nanaimo bars

[I’d like to preface this post by dedicating it fully to a good friend of mine, O, who tells me, every time she sees me, in no uncertain terms, that I do not blog enough. So, darling, here you go!]

Today is, really, my last free day before the start of the semester. A few hours of work training and a mad rush to skim hundreds of pages of philosophy for thesis research – that I absolutely should have been doing over the past 12 weeks but blew off to, instead, sleep and read copious amounts of unrelated, though arguably more compelling, fiction literature – awaits tomorrow, with classes beginning on Tuesday. So, I figured I’d spend it baking, since it’ll probably be a while until I have some time to do it again (my deepest regret, O).

If you know me from the old blog, you’ll know that I’ve attempted these things before. They weren’t totally perfect during my last attempt, but I wanted to
a) continue riding the Canadian high I’ve been enjoying since last week, and
b) raise them to my unnecessarily high expectations for culinary aesthetic perfection.

It resulted in a pretty commendable second attempt, if I do say so myself.

Nanaimo bars, for those of you who don’t know, are a supposedly quintessential Canadian treat, also dubbed the “candy bar” dessert by some. No bake – which is wonderfully easy – consisting of three layers of deliciousness chilled on top of one another (I presume the Canadians just stick the pan on the porch for a few minutes every time a layer is added).

They are named after the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, and for some reason bloggers all over the blogosphere who have made these claim that they are ubiquitous throughout the great continent. However, whilst on my Canadian adventure, I asked my family whether they had ever had one, and was received with looks that suggested I had spoken Tagalog. I also failed to come across them at any point on my trip, which leads me to believe that they are either ubiquitous throughout the city of Nanaimo only, or a clever ruse fabricated specifically to confuse me deeply. (I also did not once step foot in an actual grocery store while abroad, so I can only assume they’re found within.)

All snarkiness aside, they are quite delicious. The traditional bar is a wafer-crust topped with a vanilla buttercream-esque filling and chocolate ganache, but popular variations include adding espresso or mint to the center. Today, I only (re)attempted the traditional, mostly because I like the stark color contrast.

I spy, with my little eye, not a single nanaimo bar.

Nanaimo Bars
Adapted from Let’s Dish
Yields 16-24 bars

Ingredients for the crust:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp vanilla instant custard powder

Ingredients for the ganache: 

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 2 tbsp butter


Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-low flame, whisk sugar, cocoa, and butter until melted and glossy. Remove pan from the heat and quickly whisk in the beaten egg. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs, walnuts, and coconut (you may want to switch to a wooden spoon here). Press the mixture evenly on the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate for 30 mins.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by beating the butter, powdered sugar, milk, and custard powder on medium speed until fluffy. Spread the filling evenly over the chilled crust. Refrigerate for 30 mins.

To prepare the ganache, melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium flame (or just microwave if you are lazy. I am.). Pour the chocolate over the chilled filling and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Refrigerate for 30 mins before removing bars from the pan and slicing.

Notes and modifications:

  • For gluten-free bars, replace graham cracker crumbs with crumbs processed from gluten-free crackers. All other ingredients should be fine. HOWEVER, I would double-check the ingredients in the custard powder, just in case. Jello brand is gluten-free.
  • In order to slice bars more easily, I refrigerated them for 5 mins after spreading the ganache and then removed them from the pan (yes, 25 mins early, I am a rebel) and sliced them. Place them on a plate and return them to the fridge until serving. I find ganache very trying to slice through once it has hardened, because I find cracked ganache an extremely saddening aesthetic mishap to experience after that much effort.

The actual purpose of this baking adventure was to give a little gift to the organizers at my internship. I haven’t been back since mid-August, since I was out of town, but will be popping into the office briefly tomorrow to check in and see how everything’s going. Plus I figured, having not baked in quite a while (which people seem unashamedly quick to berate me for), I would bring something along.

Also because, yunno, Canada.

In other news, I anticipate spending the remainder of the day flipping through old Bon Appetit magazines and being overly excited about an intro German course I signed up to take about three days ago. Because, I figure, I speak enough Romance languages, and I want to get into grad school.

(Most of all, I’m really looking forward to making some Apfelstrudel sometime this fall [and pronouncing it properly] and understanding that one song from The Sound of Music.)

Auf wiedersehen for now, loves. XOXO.

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