Friday, March 15, 2013

Traditional Nanaimo Bars

Bird's Custard used on the top bar, Jell-O on the bottom.

Ever since posting my award-winning Nanaimo Bar recipe here on my blog, I've had several people tell me (and post on Pinterest) that they are not REAL Nanaimo Bars because I do not use Bird's Custard Powder in the middle layer. I've never been able to find it in any markets where I live, so I've always just subbed Jell-O instant vanilla pudding. I've always thought those Canadians who criticized or corrected me were being sensitive, that there really couldn't be THAT big of a difference between the two. They look almost the same, right?
Well, after finally purchasing some Bird's Custard Powder on, I've realized that all of those pushy Canadians are right: Nanaimo Bars do, in fact, taste better with the Bird's. They just do. As my husband said, "I feel like I can just eat more of these ones." This helps explain why I found it so easy to eat three very large Nanaimo Bars the first time I had them at Portland State University so many years ago. These are the Nanaimo Bars I fell in love with, and I'm glad I finally gave in and bought the Bird's.
I had a few friends over to help me with the tasting, and four of five of us agreed that the Bird's Nanaimo Bars tasted better, lighter, less sweet than the other. My friend who preferred the Jell-O pudding ones is a sugar lover, so she likes hers sweeter. The Bird's bars, in addition to tasting a bit lighter, had a more distinct coconut flavor--not overwhelming, but subtle, and I liked it.
So, if you're going to try a Nanaimo Bar recipe, try this one. They're awesome.

Traditional Nanaimo Bars


Bottom Layer
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ½  cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup pecans, finely chopped
Middle Layer
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons half & half or heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Bird's Custard Powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
Top Layer
  • 1 cup semi-sweet-chocolate chips (or, even better, about 22 Dove Dark Chocolate Promises)
  • 1 tablespoon Crisco or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped white or milk chocolate, melted

Line the bottom of a 9 X 9-inch pan (glass or metal) with parchment paper or non-stick foil.

Bottom Layer:  In a 300° oven, toast coconut and chopped pecans until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally. (This toasting is optional, and not necessarily traditional, but I like it.)   Remove from oven and set aside.  In the top of a double boiler, melt ½ cup butter and  cocoa and sugar. Whisk to combine.  Whisk in the beaten egg.  Whisk until thickened, and then remove at once from heat.  Fold in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and pecans.  Press into prepared pan.  Put in refrigerator while you prepare the next layer.

Middle Layer:  In a large mixing bowl, cream together ½ cup softened butter, half & half, and custard powder.  Fold in the powdered sugar.  Beat until very light.  Spread evenly on top of the first layer.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Put in refrigerator again for an hour or so, until middle layer is firm.

Top Layer:  In a double boiler melt the chocolate chips and Crisco or vegetable oil. The chocolate may melt the middle layer if it’s too hot, so you might want to let it cool for a little bit.  Pour onto second layer and spread evenly.  Drizzle white or milk chocolate over the top for decoration.*  Let set in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes and then cut.  (This keeps the chocolate from cracking when you cut it.)  Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. 

Note: Be sure to remove any foil or parchment paper that may have stuck to the bottom of individual bars.

*I've created a post that gives explicit instructions and photos on how to make the "feathery" lines you see on these bars: How to Make Those Feathery Lines on Nanaimo Bars.

Watch this Tik Tok video to see the Nanaimo Bar making process.

Traditional Nanaimo Bars


  1. They have Bird's at The Gateway Market here in DSM and often at World Market. My Dad's British, so we grew up eating it + it's a def must. Am making these bars this week - again, thanks!

    1. Thank you! That's good to know. After I finish my 600g can, I know where I can stock up again. :)

  2. Hi, are you using salted or unsalted butter? Seeing just "butter" am I to assume that's unsalted? I've seen both listed in different recipes and have no idea which one to use now! Thank you!

    1. For recipes here on my blog when I say "butter" I mean salted butter. I specify "salted butter" when it's important to use I salted butter. Does that make sense? It only makes a difference in a few recipes, in my opinion.

  3. Hello! I am planning to make your wonderful looking recipe :)
    Can you please tell me how do you cut these bars to get a very clean cut? Do you use a very sharp knife or a serrated knife? Do you cut in a sawing motion or straight down?

    Thank you..

    1. Sorry for the delay on this reply. It actually took making these a few times before I realized that I needed to cut them before the chocolate on top was completely chilled and set. After putting the chocolate layer on, you refrigerate just until the chocolate is no longer shiny--in my fridge that's about 10-15 minutes. Then I use a small, sharp, NOT serrated knive to cut. If the chocolate still seems to soft after the first cut, I put it back in the fridge for about five minutes. If the chocolate is already cracking with the first cut, I try to cut it as quickly as possible to minimize the cracking. It's not an exact science because sometimes I let hours go by between layers, so my bottom layers are colder when I add the chocolate, so it sets up faster. When I'm rushing things, it seems like it takes the chocolate a lot longer to set because the bottom layers aren't completely cold and set themselves. I hope that long answer is useful. Even if you don't get clean cuts the first time, I know you'll enjoy these. :)

    2. Oh, and I also wipe the knife clean with a wet paper towel between each cut.

    3. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I made these about 4 times already and they were WONDERFUL. And I did manage to get very clean cuts thanks to your instructions!

  4. hello, I'm planning to make these for a cookie exchange party, and I'll need 5-6 dozen. Can you tell me approx. how many bars you get out of the recipe above? should I double, triple or quadruple it? any reccomendations on short cuts/efficiencies for making this sort of volume? I was thinking I'd make it in stages, doing the bottom layers all in 1 night and then the middle layers and top layers the next night?? thanks in advance for your tips. -Buffy

    1. Hey, Buffy. I can't believe I neglected to write how many pieces to cut these into. The above recipe makes 16 decent sized bars. I've made a large batch in a half sheet pan. I think I multiplied the recipe by four or five. I'm sorry I can't remember. It was probably four. If you could do that, you'd probably get close to five dozen. Making the bars over time is fine, but you need to allow much less time for the top layer of chocolate to set before you cut it. When the middle layer is good and cold the top layer firms up much more quickly. It's quite important to cut it just as the chocolate is set but not hard so that it does not crack. Still tastes good, but not nearly as pretty. Let me know if you have any other questions. Have fun! :)

  5. Hello- can you tell me how many bars the recipe above makes? I'm planning to make them for a holiday cookie exchange, and will need 5-6 dozen unbroken bars total. Should I double, triple or quadruple the recipe? also, might you have any efficiency tips for making this volume? I was thinking maybe I'd make all the bottom layers in 1 night, then the middle and top layers the next night? thanks in advance. -Buffy


Hello! If your comment is more of a question about something you are cooking RIGHT NOW, please email me the question in addition to posting it here. I check my email more frequently than I check my blog comments. :)

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