These rich chocolate-coconut bars are a delicious Canadian treat.  They are a little complicated (like any three-layer bar) so they tend to be a holiday treat in our family. It’s nice to have something a little special to share with friends and these are very popular with my kids and all of their friends — my most asked for dessert.

Nanaimo Bars

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: hard
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    •   2 cups graham cracker crumbs
    •   1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
    •   1/2 cup butter
    •   5 Tbsp. cocoa powder
    •   1/4 cup granulated sugar
    •   1 tsp. vanilla
    •   1 egg

Middle Layer:

    •   3 Tbsp. milk
    •   2 Tbsp. custard powder
    •   1/2 cup softened butter
    •   2 cups powdered (icing or confectioners’) sugar

Top Layer:

    •   4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
    •   1 to 2 Tbsp. butter


  1. Mix graham cracker crumbs and coconut, and set aside.
  2. Place the rest of the base ingredients (1/2 C. butter, cocoa powder, granulated sugar, vanilla and egg) in a medium bowl over a shallow pot of simmering water which creates a double boiler.  Blend ingredients as the butter melts to create a custard looking mixture.
  3. When blended, remove bowl from pan and add in graham cracker/coconut mix.
  4. Press combined mixture evenly into a non-greased 9 x 13 pan and set aside.
  5. To make the middle (icing) layer, mix the milk and custard powder in a small dish.
  6. In a medium bowl, stir the butter then add in the custard/milk mix.
  7. Continue stirring and gradually add the powdered sugar until smooth.
  8. Gently spread the icing over the chocolate/coconut base, trying not to lift the lower layer as you do. Let this harden at room temp for about an hour.  You can refrigerate to speed up the process but it might make spreading the next chocolate layer a little trickier.
  9. When icing has a slightly hard coating on it, melt the final 1-2 T butter and semi-sweet chocolate over low heat in a non-stick pan. Don’t overheat.
  10. Carefully spread a thin layer over the icing, trying to smooth it over once or twice before the chocolate softens the icing layer.
  11. Place the pan in the fridge to harden. Remove and cut into small bars for serving. if you have time, it helps to warm up the bars a little before cutting (see notes).
  12. Best kept refrigerated and served cold.  Bars will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks or can be frozen.

Lessons Learned/Advice:

  • I have tried both unsweetened and sweetened coconut and I prefer the sweetened only because the coconut is moist and it holds the bars together better.  You don’t need the extra sweetener though (plenty in the icing), so if you don’t mind having the bars a little crumbly, then try unsweetened coconut.
  • To crush the graham crackers I usually put two packages a large ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Laying the crackers flat and evenly helps prevent the crackers from poking holes in the bag. Then after measuring the crumbs I use the same bag for mixing the crumbs and the coconut
  • For the bowl over the simmering water (when making the base), I usually use glass but metal will work; the bowl should not touch the water.
  • I have a few tricks for flattening the base into the pan:  even out the mixture before you press it;  use a large spatula to flatten it gently the first time round, then more firmly second time round; optional to cover with plastic wrap or wax paper and then push with your full hand
  • As I said above, you can chill the bottom two layers to speed up the process but if the icing is too cold, it will make spreading the warm chocolate topping more difficult because it hardens the chocolate faster. But it can be done…just try not to make the icing too cold
  • The butter in the top layer helps to give the chocolate an glossy look and makes it easier to spread. My family’s recipe calls for 1T butter for the top layer but I always end up adding  a little more to make it spread more easily
  • Chocolate does not recover from being over heated to warm the chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly.  Optional to use a double boiler (or bowl over a pot) but this is such a quick process that I always use a non stick pan and keep my eye on it
  • Cutting the bars without breaking the top chocolate later is tricky. In my family we make it a multi-step process:  After the bars are completely set, remove them from the fridge and allow them to warm up for about 10-15 minutes. Take a sharp knife and score the top into the bars that you want (mine are usually 1 to 1.5 inches square).  The score only cuts through the top layer. Return the bars to the fridge until completely chilled again.  When they are cold, cut the bars all the way through this time. The pre-scored chocolate means that the top later doesn’t break at random spots and you’ll have pretty looking bars with even chocolate squares on the top. Remove from the pan and store in an air-tight container.