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nanaimo bars

Hi all!!! I'm invited to a Canada day party and was requested to bring nanaimo bars. I have never seen nor eaten these before so I'm not sure how to figure out which is the best recipe to use! I did a little research here on chowhound and elsewhere and narrowed it down to three recipes. They have slight variations between them, so I want to make sure I choose the best. Can any of you help me, please? :)




Thank you!

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  1. Although it's been 30 (!) years since I lived in B.C., I remember Nanaimo Bars as having a chocolaty bottom layer, which the Lazy Gourmet version does not. Also, because the rich deep chocolate flavor (or flavour, if we're talking Canada Day) of the top layer is so important, I would shy away from using melted chocolate chips. The feathery lines are cute but not authentic. So my vote goes to ...... Closet Cooking's recipe!
    Good luck & enjoy the party.

    3 Replies
    1. re: almond tree

      Thank you for the input. You're totally correct. I would absolutely never use chocolate chips. I plan to use a high quality chocolate for the topping.

      I think the Lazy Dog recipe may have an error and they forgot the cocoa? The photo on the website shows the bottom layer looking chocolatey. Hmm...

      1. re: junglekitte

        Just noticed there are several comments about the lack of choc in the Lazy Gourmet's recipe, but no reply.

      2. re: almond tree

        This assessment is bang on.

        I make Nanaimo bars fairly regularly, and I would not consider the Lazy Gourmet or the food pusher version to be a real Nanaimo bar. They're just not.

        1. re: paulj

          The first one listed above (http://www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/visitor...) is the most accurate one so far. Almonds work better than walnuts or pecans both flavor and texture wise.

          1. re: Jzone

            vanilla custard powder is Birds, right?

            Is this the traditional that normally requires cooking, or instant that thickens when just mixed with liquid?

            1. re: paulj

              Definitely Birds, and I've always used the traditional one, although I doubt it matters that much. It's never cooked, so it's mostly just there for the flavour and the corn starch.

              1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                I was wondering that the corn starch was doing for it, since it isn't cooked. Instant has a modified starch that doesn't need heat. But as you say, maybe it's the flavor that matters most. The recipe must predate the instant stuff.

                1. re: paulj

                  Many places describe that middle layer as a buttercream. I wonder the custard powder (mainly cornstarch) helps thicken it by absorbing moisture. There isn't enough heat to actually gelatinize the cornstarch.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Yeah, I'm pretty sure that flavour is the real purpose of the custard. I doubt it thickens it much, but it does give it just a touch of that squeaky starch consistency (at least I think it does -- it could be all in my head). Also, a nanaimo bar wouldn't be a nanaimo bar if the filling wasn't that weird shade of yellow, which comes entirely from the custard powder.

            2. re: Jzone

              According to a friend living in Tofino, when walnuts are used in place of almonds, the bar is usually called a Tofino Bar.

            3. re: paulj

              I also use the recipe from http://www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/visitor.... It's authentic.

              I double the top chocolate layer, though, as do many of my Canadian friends. :)

              1. re: LMAshton

                Ooooh -- double chocolate! Especially tempting because this recipe calls for real chocolate, not chips.
                I wonder if I can find custard powder anywhere around here :).

            4. Not Canadian, but I love the peanut butter version here. This is my go to recipe for them.


              1. From just down the road from Nanaimo, I remember the best Ginger Ice Cream. (If somebody brings it, could you get their recipe?)

                1. Nanaimo is my home town!

                  Chocolate bottom layer with coconut, creamy middle layer that is definitely *not* mint or coffee or peanut butter flavoured (or any other novelty flavour), high quality dark chocolate for the top.

                  1. Just for posterity's sake, here's my mother's Nanaimo Bar recipe for an epic crapload of Nanaimo bars. We make them every year at Christmas, and usually do one pan plain, one pan mint. But it depends what kind of extracts we can get -- orange turned out to be fantastic last Christmas.

                    Lots and Lots of Nanaimo Bars

                    This makes a lot of Nanaimo Bars -- one recipe makes two jelly roll pans worth, or 1 half sheet pan and one other small pan.


                    2 cups butter
                    1 cup sugar
                    1 1/4 cups cocoa
                    2 tbsp vanilla
                    4 eggs
                    6 cups graham crumbs
                    3 cups coconut
                    1 1/2 cups walnuts

                    In a medium pot or double boiler, mix butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and eggs, until they're melted together and look like custard.
                    In a large mixing bowl, pour over graham crumbs, coconut and walnuts and mix thoroughly. You can start with a spoon, but you'll probably want to get your hands in and dirty to get it properly mixed. You're going to have to get your hands dirty in the next step anyway.
                    Press evenly into two jelly roll pans.
                    Allow to cool.


                    1 cup butter
                    3/4 cup milk
                    8 tbsp vanilla custard powder
                    8 cups icing sugar

                    Cream softened butter in mixer.
                    Add milk and pudding powder and mix well. The butter may not incorporate at this point if the milk is cold. That's okay.
                    Beat in icing sugar, gradually adding it.
                    If you're using any flavour extracts, add them in now.
                    Spread evenly over both pans of base.


                    2 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate
                    1/4 cup butter

                    Melt chocolate and butter together over a double boiler until smooth.
                    Spread evenly over both pans of icing.

                    Personally, I think Nanaimo Bars are best served frozen. It makes the base chewy and takes the edge off the sweetness of the icing layer.

                    1. I don't like people trying to upscale this square. People who are reading this for some direction should know that using chocolate chips for the topping is perfectly acceptable, if not traditional to the recipe. It's a down home, small town, created dessert. Don't over think it that much.

                      Birds custard powder is the original way to go, but i've used vanilla pudding mix with awesome results.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Mouver

                        We mostly only get these at Christmas now, but my mother used to make them during the spring with leftover Easter Bunnies. I agree that, really, any chocolate is going to do. It's not a place to go too far upmarket, because the half inch of icing underneath the chocolate renders all subtlety moot.

                        1. re: Jacquilynne

                          As long as we're encouraging 'close enough'...it was requested that I make a tray of Nanaimo Bars for a Canadian friend's potluck last Christmas and, try as I might, there was no finding custard powder down here in Mexico. Instant vanilla pudding I could find. Despite its not being authentic, everyone, especially her Canadian friends, loved them. So, if you can't get your hands on custard powder, ignore the nay-sayers and purists and make them anyway. While there is virtue in authenticity, I'll take dessert over virtue any day!

                          1. re: dulce lover

                            Definitely! The difference between vanilla pudding and custard powder is pretty minimal -- my mother makes them with either, depending on which she has in the pantry. The color will usually be lighter if you use the vanilla pudding so if you want to get that really yellow look, it'll take a touch of food coloring.

                            1. re: Jacquilynne

                              ingredients in their traditional version
                              Cornflour, Salt, Colour (Annatto), Flavouring

                              So the color is from the same stuff that makes cheddar and margarine yellow.

                              If using American vanilla pudding mix you might want to watch the sugar levels.

                        2. re: Mouver

                          I used a fine quality European chocolate, European butter (Lurpak Danish butter) and the recipe on the Nanaimo website (http://www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/visitor...) and they came out delicious. I don't understand the issue with wanting to use better tasting chocolate. Traditional, but with better quality ingredients is how my mind thinks.

                          A Canadian friend told me they came out better than any she had ever tried in Canada.

                          Thanks to everyone for their input!

                          1. re: junglekitte

                            It's not a problem -- it won't make them worse, it just likely isn't making them enough better to justify the increased cost.