Nanaimo Bars

It is now the Christmas break. On the last day if school before the Christmas break, I decided to do a little baking with my students. My reasons for this were five-fold: (1) the speakers in my classroom are broken so showing a movie was not an option, (2) I like to bake with my students from time to time, (3) our current social studies unit is chocolate, so Nanaimo bars fit well with the unit, (4) my students don’t respect me and are doing a pretty good job being nonstop naughty for me, so trying to get them to do Christmas-related reading and math activities all day long when they’re already excited was going to be hell on earth, and (5) Nanaimo bars are just plain delicious. Actually, considering my students normally ARE very naughty, they were shockingly well-behaved while preparing the Nanaimo bars. Maybe they were excited about how much sugar and chocolate was going into these things or maybe I should just try those very tactile, hands-on activities with them a little more often. Anyway, my kids had a blast, and I’d love to show you my pictures of the kids preparing these (I made them do all the work), but I feel weird about putting photos of other people’s children on the internet, so I just can’t show you those photos.

But… what DO a bunch of fifth grade Kuwaiti students think of Nanaimo bars, anyway? According to one boy, “These smell better than Selena Gomez!” If that’s not the quote of the holiday season, I don’t know what is!


By now, I’m sure you’re probably wondering what ARE Nanaimo bars, anyway?! Nanaimo bars are a classically Canadian Christmas treat consisting of three layers. The bottom layer is a combination of graham wafer crumbs, desiccated coconut, crushed nuts, cocoa powder, sugar, and butter. The middle layer is butter, custard powder, vanilla, icing sugar, and milk. The top layer is quality dark chocolate melted with just enough butter to make it spreadable. And when the whole thing is said and done, the finished product looks like this:


I always use the recipe which you can find on the Canadian Living website, but I usually alter it by removing the nuts (I’m not a fan of nuts in baking). This time around, on a whim, I kept the nuts but substituted in crushed pecans in place of the more traditional walnuts. Also, since my school does not have an oven (Canadian Living’s method requires that you bake the bottom layer) and since I was averse to letting a bunch of kids have a treat with a raw egg in it, I altered the recipe a little further this time around by removing the egg and adding a little more butter in its place (and crossing my fingers that the bars didn’t fall apart into a crumbly mess when trying to get them out of the pan). Technically, there are measurements for all the ingredients in Nanaimo bars, and usually it’s imperative when baking to follow measurements exactly, but with these, I never measure anything out and instead just eyeball everything, erring on the side of adding too much of everything (especially if it’s an ingredient I particularly enjoy, such as chocolate or sugar). For this reason, you will never have the same Nanaimo bars twice from me, but I can guarantee they’ll always be delicious.

For the Base:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the Filling:
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp custard powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups icing sugar
~2 Tbsp milk

For the Top Layer:
4 oz (115g) dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp butter

For the base, mix together all the dry ingredients first. Then pour over the melted butter and the egg and mix well. Press into a 9-inch square cake pan. Bake in a 350*F oven about 10 minutes, until firm. Set aside and allow to cool completely before doing the next layer (otherwise, the next layer would be difficult to spread and may even melt, and that’s not what you want).

For the middle layer, mix together the butter, custard powder, and vanilla. Alternately add in the icing sugar and the milk, adding a little extra icing sugar and/or milk until you achieve a spreadable consistency. Spread this mixture over the base. Put in the refrigerator and allow to harden at least 15 minutes before moving in to the next layer.

For the top layer, heat the chocolate and the butter until melted and well combined. Spread over the custard layer. Return pan to refrigerator and let cool until the chocolate is set (about 15 minutes). Slice into bars and enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Nanaimo Bars

    • This was my students’ first encounter with Nanaimo bars so at that point they didn’t know how good they would taste. Although I think they began to have suspicions when they saw just how much chocolate and sugar went into them… πŸ˜‰

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