Dark chocolate, graham cracker crumbs, pecans, shredded coconut, cacao powder, etc…sounds good so far? I hope you answered yes. These easy to make No-Bake Nanaimo Bars are as rich in history as they are in taste. They originate from the City of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, in the West coast of Canada. As far as desserts go, they’re quintessentially Canadian. But this delicious, layered bar has enjoyed popularity outside of Canada, too. Plus, no bake. That’s a huge upside to all people, everywhere!
Its famed Canadian origin landed the Nanaimo Bar as a featured dessert at the 2016 US state dinner hosted by the Obamas, in honour of our Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I found out through Wikipedia that the Nanaimo bar was presented on a dessert plate inspired by the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Love that.
I was thrilled when Lindt Canada invited me to develop my own version of the Nanaimo bar using their Lindt Excellence 85% Cacao Intense Dark chocolate bars. I simply adore dark chocolate. Milk chocolate holds very little interest to my taste buds. This 85% cacao bar has a balanced acidity, smokiness and notes of vanilla and leather. Tasting a square, I knew this chocolate would balance the other rich and sweet layers of the Nanaimo bars perfectly.
And exactly what are these marvellous layers? Allow me to walk you though them…
The base layer features graham cracker crumbs (gluten-free or regular; I provide substitutions in my recipe notes below), pecans, cacao powder and fine-shredded coconut. AKA ALL THE GOOD THINGS. The middle layer is a decadent layer comprised mainly of butter and icing sugar, like a thick vanilla buttercream. An ingredient called “custard powder” is commonly added to this layer. It’s not an ingredient I love because it typically contains artificial colour and flavours, things I do my best to avoid at home. In its place, I use arrowroot powder (cornstarch works as well since it is a primary ingredient in said “custard powder”), vanilla extract and a good pinch of turmeric powder for that signature yellowy hue. Turmeric powder is commonly used in place of artificial yellow food colour, by others like me who prefer to steer away from such things in their kitchen. I used a good pinch or just under 1/4tsp of turmeric powder which is baaarely discernible in the finished bars since, let’s face it, there is plenty of sugar and butter in that middle layer to mask just about anything. You can omit the turmeric altogether, even, and leave the middle layer white. It will taste delicious either way. The final top layer is a thin, snappy layer of wonderfully dark and intense chocolate.
As with most recipes involving few ingredients and minimal cooking/baking, I encourage you to find and use the best quality and best tasting ingredients you can get your hands on. For example, high-quality butter (I prefer organic and/or grass-fed), organic icing sugar and very importantly, amazing chocolate so good you would eat straight from the package. I suggest the Lindt Excellence 85% Cacao Intense chocolate I used in this recipe, or a similarly high-cacao chocolate. You want a chocolate that brings intense, slightly bitter chocolate flavour without too much sweetness, to balance the sweetness of the other layers. You’ll see when you bite into one of these Nanaimo Bars, through the layers, how they deliver something more than the sum of its parts!
Gluten-Free Version: Use gluten-free graham crackers in the base layer. I like Pamela’s Gluten-Free Honey Graham Crackers because I like the ingredients over other brands. Note this brand is not dairy-free because it contains butter. If you are making a gluten-free and dairy-free version, use a gf graham cracker such as Kinnikinnick or Schar.
Dairy-Free Version: Use vegan butter in place of regular butter, and dairy-free milk in place of cow’s milk in the same amounts. Earth Balance is a great vegan /dairy-free butter for baking. My go-to dairy-free milk is Earth’s Own organic unsweetened original almond milk or oat milk.
Substitute for Vanilla Custard Powder: This is an ingredient traditionally called for in Nanaimo bars. Contrary to the name, custard powder is not custard at all. It is a dairy-free powder made primarily of cornstarch, sugar, vanilla flavouring and added yellow colour to mimic the appearance of custard. If you are either unable to find Vanilla Custard Powder OR, if you are like me and prefer to avoid the commercial varieties which have additives, you can easily substitute one-for-one in the recipe with cornstarch or in my case, arrowroot starch (and Bob’s Red Mill offers both). I don’t use artificial food colouring, so I added a large pinch of turmeric powder for a pale, yellow colour. Don’t worry, you won’t taste the turmeric in the bars! Alternatively, you may also skip the yellow if you’re a nonconformist baddie, and keep the middle layer of your Nanaimo bars white! It will taste equally delicious.
No-Bake Nanaimo Bars
Bottom Graham Cracker Crust:
½ C (112g) unsalted butter, preferably organic or grass-fed OR vegan butter
¼ C (46g) granulated sugar or organic golden sugar
¼ C (25g) cocoa powder or raw cacao powder, sifted
1 large egg, beaten
1 ¾ C graham cracker crumbs, from about 215g of regular or gluten-free crackers
½ C (50g) pecans, lightly toasted
1 C (80g) finely shredded unsweetened coconut
Middle Vanilla Custard Layer:
¼ C (56g) unsalted butter OR vegan butter, set out about 15 mins at room temperature
3 Tbsp (45ml) milk, regular or unsweetened non-dairy milk such as almond, coconut or soy
2 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot starch, or vanilla custard powder (see head notes ‘Vanilla Custard Powder’)
2 C (256g) organic powdered sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Big pinch turmeric powder for colour (optional, see head notes ‘Vanilla Custard Powder’)
2 x 100g bars of Lindt Excellence 85% Cacao Chocolate, chopped into small pieces (~7oz)
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter OR vegan butter
Make Bottom Graham Cracker Crust:
Line a 9” x 9” baking pan with parchment. Place graham crackers (in batches as necessary to fit) in a food processor, and short-pulse until you have coarse cookie crumbs. You can also crush the crackers by placing them inside a plastic bag and using a rolling pin. Set crumbs in a medium bowl. Next, place toasted pecans in the food processor and pulse until the pieces are fine-chopped but still a bit coarser than the cookie crumbs. You can also chop the pecans by hand with a knife. Place chopped pecans into the bowl of cookie crumbs. Add unsweetened shredded coconut and mix everything well.
In a double boiler with a few inches of simmering water in the bottom pot, melt butter, sugar, and sifted cocoa powder. Add the whisked egg in a stream as you whisk the mixture. Cook until thickened like pudding. Remove from heat and stir into the bowl holding the crumb-pecan-coconut mixture. Stir until well combined and while still warm, press into the lined baking pan as evenly as possible. Chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the next layer.
Make Middle Vanilla Custard Layer:
In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream all the ingredients together at medium speed for about 3-5 minutes or until light. The mixture should be thick but spreadable. Add splashes more milk if too thick. Spread onto the bottom crust layer in the pan. Put back into the refrigerator to chill.
Make Top Chocolate Layer:
Use the double boiler again (with a clean bowl) to melt the chocolate and butter. Cool slightly. While it is still runny, spread over the custard layer. Smooth out with a spatula. Chill in the refrigerator at least an hour or until firm.
Cut with a sharp knife into 9 large squares or 12 bars.
Finally and most importunely, enjoy! xx
The bars can be stored in the freezer. Allow it to stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before eating.
There are so, sooo many Nanaimo bar recipes on the net, with pretty minor variances. I adapted mine *mostly* from this one on food.com.
This post was sponsored by Lindt Canada but opinions are always my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that enable me to create new content for this site! You can further explore the Lindt Excellence line of sophisticated chocolates on their website or follow on them on social media via Instagram @LindtCanada and @LindtExcellence.
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