nanaimo bars

[19 Aug 2008 | By | 25 Comments]
Nanimo Bars

I am trying to remember the first time I tried a Nanaimo Bar… And I think I was in high school, working at a restaurant called Dutch Mothers. I could hardly resist consuming one of these each time I worked a shift.

This isn’t their exact recipe, but it is appropriately out of a collection of community recipes, bound with a typical black plastic spiral, tattered and old looking. Have you run across these? Often compiled by churches or bridge groups, federations of this or that, the woman’s club of ‘insert name here’ and likely many a school, these ‘cookbooks’ boast a pile of recipes submitted by countless members of a given community… I can almost picture the formica counters and olive green or mustard colored appliances. Or my grandmother’s retro white table with speckled silver glitter and chrome trim, clad with chrome handled cupboards. And Pyrex at the ready with just the right glass square for making sinfully sweet, multi-layered desserts.

I found this recipe in a collection from Lopez Island in the 1970’s… which simply means it is gooey, good and full of butter and sugar. It pays no mind to diets of any kind. Perfect for a potluck or a bake sale, these bars remind me of something my grandmother used to make for family gatherings: layers of sweetness—be it fruit or otherwise—plenty of sugary frosting or whipped cream, and a cookie crust that adds the perfect crispness for each bite. Move over summertime S’mores, here are some no-bake (good for hot summer days) layers of chocolate, graham crackers and sugary sweet white cream that will take on a marshmallow any day of the week:

Nanaimo Bars (no bake)
3/4 cup butter, divided
5 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 beaten egg
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 T cream
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp rum, brandy or peppermint flavoring

Melt 1/2 cup butter and 1 square chocolate in pan. In bowl combine sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, egg, crumbs, coconut and walnuts. Add melted butter into mix, then press into 8 inch square pan. Chill. Beat together powdered sugar, cream, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup room temperature butter. Spread layer into pan. Chill. Melt remaining 4 squares chocolate with flavoring. Pour/spread over bars. Chill. Serve.

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  • Barb said (21 August 2008 at 6:12 am):

    These look beyond ‘sinful’. Any idea how they got the name?

  • Joanna said (22 August 2008 at 6:22 am):

    I’ve never tried one of these bars before. I think I’m gonna have to make a batch. With a picture like that, how can I resist? haha

  • Sophie said (22 August 2008 at 8:06 am):

    We would like to feature this recipe on our blog. Please email if interested. Thanks :)

    You can view our blog here:

  • Karen said (22 August 2008 at 10:13 am):

    To respond to Barb’s question of how these yummy bars got their name…legend has it that they originated in the 1950’s in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Wikipedia has a good entry about the origins of the bar! This recipe looks great! I think I’m going to be trying it this weekend.

  • janelle said (22 August 2008 at 10:17 am):

    Barb: they are too yummy:)

    Joanna: let me know if you try them!

    Sophie: thanks! too kind!!

    Karen: you rock; thanks for the info. Yikes, my bars are missing a vowel:).

  • J.A. said (22 August 2008 at 5:20 pm):

    Is that the Dutch Mothers restaurant in Lynden by any chance? I’m a huge fan of their breakfasts!

  • Alisa said (23 August 2008 at 11:04 pm):

    Yes, they are out of BC, and insanely popular throughout Canada! In fact, I think it is a rule up there that Nanaimo Bars must be served in absolutely every bakery. Lovely and addictive little suckers. Those look great!

  • Ursula said (25 August 2008 at 9:23 pm):

    This to me seems like a fool proof recipe. No baking. Sign me up!

  • snookydoodle said (26 August 2008 at 2:26 am):

    these look yummy. I tried one making these bars and they vanished in a second :-)

  • holler said (28 August 2008 at 3:35 pm):

    These look great! I wouldn’t mind one just now actually :)

  • Lael said (30 August 2008 at 2:18 pm):

    oh, yum! you worked at Dutch Mothers? As in Lynden’s Dutch Mothers? That is one of my favorite breakfast places when I go back to Bellingham!

