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Canadian Classic Dessert: Chocolate, Coconut, Custard Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo Bars – a delicious, no-bake dessert bar filled with a graham cracker, almond, coconut, and cocoa crust, custard filing and chocolate ganache.
What Is A Nanaimo Bar?
It has been so fun talking about Nanaimo Bars on my Instagram the last couple of weeks. To be honest, though, I was surprised how many people didn’t know about this delicious no-bake dessert. I first learned about them about 17 years ago when my husband returned home from living in British Columbia for a couple of years (before we were married). He actually spent time in the town of Nanaimo, where he first learned about this traditional Canadian no-bake dessert made of a graham cracker, coconut, cocoa and sometimes nut crust, with a custard filling and chocolate ganache. I remember thinking how decadent they sounded, but it was years into our marriage before I ever tried one.
When I finally did try one, I fell in love! The combination of the bittersweet crust and ganache, with the sweet custard filling and the texture just spoke to me. I then added it to my list of cakes to make, but I never got around to it… until last week! I finally made both the bars and a new cake, Nanaimo Bar Cake, and they’re both incredibly delicious!
What Ingredients Are In Nanaimo Bars?
Nanaimo Bars are made up of mostly common ingredients you’ll be able to find at your local grocery store. The only ingredient that might be a little hard to find locally (if you’re living in the US) is the Bird’s Custard Powder. There are recipes out there that use vanilla pudding, but from all the input I got online and from my Canadian friends, Bird’s is a must!
Other ingredients you’ll need:
- Graham crackers
- Unsweetened shredded coconut
- Cocoa powder
- Bird’s Custard Powder
- Powdered sugar
- Granulated sugar
- Heavy whipping cream
- Dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
How to Make and Assemble Nanaimo Bars
This no-bake dessert can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes, without a minute of bake time in the oven!
- For the crust: start this bottom layer by melting the butter in a double boiler. You’ll then whisk in the cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Once the mixture is smooth and silky, you’ll add the egg, while stirring vigorously. The mixture will begin to thicken slightly and resemble pudding mix. At that point, remove from the heat and add in the graham crackers, coconut, and almonds. Press the crust firmly into an 8″x8″ square baking dish and chill while you work on the filling.
- For the custard filling (middle layer): combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth, light and fluffy. Once the crust no longer feels warm to the touch, you can spread the filling evenly over the crust. Chill again while you make the ganache.
- For the ganache: start this top layer by combining the chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat for about one minute. Stir until smooth and then spread over the filling. Chill one more time to set the ganache.
A no-bake graham cracker, almond, coconut, and cocoa crust, with a custard filling and chocolate ganache.
Prep Time 30 mins
For the Crust
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
- 2 cups (220 g) finely ground graham crackers about 14 full cracker sheets
- 1/2 cup (60 g) finely chopped almonds
- 1 cup (40 g) unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt
- 3 tablespoons (37.8 g) granulated sugar
- 1 egg lightly beaten
For the Custard Filling
- 6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons (72 g) heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons (30 g) Bird's Custard Powder Use THIS brand
- 2 cups (250 g) powdered sugar measured then sifted
For the Ganache
- 8 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 2 tablespoons (28.36 g) unsalted butter
For the Crust
- Spray an 8"x8" square baking dish with nonstick spray. Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper and spray again. Set aside.
- In a double boiler, over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, turn the heat off and whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder and salt until combined.
- While whisking vigorously, slowly pour in the beaten egg. Turn the heat back on to medium and cook until the mixture thickens slightly.
- Remove the mixture from the heat completely and add in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and almonds. Toss to combine evenly.
- Firmly press mixture into the prepared baking dish and then chill in the refrigerator or freezer while you prepare the filling and the ganache. You do not want the crust warm when you add the custard filling.
For the Custard Filling
- In a medium size mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and beat until smooth, about two minutes. The mixture should be fluffy and pale in color. If needed, add an additional tablespoon of heavy whipping cream to create a spreadable consistency.
- Spread the filling over the chilled crust layer. Place the pan back into your refrigerator or freezer to set while you make the ganache.
For the Ganache
- In a microwave safe bowl, heat the chocolate and butter for about one minute. Stir the mixture until smooth, microwaving 30 seconds more, if needed.
- Spread the ganache over the custard layer. Chill until chocolate has set.
- Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
Yummy recipe! The salty sweet crust really compliments that sweet frosting-like center.
Just a few notes, the coconut amount in cups and grams don’t match (should be 80g for 1 cup). I wish she specified the temperature to get the egg mixture to in order to be safe (I found it to be around 160°F on the internet) and I wish she specified if the butter should be at room temperature or cold for the custard layer (I did room temperature and it worked well). I also used sweetened coconut for the crust instead of unsweetened and it turned out great!
I had no idea what to expect but these have been on my radar since before you created this!
This was very good! I will def make again as well! Thank you.
Thank you so much!
These are really tasty. The only problem I had was cutting them. The filling is soft, so I would recommend freezing the filling and crust before you pour the ganache on. Then chill, just until the ganache is set, and cut. I chilled everything and then tried to cut it and my filling squished out and my ganache cracked all over the place. I salvaged it by putting it in the freezer, but they still look a mess. Again, delicious but tricky to cut.
I made these this afternoon, and the whole family loved them–even my 21 y/o that isn’t a fan of coconut. I did order the Bird’s Custard Powder from Amazon. I had no problem with them setting up–my filling was firm, and they sliced beautifully. Thank you for a “keeper” recipe to add to my collection!
Yay I’m thrilled!
I don’t know if I had issues with this recipe or I just don’t love these bars, but unfortunately I’m not a fan of the end result. I followed the instructions to a T, and even warmed my knife in between each cut so that the ganache on top didn’t crack into pieces as I pushed the knife through. Sadly, the “serve at room temperature” didn’t work very well. As soon as I picked it up all three layers fell apart – the base crumbled and the chocolate immediately slid off the frosting. I did try a bite as I was cutting them but they were cold enough that the custard filling wasn’t particularly pleasant to eat. Maybe I’ll try them out of the fridge and see if that’s better?
Honestly I am disappointed in this recipe- which makes me so sad because I’ve tried other recipes and loved everything about them!
I feel like the proportions were off- I had way too much for the crust, but not enough of the custard filling so it looked like a chocolate dipped granola bar. I also felt like the custard filling just tasted like milky powder sugar. I even did the Bird’s custard too.
Over all I was really disappointed.