Food You Can Eat: Nanaimo Bars

What's not to love, eh?

They're not as innocent as they look

Blessed am I who have friends and family from our (US) neighbor to the north, Canada. Way out west on Vancouver Island is a town called Nanaimo, and they have gifted the world with Nanaimo bars. This is a layered bar cookie that starts with a graham cracker crust, then there’s a buttercream middle, and you frost the whole thing with a chocolate ganache. Margaret Atwood, perhaps Canada’s most famous living author, contributed this recipe to a charity cookbook, and it was then reprinted in The New York Times. You want to go easy on these because although they are truly scrumptious you can taste the Type 2 diabetes in every bite.


Yield: 16 bars

For the Base

½ cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces

¼ cup/50 grams granulated sugar

1 large egg

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups/235 grams graham cracker crumbs

1 cup/85 grams unsweetened shredded coconut

½ cup/50 grams finely chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans (or a mixture)

For the Buttercream

¼ cup/60 grams unsalted butter (½ stick), at room temperature

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons custard powder, such as Bird’s

2 cups/245 grams confectioners’ (icing) sugar

For the Chocolate Topping

4 ounces/115 grams semisweet chocolate, broken into ½-inch (1¼-centimeter) pieces

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

How to:

Step 1
Line an 8-by-8-inch (20-by-20-centimeter) metal baking pan with parchment, allowing parchment to overhang by about 2 inches (5 centimeters) on two sides.

Step 2
Prepare the base: In a double boiler, or a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water, whisk butter with granulated sugar, egg, cocoa powder and vanilla until melted. Continue whisking until mixture thickens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Step 3
Stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts until the mixture is well combined and resembles wet sand.

Step 4
Transfer mixture to the parchment-lined pan and use your fingers to press it into an even layer. Transfer pan to the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 15 minutes.

Step 5
Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream: In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add heavy cream and custard powder and mix until combined, scraping sides and bottom of the work bowl as needed. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and mix on low until incorporated. Add remaining confectioners’ sugar and mix on low until combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl as needed, then mix on medium-high speed until smooth, light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Step 6
Remove pan from refrigerator. Dollop the buttercream on top of the base layer then gently spread it evenly on top using an offset spatula. Transfer pan to the refrigerator to chill until buttercream is set, about 30 minutes.

Step 7
Prepare the topping: In a small, heavy saucepan or a double boiler, heat the chocolate and butter over low, stirring often, until melted and evenly combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Take pan from refrigerator and pour chocolate on top of buttercream layer. Working quickly and carefully, spread the chocolate evenly over the buttercream using an offset spatula. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if using.

Step 8
Return pan to refrigerator and chill until chocolate hardens, about 25 minutes.

Step 9
To serve the bars: Lift excess parchment to remove Nanaimo square from the pan. Cut into 16 2-inch (5-centimeter) squares. Store bars in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving. Store remaining bars in the refrigerator for a few days, or wrap well and freeze.



    • I have never (at least not that I can remember) caused food-related injury, although I’ve been tempted…I have overserved (alcohol), that’s true, but out of innocence, not malice.

    • Oh, Agent Coo, it is not I who will kill you, oh no. I will leave that to the gift box of Nanaimo Bars. Seriously, I have a pretty high tolerance for rich things like this, but after one (alright two) even I started feeling faint and was getting a headache.

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