Next-Level Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars hold a special place in the hearts of many Canadians, but recently this dessert and its fascinating history has been attracting attention internationally. Michelle and Barack Obama even served it at a US state dinner with the Trudeaus in 2016. And the term “Nanaimo bar” has been canonized forever in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Suffice to say, the beloved dessert from BC is here to stay! To celebrate this three-layer no-bake classic, we asked recipe developer Sonia Wong to create a decadent version using Lindt EXCELLENCE 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate. And since she also specializes in recipes that limit gluten, dairy and artificial additives, she has provided substitutions that allow everyone to enjoy a bite!

9 - 12 people


  • 1¾ cup (440 mL) Graham crackers (or gluten-free Graham crackers), crumbed
  • ½ cup (125 mL) pecans, lightly toasted
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely shredded unsweetened coconut
  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder), sifted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) milk (or unsweetened non-dairy milk such as almond, coconut or soy)
  • 2 tbsp (10 mL) vanilla custard powder (for no artificial colouring, use cornstarch or arrowroot starch instead)
  • 2 cups (500 mL) powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp (3 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch turmeric powder, for colour (if you're not using custard powder)
  • 2 bars (200 g) Lindt EXCELLENCE 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp (10 mL) unsalted butter


Step 1.

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST: Line a 9 x 9-inch baking pan with parchment.

Step 2.

Place Graham crackers (in batches if necessary) in a food processor, and short-pulse until you have coarse cookie crumbs. You can also crush the crackers by placing them inside a plastic bag and using a rolling pin. Place crumbs in a medium bowl. Next, add toasted pecans to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped but still a bit coarser than the cookie crumbs. You can also chop the pecans with a knife. Add chopped pecans to the bowl of cookie crumbs, along with unsweetened shredded coconut. Mix well.

Step 3.

Using a double boiler or a heat-safe bowl set over a saucepan with a few inches of simmering water, melt butter, sugar, and sifted cocoa powder. Add the beaten egg in a stream as you whisk the mixture. Cook until thickened like pudding. Remove from heat and stir into the dry mixture. Stir until well-combined and while still warm, press into the lined baking pan as evenly as possible. Chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the next layer.

Step 4.

VANILLA CUSTARD LAYER: In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream all the ingredients together at medium speed for about 3 to 5 minutes or until light. The mixture should be thick but spreadable. Add extra splashes of milk if too thick.

Step 5.

Spread onto the bottom crust layer in the pan. Put back into the refrigerator to chill.

Step 6.

CHOCOLATE LAYER: Use the double boiler method again (with a clean bowl) to melt the chocolate and butter. Let cool slightly.

Step 7.

While it is still runny, spread over the custard layer. Smooth out with a spatula. Chill in the refrigerator at least an hour or until firm.

Step 8.

Cut with a sharp knife into squares or bars and enjoy!

Step 9.

Substitutions: Gluten-free version: Simply use gluten-free Graham crackers in the base layer. Sonia recommends Pamela’s Gluten-Free Honey Graham Crackers for their high-quality ingredients. Note: this brand contains butter. For a gluten-free and dairy-free version, try brands like Kinnikinnick or Schär.

Step 10.

Substitutions: Dairy-free version: At a one-to-one ratio, substitute regular butter with vegan butter, and use dairy-free milk in place of cow’s milk. Sonia says Earth Balance is a great vegan, dairy-free butter for baking. She also uses Earth’s Own organic unsweetened almond milk or oat milk.

Step 11.

Substitutions: Vanilla custard powder: This is an ingredient traditionally called for in Nanaimo bars. Contrary to the name, custard powder is not custard at all. It’s a dairy-free powder made primarily of cornstarch, sugar, vanilla flavouring and artificial yellow colour that mimics the appearance of custard. If you’re unable to find vanilla custard powder or would prefer to avoid the additives, you can easily substitute one-for-one with cornstarch or arrowroot starch (Bob’s Red Mill is Sonia’s go-to). To maintain the yellow colour, add a pinch (¼ tsp) of turmeric powder. And don’t worry, you won’t taste the turmeric in the bars! Or feel free to mix it up and keep the middle layer white.


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