Mmm…Canada, sweet: nanaimo bars.

In my last post I wrote about my Mmm…Canada, savoury submission, Montreal Bagels. Today it’s all about the sweet things in life.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I received an invitation from Jasmine, The Cardamom Addict to take part in a blogging event that she is co-hosting with The Domestic Goddess called Mmm…Canada.

The Mmmm…Canada event is being held to coincide with Canada Day on July 1st. I am both a Canuck and a lover of food so there was no arm twisting required to get me to take part. The Cardamom Addict is handling all things savoury while The Domestic Goddess is looking after the sweet side of Canadian life. The idea behind the event is for a bunch of Canucks, and honourary Canucks, to present delectable submissions of either the sweet or savoury variety that are quintessentially Canadian. Given my love of food I decided to do both. Yesterday it was all about Montreal Bagels for my savoury submission. Today, it’s all about the sweet stuff: Nanaimo Bars.

The history that I remember about Nanaimo Bars is that they were the winning submission made by a Nanaimo (British Columbia) housewife in the 50’s, in response to a dessert bar contest. Or something along those lines. They are ubiquitous in Canada. There isn’t a single grocery store that doesn’t carry a mass-produced version – homemade is always best, of course. They are so popular in fact that I’d be surprised if mine were the only submission in this event. Nanaimo Bars are a three layer bar style dessert. The bottom layer is a chocolatey, nutty, coconut graham crumb base. This is topped with a vanilla custard-like buttercream layer. Finally, it is topped with a chocolate glaze layer. Voila, Nanaimo Bars.

Since I was really short on time, Nanaimo Bars were the perfect choice for this project. They are e-a-s-y to make, no baking required. All they need is a little chilling and before you know it you’re enjoying a diabolically sweet treat. And I mean diabolical. If you have a sweet tooth, this is your dream come true.

Warning: Nanaimo Bars are dangerous to have around. Resistance is futile.

Actually, I was rather cross with hubby yesterday. I had given him very specific instructions to take the entire batch of Nanaimo Bars to work with him for sharing. Imagine my chagrin when I opened the fridge and found them all there. Calling me. What ensued was a torturous exercise in temptation and will power. I was most displeased.

I found a recipe that had originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper and set about veganizing it. Nanaimo Bars are a cinch to veganize. Earth Balance (vegan buttery margarine) replaces butter, flax meal and water replace egg, plain soy milk replaces milk. This is my adapted recipe:

Nanaimo Bars:

Bottom layer

1/2 cup earth balance (or other vegan margarine)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tbsp flax meal
3 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups crushed graham crackers or crumbs
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Middle layer

1/4 cup earth balance (or other vegan margarine)
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder *
3 tbsp plain soy milk

* easy to find in Canada but sometimes difficult to find in the U.S. – instant vanilla pudding powder can be substituted.

Top layer

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp earth balance (or other vegan margarine)


  • To make bottom layer: Grease a 9-inch square cake pan. I lined the bottom with parchment that stuck out the top so I could lift everything out after – this makes cutting the bars easier (I didn’t want to scratch up my nice pan)
  • In a small bowl, beat flax meal and water together until frothy, set aside.
  • In a sauce pan over low heat, combine 1/2 cup earth balance, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla . Add flax mixture and stir constantly until mixture thickens.
  • Add graham crackers crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts, stirring to combine.
  • Press the mixture into the greased pan.

  • To make middle layer: In a large bowl, beat together 1/4 cup earth balance, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla custard powder, and soy milk until creamy.
  • Spread custard mixture over graham cracker base in pan. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

  • To make top layer: Melt semi-sweet chocolate and 1 tbsp earth balance. Pour over chilled bars and spread over top. Return to refrigerator to chill until firm (at least 1 hour).

  • I recommend checking in on the squares after maybe ten minutes of this final chilling phase – or as soon as the chocolate topping begins to set a bit enough to score. While it’s still soft, score just the top chocolate layer with the lines you will cut along later. This way you will be able to cut the squares cleanly afterward when the chocolate is fully set, without cracking the tops (like I did).
  • Serves 9-16, depending on how you divide them.
Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars

Here’s to wishing you a sweet Canada Day!

Since we’re a bit early, promise to check back on July 1st and click on the Mmm…Canada logo at the top of this post which will take you to The Domestic Goddess’ sweet Canadian roundup.

