Legendary Nanaimo Bars

Presented by: Joyce Hardcastle

serves 12

Ingredients for Bottom Layer

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut

Ingredients for Middle Layer

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 teaspoons cream
  • 2 tablespoons Bird’s vanilla custard powder
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Ingredients for Top Layer

  • 4 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter


For bottom layer, melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8-inch square pan.

For middle layer, cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

For top layer, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.


I have made many of the variations: mint, orange, lemon, etc.

Been making Nanaimo Bars for more than 50 years (I was 10 when I made my first batch); the recipe came from the sugar package and it did call for walnuts. I switched to pecans about 25 years ago and most people seem to like that better. I dislike almonds so have not tried this version. Bird's custard powder gives a subtle flavour and colour to the icing (middle layer) that vanilla custard powder doesn't give - I can always tell the difference.

I have made many of the variations: mint, orange, lemon, etc. especially when I've made Nanaimo Bar for weddings, showers, or special birthday parties - I usually do one original and one or two different flavours, depending on how many are required.

Thanks for sharing your tips and story! Loved it!

My husband has been raving about these bars since he left Seattle in 1999. This year for Christmas I am going to surprise him with a batch. I sure hope I can do justice to your bars. Not sure where I can find Bird's Custard Powder in Wisconsin. Wish me luck!


Thank you for providing these details on your website.


Hi NancyH,


My mother always uses vanilla pudding mix - you could probably use this in place of Bird's custard powder. :)


KCTS 9 Staff


Icing Sugar is NOT Confectioners Sugar
Icing Sugar is Confectioners Sugar AND CORN STARCH!!!


here is a description taken from this link:


"Confectioners or powdered sugar - In Britain it is called icing sugar and in France sucre glace. This sugar is granulated sugar ground to a smooth powder and then sifted. It contains about 3% cornstarch to prevent caking. Powdered sugar is ground into three different degrees of fineness. The confectioners sugar available in supermarkets – 10X – is the finest of the three and is used in icings, confections and whipping cream. The other two types of powdered sugar are used by industrial bakers."

I live in Wa. Sate and the powdered sugar I buy in the store says that it is "confectioners powdered" and it contains sugar and cornstarch (to prevent caking)


@ G Hawkins, my grandmother was an English immigrant who came to Seattle by way of Vancouver in the early 1900's, and she was famous in our family for making Nanaimo bars and also a date cookie, hmmmm..... could it be the same person? probably not, I don't think she stayed long in Canada and my grandfather was a house painter :)
we always got a big box of both cookies for Christmas.


A great recipe and true to the original. I remember my grandmother paid a good friend $5.00 for the recipe--in those days (late 40s and early 50s) housewives weren't as likely to give a recipe away--cash or nothing! And in those days $5 was a lot of money. As for Bird's Custard Powder--available in Canada at Thrifty's--I always have a can on hand--you never know when the need for a Nanaimo bar might strike!
Paul on Pender Island


This is so cruel ... I've gained ten pounds just reading these recipies and thinking about Nanaimo Bars. Darn, why does everything soooo good have to be sooooo fattening!


As a chef and resident of Nanaimo for over 20 years, I have heard many tales of the origin of the Nanaimo Bar. My favourite was about a coal miner's wife, an immigrant from England of the early 1900's made the dessert after many rumours abounding that there was gold amidst all of the coal on the Island, even though I don't know of any substantial gold being found here or anywhere on the Island. So the layers of chocolate, and the walnut crust were representative of the coal in the ground in and around Nanaimo and the surrounding islands, and the custard filling was the "gold" in the middle.

Often bastardized with various variations of the filling from raspberry, to peanut butter, and cappucino, produced commercially, and domestically, they are all good but there is nothing like the original, especially made from scratch. Also to note, it is a Christmas, as well as a year-round favourite in these parts.

Chef Hawkins


I first tasted these while living in Comox B.C. (up the highway from Nanimo) Bird's custard can be found in West Seattle (Husky's I believe) Many deli type stores carry Bird's & Harry Horne's. Other nuts work well. These may not make it as legendary but so what if someone can't eat walnuts & almonds. I too have used "jello" custard powder.


What is "icing sugar". Is it the same as confectioner sugar used for making icing?


Icing sugar is powdered sugar.


Yes, Icing sugar, confectioner's sugar and powdered sugar are all the same thing. I moved to Canada from the States over 20 years ago - had not known that until I moved!


I've always used bitter - ie unsweetened chocolate for the top. I think it makes a huge difference - not icky sweet but a great complement to the icing layer directly below.
hm Victoria,BC


I seem to recall a version of this with Creme de Menthe in one of the frosting layers?

thx for posting this, a great treat.


I hope this recipe is ok without nuts. My girl is allergic to both Almonds and walnuts.


I have been making these for about 50 years (I am from near Nanaimo) and have never heard of putting in almonds. It should be chopped walnuts if they are "legendary" which I suppose is meant to say these are the originals.


I live in Nanaimo and I, too, use walnuts. So, I went into the City of Nanaimo website (that has the original, prize winning, recipe posted) and, yes, it calls for almonds! I will try the recipe that way too. But, really, any Nanaimo Bar is a great treat (I have done a peanut butter version too, which is great, from the book "Still Nuts about Chocolate")


I've used just the regular old Jello powdered vanilla custard and it works just fine (yum!).


Bird's vanilla custard powder-can anything else be substituted; I can't locate here in Canada.


Bird's Custard powder is sold in Save-On-Foods.


Most Canadian Grocery stores carry either Birds Custard Powder or Harry Horne's custard powder. Safeway, Overwaitea, IGA, etc. If you see a store that carries it then get 2 tins of it. We use it to make runny custard for trifle and other desserts. For a nice runny custard, heat 3 cups of milk in the microwave in a large glass 2 litre measure or bowl and heat until boiling, mix 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup custard powder together and add 1 cup of cold milk, stir well. Add it stirring constantly to the hot milk. Heat the custard/milk mixture for about 5 minutes - stirring every 2 minutes. It will thicken. You may need to boil it for a minute to get the starch to cook. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla to finish. Serve with pies, ice cream and other desserts.


I live in Sidney, across the water from you. Bird's Custard Powder should be available in any grocery store. Try Thrifty's or Safeway. It is distributed by Kraft. I buy the Original Flavour, and I didn`t realize it came in others. Nanaimo Bars originated in Nanaimo, BC and they are delicious. Bird`s custard can be made into a sauce or a custard dessert. It comes in a round tin (cardboard) as a powder. Ask the store where they keep it. Probably baking aisle. I also use it for a sauce over Christmas Pudding, Apple pie or rhubarb, etc.


Yu should be able to buy Bird's eye custard at any Safeway. I live in Vancouver and have been making these for years


I thought you should have a copy of this recipe for yourself.


I thought you should have a copy of this recipe for yourself.

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