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Nanaimo Bars. Building a better version.

Nanaimo Bars. Building a better version. Try this revamped version of the classic Canadian treat with a more substantial base layer and an improved filling.

Nanaimo Bars shown on a serving plate.

Nanaimo Bars. New and Improved!

Yes, I dared to toy with a Canadian classic! The recipe has been around forever but this version might be the best I’ve had. Well in my opinion at least… but I think you might just agree.

I’ve had several requests over the years for a standard Nanaimo Bar recipe but I’d never posted one. There are practically thousands of websites and blogs online that have the recipe published, so I figured, why one more?

All of those recipes are practically the same, using all of the same ingredients in almost always the same proportions or even exact measurements. It was a question from a friend who asked about the recipe that got me re-thinking it once again.

I found myself doing so after each similar request. I guess it was nagging away at me subconsciously all along.

Nanaimo Bars. Adding the custard frosting layer.

Nanaimo Bars. Adding the custard frosting layer.

My old friend and work colleague, Irene, wrote to me on Facebook, “Hey Super Barry-do you have a recipe for Nanaimo Bars where you can actually taste the custard vs. the typical sugar-y attack on the palate?”

Immediately, I thought she had pinpointed a specific issue that I also often had with the recipe.

Let’s face it, it is going to be difficult to cut the sweetness of a Nanaimo Bar. Because with a filling of thick icing sugar frosting, they are naturally quite rich.

I do like to cut these in smaller portions because of that (I get at least 36 squares out of a 9×9 baking pan).  But I also thought that if I played with increasing the amount of the base layer, that could help to balance the sweeter centre better.

Nanaimo Bars. New and Improved! Close up view of cut cookie bars.

Nanaimo Bars. New and Improved!

After a couple of attempts, I got that part exactly as I wanted it. In order to make the centre a bit more firm, I increased the butter a little and added only whipping cream as the liquid ingredient to bring the frosting together.

I saw this in several recipes I’d seen online. I found that the higher fat cream in a small amount, actually worked better because it did not split the frosting and loosen it, as low fat milk can tend to do.

I also added substantially more custard powder to the recipe than many recipes called for. Irene was right, what’s the point of the custard powder if there isn’t a discernible flavour from it?

You can find custard powder on Amazon by clicking the affiliate link photo.

The result of adding more custard powder also added more firmness and smoothness to the filling.; another bonus.

All in all I was very, very pleased with the result. I shared them with some of my friends who are devoted Nanaimo Bar lovers and they all agreed. Perfection!


Are you a Nanaimo bar lover?

Be sure to check out all the other flavours in our Nanaimo Bars Collection!

The Nanaimo Bar Recipe Collection

The Nanaimo Bar Recipe Collection

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Nanaimo Bars shown on a serving plate.
Yield: 36 cookie squares

Nanaimo Bars - building a better version.

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Nanaimo Bars - building a better version. Try this revamped version of the classic Canadian treat with a more substantial base layer and an improved filling.


Bottom Layer

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/3  cup sugar
  • 8 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/4 cups graham crumbs
  • 3/4 cup fine or medium unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts toasted

Middle Layer (filling)

  • 2 1/4 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup custard powder
  • 2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 2 tbsp whipping cream

Top Layer (chocolate)

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp butter


To prepare the Base Layer

  1. Melt together the butter, sugar and cocoa over low heat.
  2. Add the eggs continue to cook, stirring constantly to fully cook the egg to a soft scrambled texture.
  3. Add the graham crumbs, coconut and walnuts.
  4. Mix together until well combined then, press into the bottom of a parchment paper lined 9x9 inch baking pan.

To prepare Filling

  1. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter, custard powder and icing sugar until it starts to come together.
  2. Add the vanilla paste and whipping cream and beat well until smooth.
  3. This frosting should be very stiff but spreadable. ( Much thicker than you would use to frost a cake for example) If you think it's too thick, you may add a few drops of whipping at a time to bring it to the right consistency.
  4. Spread evenly over the bottom layer. Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before adding the chocolate topping.

To prepare the Chocolate Topping

  1. Melt together the chocolate chips and butter over low heat, just until the chocolate is melted, don't over heat it.
  2. Spread quickly over the chilled frosted layer. Return to the fridge until the chocolate sets.
  3. Cut into squares or bars. These freeze very well.

The nutritional information provided is automatically calculated by third party software and is meant as a guideline only. Exact accuracy is not guaranteed. For recipes where all ingredients may not be used entirely, such as those with coatings on meats, or with sauces or dressings for example, calorie & nutritional values per serving will likely be somewhat lower than indicated.

    Nutrition Information



    Serving Size

    1 cookie bar

    Amount Per Serving Calories 187Total Fat 12gSaturated Fat 7gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 32mgSodium 113mgCarbohydrates 18gFiber 1gSugar 13gProtein 1g
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    Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

    H-E-L-P....what is going on with my bars??!! They did not hold together. The base: crumbly! Chocolate layer: cracked when I cut it. Did the pre-slice with serrated to guide sharp knife for actual cut through. Still...topping broke up.

    It was a ‘gift’ for our neigbhours. Added Peppermint extract and green food colouring for Christmas. I told them they might want to just put in bowl , with ice cream. Sheesh.


    Thursday 14th of May 2020

    I have made Nanaimo bars for many years.. I made them once with instant pudding and they were not as good. I stayed with my favoured Birds custard powder. An excellent product. I always have a can on hand to make a trifle, or to serve over fruit. As soon as husband's birthday cake is gone it will be time to make these delicious Nanaimo bars.

    Lynn Hagan

    Tuesday 24th of December 2019

    Hey there, Barry! Merry Christmas to you and yours and may 2020 bring health and happiness. I just tried your "revamped Nanaimo Bars" because I was looking for a recipe that might be a little less sweet...and I am so happy I did! I had not made Nanaimo Bars for a very long time and had forgotten how ornery they can be to cut...but I persevered.

    Now to your recipe - I did substitute pecans just because I prefer them to walnuts in anything. Next time I will make sure I have whipping cream; I am convinced you are correct about that working better than milk.The base part fit into a 10" x 12" pan cause that is what I had and it was still thicker than I had expected - a good thing! I think next time I will make 1/2 again the custard part just as a preference. For the top I used 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/2 a cup of butter - I like a thicker chocolate top. I am so happy I tried your recipe, Barry! I will be using it again for sure the next time I make Nanaimo Bars. The overall taste is as rich as any, but there is not that "making my teeth hurt" sweetness.


    Sunday 22nd of December 2019

    I like using a longer pan, and doubling the chocolate layer as I find it cracks easily when cutting it. Also, mint flavour with the top chocolate layer tastes awesome plus maybe a hint of salt somewhere among the layers.


    Wednesday 18th of December 2019

    Hi Barry, I absolutely love all your recipes, keep up the great work! This year all of my holiday baking came from your Cookies cookbook! I have 2 question about the Nanaimo bar recipe:

    1. My filling layer didn't stick fully to the base layer - after cutting and removing from the pan, a bunch of them came apart - is this because my filling layer was too thick?

    2. When I cut them, the chocolate on top cracked a lot. How can I prevent this? Maybe not leave them to chill as long? I left them overnight and cut the next morning.

    Thanks so much!

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