Nanaimo bars are a really fun summer dessert. They are easy to customize and come up with different flavors. Plus they taste amazing! They are pretty rich so you can cut the bars smaller to have more servings.
Nanaimo bars are name after Nanaimo, Canada where they originated.
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For the batches I made in these pictures, I experimented with different crumbs in the base. Before this I had always only used graham cracker crumbs, so I tried biscoff cookie and pretzel crumbs as well. I use my food processor to grind up the crumbs and the nuts but a blender could work as well.
I did just the vanilla filling since I was doing different flavors in the base. I used to try all sorts of flavors in the filling though. You can sub another liquid for the whipping cream in the filling. For example, I have used strong brewed coffee that is room temperature or chilled to make a coffee filling.
For the top I like to use an unsweetened chocolate since the rest of the bar is so sweet but a nice dark chocolate can work too.
I did a gluten free version of the Nanaimo bars using oatmeal in the base instead of graham or other crumbs. They turned out really well! I think quick oats are best but regular oats work too.
nanaimo bars variations to try
Coffee – Substitute strong brewed, cool or chilled coffee for the whipping cream in the filling. When I had the restaurant, we had an espresso machine and I would use a shot of espresso!
Peanut Butter– Use peanut butter instead of whipping cream in the filling. You may still need a little cream but not as much. You can also warm a couple tablespoons of peanut butter and pour over the chocolate topping before it is chilled and pull a toothpick through to make a marbled look.
Coconut – Use shredded coconut in the base instead of the nuts or for a portion of the crumbs. Use canned coconut cream instead of the cream in the filling.
Pumpkin Spice – Use pumpkin pie filling or pumpkin puree plus cinnamon for the cream in the filling. You could use some pumpkin seeds in the base as well.
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- 8 x 8 inch loaf pan
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups ground up graham crackers or pretzels
- 1 cup finely chopped (or ground) nuts or choice (pecans, almonds or walnuts are my go to)
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 2-3 tbsp whipping cream
- 2 tbsp vanilla pudding powder
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 ounces dark or unsweetened chocolate
- 2 tbsp butter
- Oil pan and line with parchment paper so that it overhangs on long sides of pan
- Measure graham cracker crumbs and nuts into a med to large bowl, set aside
- Place a small to medium heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
- Melt butter in bowl and then add the sugar and cocoa and mix until sugar is dissolved.
- In a separate small container whisk the egg and vanilla extract together
- When the chocolate mixture is nice and smooth, slowly stream the egg/vanilla mix into the chocolate mix, whisking constantly until the mix thickens and is nice and shiny.
- Add the chocolate mix to the crumb and nut mix and stir until coated and crumbly. Then dump into prepared pan and press down evenly to make the base for the bar.
- Place in the refrigerator for 20-30 mins
- While base is cooling, prepare the filling.
- In a stand mixer (or with hand mixer) cream the butter and pudding powder together and then stream in the whipping cream and vanilla extract.
- Scrape down bowl and then add a portion of the powdered sugar at a time, mixing and then adding more until it is all mixed in.
- You want a thick but spreadable consistency. If too thick, add a teaspoon of whipping cream at a time. If too thick add a tablespoon of powdered sugar at a time until you get it right.
- Spread onto chilled base. Try and make pretty smooth and even, especially around the edges.
- Put back in the refrigerator to chill again
- Using the bowl over simmering water method, melt the chocolate and butter together until smooth
- Pull pan out of refrigerator and pour chocolate on top, working quickly to tip the pan so that the chocolate flows over the whole top.
- Place back in refrigerator and let chill for a minimum of 30 minutes
- To cut, have a wet kitchen towel and a chefs knife or serrated bread knife (my choice). run a butter knife on the edges of the pan with no parchment to loosen. Then pull the bars out of the pan using the edges of the parchment that are sticking up over the edge. Place directly on a cutting board.
- Score the bars and then follow the lines and carefully cut slowly through the top and then press through the rest of the bar. The top can crack if you push too fast or forcefully. I like the serrated knife so I can "saw" through the top. You can also run the knife under hot water before each cut. just be sure to wipe dry before cutting.
- Store bars in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.