Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (2024)

by Karen 71 Comments


Last week I received an unsolicited email from the fella's father.

He wanted to talk about squares. Not the mathematical kind, the edible kind. True squares to be specific.

That led to an email exchange about True squares which I would like to share with you now.

Hi Karen,

If you’re still in the market for a true list I offer the following:

The Fella's Father:


There are three true squares and one honourary true square. All other “squares” are nothing but overdecorated, unappetizing sugary horrors that ought to be scraped into the garbage at once. The true squares are:

The Nanaimo bar, aka the Mabel bar, perfection on a paper napkin, the pride of Vancouver Island and the only true square that doesn’t require baking.
The date square (real oats only, no instant porridge mix—ever.)
The brownie (NO NUTS!)
The honourary true square is the lemon square. I don’t like them myself and would sooner open up a vein with a rusty fork than eat one, but I put it on the list to show I am broadminded and open to new ideas.

With the exception of the Nanaimo bar, true squares require baking. If you’re making something with crème de menthe, Jell-o or Rice Crispies and the recipe says to refrigerate, you’re not making a square, you’re making a mess.

True squares should measure at least two inches per side. Church ladies take note: Nothing mars a funeral like the puny half-inch squares served up after the rites. Make them bigger.

This email prompted an immediate reply from me. What about the peanut butter square? Was that not a true square? It's either covered in chocolate, or at the very least offers a delicious chocolate base. What about this as a true square? Was there room on the list for this? Or fudge? If it was cut into a square was fudge not a square? What about a square of fudge? Or a coconut square? These all seem like viable options to me. What about them?

My email went unnoticed. He still hasn't replied.

Other than a single lined email that said "I'm giving true meats some thought." I haven't heard from him since. Last I heard he was seen wearing a tin foil hat picketing the doors of the hamburger bun factory that recently added a whole grain option to their product list.

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

Second Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

(recipe from the Nanaimo, B.C. website)

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Reader Interactions


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  1. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (6)Carol

    Ok I read this and made the Nanaimo Bars for a BBQ gathering were a baker and a chef were present ... they were a hit. I, who absolutely hate butter cream in any form, was presently surprised ... thank you!


    • Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (7)Karen

      Excellent! As far as I can remember, *I've* never even made Nanaimo bars! I have eaten my fair share though. :) Glad they were worth the work! ~ karen


  2. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (8)Leonie

    Our pantries in Australia have custard powder in them as a staple. Used for the making of Yoyo's, Custard sponges, Vanilla slices (maybe a true square)to name a few.... It is a powdered cornflour (cornstarch)not sweet, with vanilla flavour that turns yellow when added to wet ingredients. hope that helps.


  3. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (9)Janelle

    I lived in Nanaimo for years and nobody was ever able to tell me why Nanaimo bars aren't called Nanaimo squares. To me, a bar has to be rectangular, like a bar of gold, or a chocolate bar. Also, hooray for Fella's Father for calling them "date squares". When people call date squares matrimonial cake it really sticks in my craw.


  4. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (10)Jen

    What a nut! I love him!!


  5. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (12)The Fella's Father's Wife

    Just feel I need to make something clear here.
    Yes. The fella's dad does indeed have a true wife, but JUST ONE. There are no 4 or 5 true wives, or true mistresses or true Hos. Just me. Just one, glorious and true wife.


  6. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (13)Valerie

    Custard powder inquiries: most countries will sell "puddings" in little boxes in their grocery stores to which one adds milk. There are two types of puddings: the instant type (powdered) to which you add milk and beat and then simply pour into dessert cups and this will set in about 10 minutes. The other type available is a powdered concoction to which you add milk and heat to a boil and then pour into dessert cups about an hour before serving. In lieu of the famous Bird's custard powder I have used the "cooked" type of pudding (vanilla flavoured) and had my Nanaimo bars turn out perfectly.Two companies that put this type of pudding out in Canada - North America are Jello and Sheriffs.


  7. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (14)Melissa

    How do you pronounce "Nanaimo"? I have a recipe book that has them, and I've always wondered. Is it NAN-aye-moh? Or Nanah-EE-moh? Or something else entirely? Clueless in Connecticut...


    • Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (15)Karen but not that karen

      Nah- nie- Mo


  8. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (16)Melody

    Could you stick a photo on this post? I'd like to pin it!


  9. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (17)carol

    Nothing with coconut. No. Not ever.


  10. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (18)AnnW

    I think the fella's father looks more like Sean Connery. No Peter Falk involved. Maybe a little Peter O'Toole. Does he have a "true wife?"


  11. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (19)Sara

    Blondies? No blondies? Only brownies. Huh. Martha Stewart had a recipe for Nutella blondies that sounded very nice. I'll be sure to not tell the fella's father if ever I decide to make them. :)


  12. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (20)Another Karen

    These sound delicious! I'll make them next month when I return from vacation. I just hope I can cut a square squarely. Will it work if I make rectangles?


  13. Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (21)rktrixy

    For those of us who are not Canadians (and sadder for it, I think) is custard powder the same as instant pudding?

    Just curious.


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Classic Canadian Nanaimo Bar Recipe (2024)


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