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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


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.

Keddle Keddle 6 years 13 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.
Food Food 6 years 13 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. :-)
Food Food 6 years 14 weeks
Kate T, thanks for the ideas! Do you know good Canadian recipe sources for that kind of stuff?
Iveenia Iveenia 6 years 14 weeks
they look so wonderful :DROOL:
Merlin713 Merlin713 6 years 14 weeks
Where I come from (Northern MN) we make these every Christmas. We call them 'Napoleons'.
medicgirl medicgirl 6 years 14 weeks of my favorite treats!
CiaoBella01 CiaoBella01 6 years 14 weeks
i grew up on these!! my mom would go crazy and make them all the time! yuuum!
Rancher'sGirl Rancher'sGirl 6 years 14 weeks
These look sinful but I'm still going to make these delights!
sophlb sophlb 6 years 14 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 6 years 14 weeks
Where do you get European-style cultured butter? Could you use regular butter instead? These sound really yummy.
lesmar912 lesmar912 6 years 14 weeks
Totally made these for opening ceremonies along with poutine! They were a yummy treat and easy to make!