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British Columbia's Nanaimo Bars Taste Like Victory

This week, I set out in search of dishes that would commemorate the Vancouver Games. Besides some Montréal items like poutine, I wasn't having much luck with Canadian-born dishes. Then I stumbled upon a specialty known as the Nanaimo bar. The no-bake chocolate square was born out of the domestic housewifery of the 1950s.

One legend recounts a home cook from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island's second largest city, entering her chocolate squares in a magazine contest and naming them after her hometown. Another story is that homemaker Mabel Jenkins entered her recipe to a fundraising cookbook, and it soon spread like wildfire around the local communities.

Regardless of how it came to be, this extremely fudgy and chocolately no-bake dessert is considered British Columbia's favorite native treat. For a triumphant Northern dessert that really hits the sweet spot,

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Classic Recipe for Legendary Vancouver Nanaimo Bars


For bottom layer:
1/2 cup European-style cultured unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup toasted coconut
For middle layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cream
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups powdered sugar
For top layer:
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons European-style cultured unsalted butter


  1. Make the bottom layer: Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
  2. Make the middle layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. With an offset spatula, spread over bottom layer in pan.
  3. Make top layer: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator, using offset spatula to distribute layer evenly. Once hardened, cut into small bars.

Makes roughly 16 2"x2" squares.

3 years 31 weeks
wow i love chocolate, nice share thank
4 years 29 weeks
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4 years 30 weeks
Get Bird's Custard Powder from Cost Plus World Markets and Bristol Farms Markets if you have them in your area.
Keddle Keddle 4 years 30 weeks has a lot recipes of traditional Canadian favorites. My mom started buying me a sub for them when I moved to Florida for a year and kept it up even after I moved back. Nanaimo bars and butter tarts are some of my favorites that I didn't realize were so Canadian till I moved away and missed having.
4 years 30 weeks
When my brother lived in Japan and couldn't get Bird's Custard Powder he discovered that you could subsitute one egg yolk and some vanilla for a tablespoon of custard powder when making custard. I think that would be better than vanilla pudding mix in a Nanaimo bar.
POPSUGAR-Food POPSUGAR-Food 4 years 30 weeks
Anonymous, the traditional recipe calls for vanilla custard powder, but that really does not exist in America (it has to be ordered through British or Canadian stores). I looked into it and found that instant vanilla pudding mix makes for the best American alternative. :-)
4 years 30 weeks
Yum! This IS totally the most authentic B.C. treat. You are such an accurate culinary sleuth. I didn't even know you could find recipes for these. This post is really reminding me of the strong role food can play in our memory. Now I can't stop thinking about how we always get Nanaimo bars when my family goes there on our boat every summer. You're making me sad it's February.
4 years 30 weeks
There isn't a self-respecting Canadian cook out there who would use instant vanilla pudding in her (his) nananimo bars.
4 years 30 weeks
mmmmmm...kate t you reminded me of butter tarts!!! the US is really missing out, i cant find them anywhere here!!!
POPSUGAR-Food POPSUGAR-Food 4 years 30 weeks
Kate T, thanks for the ideas! Do you know good Canadian recipe sources for that kind of stuff?
4 years 30 weeks
I live in Nanaimo, and haven't eaten one of these in years...but now I'm thinkin'....Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Iveenia Iveenia 4 years 30 weeks
they look so wonderful :DROOL:
Merlin713 Merlin713 4 years 30 weeks
Where I come from (Northern MN) we make these every Christmas. We call them 'Napoleons'.
4 years 30 weeks
mmmmm Kate T, bannack is sooo good. I used to eat it at summer camp when we would go on tenting/canoe trips.
medicgirl medicgirl 4 years 30 weeks of my favorite treats!
4 years 30 weeks
You've got me thinking now- Matrimonial bars or squares (really they are date bars) are eaten all across Canada. Fish and Chips (the British pub style with thick batter- not crunchy) , Bannock is a donut style treat from First Nations people, Sugar pie and Beaver Tails (more out in Quebec- sooo yummy!) Yorkshire pudding. There are tons of maple syrup recipes. Split Pea soup. Cookies made with molasses. Irish style stew- yum!!! Scones. These are things my faily has eaten many many many times. :)
4 years 30 weeks
Another Canadian treat is Butter Tarts- yummmmmmmmy!!! They are little tarts made with a butter/brown sugar mix and raisins-yummy and gooey.
4 years 30 weeks
Another BC native here- we eat these at any celebration- Christmas, parties, birthdays, you name it. You need the recipes with good ole British style custard powder- tastes way better- that is the way most BC'ers make them. Man, I am craving one now!!!!
CiaoBella01 CiaoBella01 4 years 30 weeks
i grew up on these!! my mom would go crazy and make them all the time! yuuum!
4 years 30 weeks
I'm from B.C. and normal butter works great! These are the standard treat around here. Using peppermint and green food colouring in the middle makes them fun at Christmas. I would encourage you to find a traditional recipe that uses custard powder instead of instant pudding though. Other specialities in Vancouver are wonderful ethnic foods. Vancouver is a spectacular multicultural city with such a variety of food it's hard to try it all. Also, the B.C. wines are divine!
Rancher'sGirl Rancher'sGirl 4 years 30 weeks
These look sinful but I'm still going to make these delights!
sophlb sophlb 4 years 30 weeks
An old boyfriend was from BC and used to make these all the time when he was homesick. They're SO good. I'm sure regular butter would be fine. Just the name reminds me of dating this adorable boy and of the time when I could eat lots of nanaimo bars without thinking twice!
Spectra Spectra 4 years 30 weeks
Where do you get European-style cultured butter? Could you use regular butter instead? These sound really yummy.
4 years 30 weeks
No one knows the origin of the Nanaimo bar. The 1950s recipe may be the first time it was published, but they've been around since the 1800s. The other local story that I've heard is that Scottish mums and wives sent these with their lumberjacks when they went out into the forests for work over on Vancouver Island near Nanaimo. No matter how they came about, they're yummy.
lesmar912 lesmar912 4 years 30 weeks
Totally made these for opening ceremonies along with poutine! They were a yummy treat and easy to make!