  • Lael said (30 August 2008 at 2:19 pm):

    oh, just saw the comment above mine about Dutch Mothers…that answers my question. I’ll have to try their nanaimo bars next time I’m there.

  • janelle (author) said (30 August 2008 at 2:50 pm):

    J.A.: yes it is! What a hoot!

    Alisa: I should go to Nanaimo sometime! It isn’t too far away…

    Ursula: no baking can be nice, eh?

    Snookydoodle: Yes, when you make them, it is GOOD to have mouths around to SHARE them:).

    Holler: Wish I could email you one!!

    Lael: YES it is! I grew up in Bham:).

  • Kate said (6 September 2008 at 8:56 pm):

    I grew up eating these bars every year at Christmas only we just called them Three Layer Bars. I love them so much, mostly because they never fail to remind me of my mom. I make them for my sibs each year and with the first bite you can see in all our faces exactly what we’re thinking

    “I miss my mom”


  • Bellini Valli said (9 September 2008 at 6:09 am):

    Somehow Nanaimo Bars are linked with Canada and the West Coast…apparently a woman entered them in a contest in Nanaimo. We used to have a cookie exchange at Christmas every year and my friend always had these on her platters to look forward to:D

  • Hélène said (9 September 2008 at 4:03 pm):

    I love Nanaimo bars but don’t make them. I should start. Great picture.

  • janelle said (10 September 2008 at 4:32 pm):

    Kate: I am glad you made them, and that they are a happy reminder. I am so sorry you had to enjoy them without her.

    Bellini: I love plates full of cookies around the holidays. Cookies are such a treat!

    Helene: I always tell my boys, they won’t find their favorite foods unless they keep trying new things. Perhaps you will find a new dessert?

  • Gina said (13 September 2008 at 7:24 am):

    My Nana and Auntie fed me these every time I visited them in Canada. I have only seen them there- they are wonderful and really have a place in my heart- and stomach…(then hips) I ate them with reckless abandon when young

  • Scott at Realepicurean said (13 September 2008 at 10:22 am):

    I have now confirmed to myself that I’m lazy by being drawn into the “no bake” part of the title more than anything else. They look great!

  • Quail By Mail said (21 September 2008 at 4:39 pm):

    I came across this blog completely by accident. I’m a British Columbian living in southern England. My eyes clapped on the photo, instant recognition, a nostalgic feeling over came me. Having been devoid of Nanaimo Bars since 1993 – I MUST MAKE A BATCH — NOW — AND SHOW THE BRITISH!

  • Jo said (11 October 2008 at 10:41 am):

    Is the coconut supposed to be sweetened or unsweetened?
    I want to make these for Thanksgiving tomorrow.

  • janelle said (11 October 2008 at 8:30 pm):

    Gina: I love that these bars have a special connection for people; they are more than a treat, they are a source of great memories!

    Scott: No bake rocks. Gets me every time:).

    Quail: I would use unsweetened, because it is all so sweet. Though I have made it with both. Let me know your vote:).

  • Elix said (16 October 2008 at 8:36 pm):

    As a resident of Nanaimo, I need to put something straight. (Love the blog, btw!)

    In my understanding, Nanaimo bars did not exactly originate in Nanaimo. Nanaimo was once a coal-mining town in the days when Canada was still a part of the British Empire, and even after. During the mining days, families back east (both eastern Canada and across the Atlantic in England) would send care packages to their mining relatives. One thing that was often sent were little bars that were incredibly high in energy and fat–which is a good thing if you’re a hard-working miner with a questionable diet due to limited local foodstuff variety.

    Now, the bars we know now are probably not the same as the bars sent in care packages, but the first known documented recipe was published in a church recipe book in 1957.

    I’m actually going to have to track this story back down to confirm it, but to my knowledge that’s the ‘origin’ of the Nanaimo Bar, even if the actual bars being sent clear across Canada had little to no resemblance to what we treat ourselves to today. Maybe I can get into the archives at the museum.

  • janelle said (21 October 2008 at 9:52 am):

    Elix: thanks for the info! Love getting feedback right from Nanaimo! Would love to hear more, if you are able to find out more.

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