Nanaimo Bar


Traditional Nanaimo Bars

The Nanaimo bar is a Canadian dessert type of chocolate no-bake square, it receives its name from the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia where it first became known in the 1930s. It consists of a crumb-based layer, topped by a layer of light custard or vanilla butter icing, which is covered in soft chocolate. Many varieties are possible by using different types of crumb, flavours of custard or icing (e.g. mint, peanut butter), and types of chocolate. Two popular variations on the traditional Nanaimo bar involve mint flavoured custard or mocha flavoured custard.


Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada ~ According to historical legend, a group of friends in Nanaimo, who would later found the Harewood Ladies’ Auxiliary, found the recipe in the Vancouver Sun under the name “chocolate fridge cake,” and popularized it under the name Nanaimo bar. However, a search through the newspaper’s archives failed to turn up the recipe, so its ultimate origin is unknown. It made its way throughout the province’s communities by way of household cookery recipes shared by housewives in the 1950s, particularly via company towns. The Nanaimo bar was a well-known confection well before the establishment of the popular coffeehouses.

Recipes for similar desserts are found in various places and under various names in North America and Europe. The designation “Nanaimo Bar” is predominantly Canadian; however, the term is common in the American half of the Pacific Northwest, next-door to BC, and has been used in places such as New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Sydney because of the popularization of the treat by the world-spanning Starbucks coffee chain.


  • The city of Nanaimo’s mascot is known as Nanaimo Barney and has the shape of a giant Nanaimo bar.
  • There is even an Official Recipe for the bar. In 1985, Mayor Graeme Roberts started a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo bar recipe. The winning recipe, submitted by local resident Joyce Hardcastle, was unanimously declared to be the official recipe and is available as a handout from the City.
  • In the American film A Mighty Wind, Canadian actress Catherine O’Hara improvises in one scene “I’d consider going home, making a nice tray of Nanaimo bars, lying in bed and watching TV – that’s what I like doing.”
  • “Nanaimo Bar” is listed in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary but not in international versions.

Nanaimo Bar Recipe

Bottom Layer

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut

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.

Middle Layer

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Top Layer

  • 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.