for another 10 minutes while making the chocolate top.
Quick Glossy Chocolate Layer
The key to a super glossy chocolate layer is a bit of butter.
In order to make the chocolate layer, you can either microwave the chocolate and butter or use a makeshift double boiler to melt these together. Once silky smooth, pour this over the chilled cream layer and spread to coat.
Return the bars to the refrigerator to set for a couple of hours before slicing into squares.
A quick tip for slicing - wipe the knife in warm water to allow this to cut more cleanly.
FAQs for Easy Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars store well in the refrigerator for a few days. After a couple of days, you may find that the cream begins to split a bit as it dries out.
Yes, Nanaimo bars can be frozen easily. For best results, allow to set first in the refrigerator before slicing and then freezing in ziploc bags or well wrapped in cling film and aluminium foil. They should last easily for about 3 months. Allow to defrost on the countertop before serving.
Yes, you can leave out the egg in this recipe. The base will be more crumbly without the egg (as this is used to bind the base together). Without the egg, it will be more similar to a cheesecake crust and may crumble a bit when slicing and eating.
Absolutely! While the bars usually contain coconut in the base, you can also make Nanaimo bars without coconut. For best results, substitute additional ground nuts in place of the coconut measurement to make up the dry/solid component of the base. You could also use extra crushed biscuit if you prefer not to include nuts.
If you like these, try some other easy chocolate treats:
- Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats
- Cookie Bottomed Brownies
- Easy Edible Brownie Batter
- No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Tahini
- No Bake S'mores Cheesecake
Easy Nanaimo Bars without Custard Powder
Ingredients for Biscuit Base
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoon cocoa powder
- ¼ cup caster sugar or superfine granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 cups crushed Lotus Biscoff biscuits
- 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut or dessicated coconut
- ⅓ cup ground almonds
Ingredients for Cream Filling
- 1¾ cup powdered icing sugar
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- ¼ cup heavy cream or double cream
- 3 tablespoon powdered Dream Whip or other powdered milk, pudding or custard
Ingredients for Chocolate Top
- 5 oz dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Start by lining an 8" or 9" square baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside while preparing the base.
Instructions for Biscuit Base
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the sugar and cocoa powder over a medium heat until smooth.
- Then, add the egg while whisking continuously. After about 2 minutes, this should be a smooth thickened chocolate mixture.
- Remove from the heat and add the crushed biscuits, coconut and almonds. Stir thoroughly and spoon into the prepared baking dish. Press into an even base layer and chill for 10 minutes while preparing the cream layer.
Instructions for Cream Filling
- In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter, cream and Dream Whip powder until well combined.
- Sift in the powdered icing sugar and beat until soft creamy and smooth.
- Spread the cream filling evenly onto the chilled base and place back in the refrigerator for another 10 minutes while preparing the chocolate top.
Instructions for Chocolate Top
- Place the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl, fitted on top of a small saucepan of simmering water (double boiler). Ensure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
- Melt, stirring until smooth and then pour over the chilled cream layer, spreading evenly. Return to the refrigerator again for 2 hours until set.
- Once set, slice into squares and serve.