23 thoughts on “Mmm…Canada, sweet: nanaimo bars.

  1. You’re killing me Small’s! These look SOOO good! Oh, so many little time! These are definitely going on the to-do list…..

  2. Thanks for stopping by guys!

    Sara – my apologies, I am an evil person ;)

    Ricki – they ARE brilliant. and evil. brilliantly evil.

    Dorit – I agree, it adds a certain charm – thanks for making feel less like a clutz (which I so am).

  3. Pingback: Mmm…Canada, savoury: the montreal bagel. « madcap cupcake

  4. Nanaimo bars are great, but I love to add a touch of mint into the “custard” layer of mine for a more refreshing summer treat. They’re also excellent frozen!

  5. BitterSweet – mint is indeed an excellent addition, perfect for this hot weather – the dangerous thing about anything with mint in it is that you eat more of it because it somehow tastes lighter! The great thing about Nanaimo bars is that they lend themselves so easily to taking on other flavours. One of my favourites is a triple chocolate killer :) I was toying with doing a maple flavoured centre, to really play up the Canadian theme, but decided on the vanilla version for the post. More Nanaimo’s to follow this summer, to be sure!

  6. This is what I love about Nanaimo Bars – everyone who makes them makes them just *slightly* different than the last person. They are ever-evolving in their delicious-ness!

    Thanks so much for joining in on Mmm…Canada (both editions)!

  7. There are sooo many dainties in the Canadian repertoire, I definitely need to scrounge around in my 80-something aunt’s recipe box! These are at EVERY family function, no matter what.

  8. This Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. I found your blog! :)

    OK, first off, I love your vegan take on them. They look so delicious! Secondly, I think they came out lovely, and your photographs are SO amazing. Perfect detail, clear, like I can reach into the photo and grab everything. What kind of camera do you use? I hope I can get photos even HALF as phenomenal as yours, once I get adjusted to my new camera, and learn all the ins and outs of food photography. Then again, my Canon isn’t a dSLR, so I’ll just be happy with anything decent at this juncture,

    Having said all that, I can’t wait to try your recipe, as I have many vegan friends who would go ballistic for a plate of those, not to mention myself and all of my non-vegan friends!

  9. WordPress didn’t link me on your site either! Hmm..what’s going on here?

    I will be visiting your blog quite often, as the recipes and photos are simply divine! This is the best part about food blogging and entering SHF, Daring Baker’s etc. You get to meet so many people who share your obsession and love of everything food, and drool over their creations, with the added bonus of getting to try them due to the recipes that come along with each beautiful bunch of photos and great reads. :)

  10. Oh my, I need these pronto! I gained a pound looking at them LOL. I like Canada even more now! What kind of graham crackers did you use? It is difficult to find honey-free in the USA and the only brand I know of isn’t all that great (or maybe I’m picky….*referring to kind on veganessentials, Health Valley I think*). Oh and I usually just do my own thing, but when you say 4oz of chocolate, do you physically weigh it out? Any idea how much semi-sweet chocolate chips that would be in terms of cups?

  11. VeganVerve – Hi there! If memory serves, the cracker brand is Health Valley. I’d had them for ages in my pantry. Next time, I’m going to make my own graham crackers from scratch – I found this great recipe online, at the VCTOTW blog. It looks super easy and you can find it here:

    As for the chocolate – In this case I used semi-sweet chocolate baking squares (they are divided into one-ounce squares that you break off). But I’ve used chips in the past – if you have a kitchen scale, you could definitely weigh chocolate chips to get the exact same amount. I’ve just used cup measurement for chips – so 4oz would be a 1/2 cup. I’m not sure if this is scientifically sound, but that’s what I do :)

  12. Thanks madcap! I plan on trying these today. I don’t like the Health Valley all that much by themselves but I’m sure the other ingredients will help me with that =) I want to make my own graham crackers too!!! Thanks for the recipe! And I kinda figured about the 4oz chocolate thing…scale would be best but god forbid I use more chocolate than necessary…that would be such a very very bad thing…. ;)

  13. Pingback: nanaimo bars and graham wafers. « madcap cupcake

  14. Pingback: Happy (belated) Canada Day! « halivegan

Comments are closed.