This classic Nanaimo bar recipe makes a really special chocolatey treat.  Nanaimo bars have a thick, creamy filling sandwiched between a layer of pure chocolate and a chewy base with chocolate, graham crackers, coconut and chopped nuts.

Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

They were invented in the 1950’s in Nanaimo, British Columbia but are popular across Canada.

Nanaimo bar filling traditionally includes custard powder – I opted out for two reasons: the first, it only comes in tubs much bigger than I need for Nanaimo bars, and what the heck would I do with the rest? And the second, the ingredient list is mostly just artificial flavour, colour and cornstarch.

I went for powdered milk instead, to impart the custardy cooked milk flavour and richness, minus the chemistry lab. And they were delicious! If you can’t find whole or 2% milk powder, however, I don’t think skim milk powder would do the the trick. In that case, I would turn a blind eye to the ingredient list and use 3 tbsp of custard powder in its place. (Which you can do anyway, if you prefer!)

I remember my little-kid eyes lighting up when my great aunt Ruth – her feet warm and cozy in hand-knit slippers, white hair gleaming in perfect soft waves atop her bobbly cherub face – would shuffle out of her kitchen with a plate of Christmas cookies.

There would be little shortbread coins topped with a rosebud of pink frosting and a sliver of candied cherry; sugar cookies imperfectly decorated as Santas and Christmas trees; chewy chocolate macaroons; mocha balls (which are pronounced mah-ka balls and have absolutely no chocolate-coffee flavour as their name suggests – they are simply squares of pound cake dipped in vanilla icing and rolled in crushed peanuts. An Acadian specialty).

The best thing on the plate, however, was the Nanaimo bar. I would grab one, close my eyes and succumb to the holiday sugar rush bliss.

Then when it was gone, I’d lick my fingers and greedily eyeball another.

And to this day, Nanaimo bars are my Christmas favourite. If you’ve had one, there’s a good chance you agree.

If you haven’t had one… oooh boy, you’re in for a treat.

If you buy whole milk powder, there is plenty you can do to enjoy the leftovers! I stir a heaping spoonful into strong tea every morning (brewed with a couple of cardamom pods) – delicious! That’s how they make their tea in India (with other spices, too). It’s also great in coffee and homemade hot cocoa.

Apart from hot beverages, use up your remaining stash to enrich smoothies, oatmeal, creamy dishes, sauces, etc. with rich flavour and a calcium & protein boost. (Milk powder makes an excellent protein “supplement”, much cheaper and more wholesome than a lot of the crap you get at fitness stores, too).

Classic Nanaimo Bars Recipe

Nanaimo Bars

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Servings 16
Keyword nanaimo bars


  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter melted
  • 1 egg lightly beaten

For Filling:

  • 2/3 cups butter softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole milk powder (or custard powder)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp heavy cream or milk

For Topping:

  • 8 ounces semi-sweet dark chocolate (or 1 1/3 cups chocolate chips)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8″ square baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a 1″ overhang on all sides.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together cocoa powder, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. Drizzle butter over top and toss with a fork to combine. Add egg and stir until well combined. Press the mixture into bottom of prepared baking dish and bake 10-12 minutes, until set. Cool on wire rack.
  • In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, confectioners’ sugar, powdered milk, vanilla extract and cream. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down sides occasionally, for about 2 minutes total. When crust is completely cool, spread filling evenly over top. Transfer to freezer to firm up for about 10 minutes.
  • In a glass microwave-safe measuring cup, melt chocolate by microwaving at 50% power for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Stir in vegetable oil. Spread evenly over filling. Let stand until chocolate is hardened.
  • Lift bars out of dish by the parchment overhang, then slice into 24 equal bars. Run your knife under hot water between cuts to make clean slices.
Keyword nanaimo bars
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