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Posted on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 8:01 a.m.

No-bake Nanaimo bars will keep your spirits bright

By Jessica Webster


Nanaimo bars are a favorite Canadian holiday tradition.

Jessica Webster |

How can Christmas be just over a week away? I haven't written Christmas cards! I haven't baked! I don't have all the Christmas music playlists loaded up on the iPod!

This is the time of year when I reflect back on all the wonderful memories of my childhood Christmases and feel guilty that I'm not providing the same Norman Rockwell experience for my child. My mom and grandmothers always baked dozens of delicious cookies each year for Christmas. My mom worked with me to make homemade gifts for all my relatives. We decorated the tree while sipping hot chocolate and listening to Joan Baez singing Christmas carols. It was idyllic.

These days? Well, we got the tree up. I couldn't find the Joan Baez record, so we listened to the three jazz Christmas records I had loaded on my laptop while we decorated the house. We'll probably just sign the 8 year old's name to our gifts to family unless I can find an afternoon and some raw materials to help him make his own gifts.

But cookies? I will not neglect the cookies this year.

My mother was born in The Netherlands, so many of our holiday traditions come from there. Boterkoek, banket and oliebollen all make regular appearances at holiday gatherings. But after immigrating to Toronto when my mother was a child, her family also adopted Canadian holiday customs. Among my favorites is the Nanaimo bar.

What's a Nanaimo bar, you ask? Legend has it they were dreamed up by a housewife named Mabel in Nanaimo, British Columbia 60 years ago. Her recipe made it into a cookbook that was sold in tourist shops, and the cookie's fame quickly spread across Canada. It was even dubbed "Canada's Favourite Confection" by readers of a national newspaper.

There are many variations on the Nanaimo bar, but the basic recipe calls for a layer of graham cracker crumbs, pecans, cocoa powder and coconut bound together with butter, a middle layer of butter cream frosting, all topped with a layer of dark chocolate. Some recipes call for bittersweet chocolate, but my family has always used unsweetened. There is enough sugar in the bottom layers to sweeten the cookie.

When eating your Nanaimo bars, I recommend listening to jazz chanteuse Diana Krall.  She's Nanaimo's other famous export. Try her lush Christmas album or her delicious tribute to Nat King Cole which features Ypsilanti bassist Paul Keller.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Middle Layer
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups confectioners sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

1. Place a mixing bowl in hot water and add butter, sugar and cocoa. Cream well and add vanilla and egg. Mix until smooth. Add graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts and mix well. Pack in greased 9-inch square pan.

2. Mix the middle layer ingredients and spread over the bottom layer.

3. For the top layer, melt chocolate, add butter and mix. Spread over the middle layer and refrigerate.

Cut into squares with a knife heated in hot water.

Jessica Webster leads the Food & Drink section for the community team. You can reach her at


Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

Made these this past weekend, they came out great!


Thu, Dec 16, 2010 : 8:02 a.m.

lola; you cfould always use Egg Beaters or any other egg substitute.


Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 8:12 p.m.

Raw egg? No thanks.


Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

Beezy's in Ypsilanti sells these bites of goodness year-round. If you're not the no-baking type, try one at Beezy's. So tasty!

Ron Granger

Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 1:35 p.m.

Hmm... I've been to Nanaimo; I've sailed there many times in fierce weather. But no bake Nanaimo bars? Are you kidding? The baking part is essential. Otherwise those people would freeze! Well, maybe not freeze. But you know what I mean, ay?


Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 1:13 p.m.

I got to try these delicious cookies years ago while traveling in Canada and have been looking for the recipe ever since. I was told they were called British Columbia Bars... no wonder I couldn't find the recipe. Thank you for publishing it!


Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 12:42 p.m.

Nothing quite says Christmas like Nanaimo bars do in Canada. I was very surprised when I moved here 20 years ago that no one had ever heard of them. I use walnuts rather than pecans--I have never seen the recipe with pecans before, and I have been making these wonderful confections for about 30 years. Bird's Eye Custard is the way to go rather than vanilla pudding. You can find the custard in a yellow, red and blue can in the British section at Hiller's or Busch's. It comes as a powder and is wonderful. Try the custard with cold apple sauce as well. Delightful!

Mary Bilyeu

Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 12:15 p.m.

Oh, my notorious sweet tooth is crying out to try these!!! What a fabulous treat... :)


Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 11:33 a.m.

These sound great! I've never heard of them and can't wait to try out the recipe. Thanks!


Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

These are so delicious...incidentally, they freeze very well if you get carried away in your "concocting" :O)