Nanaimo Bars

Thank you Mabel Jenkins

The other day I was discussing Canadian foodstuffs with an English friend of mine. That is, I was trying to describe foods that were uniquely Canadian. Of course the first thing out of my mouth was poutine. Then maple syrup. Then tourtiere and Montreal bagels and both smoked meat and hot chicken sandwiches. I realised that all so-called Canadian food is from Quebec and that the rest of the country has little to offer save for smoked salmon and Hawkins Cheezies. I was a little sad about that. And then I remembered Nanaimo bars!

My mother used to make Nanaimo bars as part of the Christmas baking, most likely because they don’t require any baking, leaving the oven free for other goodies. Both sickly sweet and delicious, they are a staple of pot-luck suppers and school bake sales. According to Wikipedia, the font of all lazily gotten knowledge, Nanaimo bars were invented by Mrs. Mabel Jenkins of Cowichan Bay. So British Columbia has something sweet to add to the Canadian culinary landscape after all.

Adapted from The Lazy Gourmet 


  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups graham wafer crumbs (or crushed digestive biscuits)
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Custard Layer

  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


  • 280 g (10 oz) semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. For the base, melt the butter and combine it with the sugar and cocoa powder in a double boiler (or pot placed on top of another with simmering water in it). Beat the eggs and add to the mixture, stirring until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla. Stir in the crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press the mixture evenly into the base of a 23 x 33 centimetre baking pan (9 x 13 inches). Let stand for 15 minutes.
  2. For the custard layer, cream the butter, milk, icing sugar, custard powder and vanilla. Spread evenly on top of the base layer and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. For the topping, melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Gently stir in the butter until just blended. Spread over the custard layer and chill in the fridge.
  4. Make sure that the squares are at room temperature when slicing to avoid cracking the chocolate topping.
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