For the past two weeks, I have vicariously skated, skied, and slid across the ice and snow in PyeongChang from the comfort of my couch. Over the years, my Olympic training has given me the ability to get through a 5-hour telecast in 1-2 hours (I could medal in speed watching), and I like to reward myself for this feat with a sweet treat. In the spirit of the games, I decided to go for the gold and seek inspiration among the top medalists, but while the Norwegians may have set the bar, the Canadians have perfected it.
There is much debate about exactly when the Nanaimo bar made its debut (likely sometime in the early 1950s), but in the years since, this no-bake dessert has achieved cult status in Canada. Named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, there are many variations on the recipe, but all involve three basic things: a brownie-like crumb base, creamy custard filling, and chocolate icing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
I first heard of these bars from my boss, who makes them each Christmas. When she was a showgirl in the ’70s, one of her fellow dancers shared the handwritten recipe, which she labeled “Nanimo Bars,” and which my dyslexic boss calls Namino bars(!). Despite the confusion, I was able to find various recipes and information about Nanaimo bars online, but since I’ve only tasted my boss’s version, hers has qualified for this post.
In her recipe, vanilla pudding powder is used in place of the traditional custard powder, which can be more difficult to find,* but they can be used interchangeably. If I’m to be the judge, the custard is what sets these bars apart, but the combination of chewy base, creamy filling, and rich topping makes them a 1-2-3 sweep.
The XXIII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end this weekend, but you can whip up these bars in record time, so take a break from sofa spectating and go all “oot” to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes—and sweets!
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
10 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups graham crackers, crumbled
2 cups coconut, chopped fine
1 cup chopped nuts
Place butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl that is set in boiling water (i.e. double boiler). Stir until mixture resembles custard. Blend in graham crackers, coconut, and nuts. Press evenly into a greased 8×8” or 9×9” pan.
½ cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. custard powder or vanilla pudding powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
In a small bowl, combine milk and custard (or vanilla pudding) powder until powder is dissolved. In a larger bowl, cream butter, milk/custard mixture, and powdered sugar. Spread filling on top of base and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
8 baking squares of semi-sweet chocolate, OR
1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips†
2 Tbsp. butter
In a medium sauce pan, melt chocolate and butter together over a low flame. Pour the warm mixture evenly over the filling and return bars to fridge. Once the icing has hardened, cut into squares. Makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size of squares.
*Custard powder can be found at World Market and many high-end markets and specialty foods stores.
†Variation: replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips for the icing, as in the top right picture above.
Note: Kirsti went to see Bananarama in concert this week, and I couldn’t resist riffing on the chorus from one of their hits for the title of this post. 😊
6 thoughts on “Na Nanaimo, Na Nanaimo, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bar”
Nanaimo, Victoria, as I remember, was the dock for ferry boats from the Mainland.
I read the recipe several times. The large amount of graham cracker crumbs had me shaking my head in disbelief – would the cocoa flavor come through – but, as it a Marydale favorite and a Swoon Society recommendation, I assume it does. Can it be eaten with fingers or is a fork necessary?
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It’s more civilized to sit down and eat one of these bars with a fork…but who can wait that long?! They’re so delicious that you’ll probably end up eating them right out of the pan. And as someone who regularly makes herself a cup of hot chocolate using just one tablespoon of cocoa powder, I can attest that 2½ tablespoons of cocoa per cup of graham crackers is plenty.
These bars look absolutely wonderful. They would make a big hit at a party. I will have to have a party to try these out. Thanks for all your great ideas and information.
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It’s our pleasure. We’re so pleased that you enjoy the blog. 😊
Beautiful recipe. As a canadian expat those look beautiful 😛 Haven’t had a Nanaimo bar in years. While delicious I always found them so cloyingly sweet that I could only have a small piece. I know a lot of people that prefer to eat them out of the freezer as well.
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Thank you for your kind words. I myself prefer to let my bar(s) come to room temperature before eating, because it gives the filling a soft, creamy texture. 😋