Nanaimo bars are a traditional Canadian dessert and literally one of the best treats on a cookie tray!  A chocolatey base is topped with a sweet buttery layer and more chocolate.

These rich little bars can be made ahead of time, freeze well, and are totally irresistible.

three Nanaimo Bars stacked with Nanaimo Bars in the back

What is a Nanaimo Bar?

Named after the city of Nanaimo in B.C., Canada, Nanaimo bars have 3 layers of deliciousness. These bars are something that my Mom always had on every cookie tray along with Thumbprint Cookies and Sugar Cookies!  They’re easy to make and even easier to eat, you won’t be able to stop at one (sorry, not sorry)!

  1. Base: The base of a Nanaimo bar is a chocolate-coconut cookie type base. While some recipes use a base that is no-bake I much prefer when the base is baked (as in the recipe below).
  2. Middle Layer: This layer is similar to buttercream with the addition of custard powder. I rarely make recipes that require unusual or special ingredients but in this case, custard powder is traditional and worth it! You can get custard powder at most grocery stores near the puddings (or you can order it online here).
  3. Chocolate Topping: The topping is a simple layer of chocolate. The addition of a touch of vegetable oil keeps the chocolate from cracking when you cut the squares. You can use chocolate baking squares or chocolate chips.

ingredients to make Nanaimo Bars

To Make Nanaimo Bars

  1. Prepare Base per the recipe below. Bake and cool completely.

spreading batter on pan to make Nanaimo Bars

  1. Make buttercream layer. Mix butter with powdered sugar, custard powder and a bit of milk until smooth and creamy. Spread over the base and chill while you melt the chocolate.

process of adding layers to Nanaimo Bars

  1. Top with Chocolate Melt chocolate with a touch of oil and pour over the buttercream mixture. Either spread the chocolate or pick up the pan and tilt it to spread the chocolate around. Refrigerate.

Once you have spread on the top layer of chocolate, let it sit in the fridge for about 5 minutes.  Remove from the fridge and score lines through the chocolate (I use the sharp end of a wooden skewer), this will make the squares easy to cut without breaking the top layer.

It is important that each layer is completely cooled or the middle layer (the buttercream/custard) will melt.

You will need Custard Powder for this recipe.  It can usually be found with the puddings in the grocery store and is often found in a canister.  You can also order it online on Amazon.

More Dessert Tray Favorites

three Nanaimo Bars stacked with Nanaimo Bars in the back
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Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars are one of those desserts no one can resist! A chocolatey nutty base topped with a sweet buttery custard layer and more chocolate.  
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 35 minutes
Servings 16 squares
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Bottom Layer

  • 2 cups graham crumbs
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
  • cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg

Middle Layer

  • 3 tablespoons custard powder
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Top Layer

  • 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips about ¾ cup
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil


  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9 pan with foil.

Bottom Layer

  • In a medium bowl mix all of the ingredients in the bottom layer until well combined. Press into the prepared pan and bake for 11 minutes. Cool completely.

Middle Layer

  • Combine custard powder, milk & vanilla. Add butter and mix until combined. Beat in powdered sugar and mix until well combined and fluffy. Spread over the bottom layer and refrigerate.

Top Layer

  • Microwave chocolate and oil on 40% power about 45 seconds. Stir and continue to microwave at 15-second increments until smooth & melted. Spread over custard layer and refrigerate for about 5 minutes. Remove from fridge and score lines for cutting.
  • Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight and cut into bars.


Ensure the bottom layer is completely cool before adding the middle layer.
5 from 20 votes

Nutrition Information

Calories: 422 | Carbohydrates: 48g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 167mg | Potassium: 166mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 36g | Vitamin A: 444IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.

Course Cookies, Dessert
Cuisine American
Nanaimo Bars with writing
spreading custard to make Nanaimo Bars with a title
pile of Nanaimo Bars with a title
Nanaimo Bars with a title


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Holly Nilsson is the creator of Spend With Pennies, where she creates easy, comforting recipes made for real life. With a passion for nostalgic flavors and simplified techniques, Holly helps busy home cooks create delicious meals that always work. She is also the author of “Everyday Comfort,” which promises to inspire even more hearty, home-cooked meals.
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  1. Wonderful recipe! Made it exactly as posted and it is delicious! I lined my pan with parchment paper instead of foil and softened the butter some for the middle layer. I have made both this recipe & the Magic Cookie Bar recipe and they were both hits! Thank you for such great recipes!5 stars

  2. Hey hoping to make a few batches of these to give out to neighbors. If I make one batch at a time can I freeze them until I’m ready to give them away?