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  • Andrea Juarez

Canada’s most popular dessert, a no bake

The Nanaimo bar is a Canadian dessert that originated in Nanaimo, B.C. (where it got its name) and was also voted Canada’s favourite confection in 2006 by the National Post.

The famous Nanaimo bar consists of three layers: a water and coconut crumb-base, custard flavoured butter icing in the middle, and a top layer with chocolate ganache.

A no-bake dessert, its simplicity is a true tradition and a must-go for Canadians.


According to Canadian Food studies, the Nanaimo bar was inspired by an unbaked chocolate cake recipe published by the Vancouver Sun in 1947.

Word on the street says the bar itself was likely developed by a member (or members) of the Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary, and the Nanaimo museum’s collection of recipes has confirmed that the first known recipe was included the 1952 Women’s Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook, a fundraiser for the auxiliary.

This cookbook included nearly identical recipes for the dessert that differentiate slightly from the actual version.

In the mid-1980s, the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce attempted to discover the origin of the bar and noted that Phyllis Milligan, a member of the Nanaimo Hospital auxiliary, reported that the recipe first appeared in their cookbook and was based on a recipe for Chocolate Fridge Cake from the Vancouver Sun.

The recipe later appeared on the Vancouver Sun on April 11, 1953, in the Vancouver Sun, as “London Got Bar”. Then, the recipe appeared as “Nanaimo Bars” in the 14th Edith Adams Cookbook.

The origin of this dessert is still tricky. There are reports that mention Jean Pare, creator of the Company’s Coming cookbooks, claimed that the bars were originally called smog bars and were from Alberta. Yeehaw.

Nanaimo, B.C., is recognized as a centre for culinary innovation, and that’s why the bar was named after the city.

Nanaimo is a resource industry town on the East Coast of Vancouver Island that began as a coal-mining hub and by the mid-50’s, the pulp and paper industry dominated its economy.


According to a study, the Nanaimo bar became popular after World War II and became the go-to dessert for housewives that wanted to impress their guests as the cooking was excessively time-consuming.

Nanaimo bar 50 years after...

Nowadays, if you visit the town of Nanaimo, you can take the Nanaimo Bar Trail, a self-guided trail through the streets of Nanaimo and its regions for tourists to experience a variety of the famous Nanaimo bar.

This trail includes different restaurants that of course, serve Nanaimo bars but in a variety of forms, such as ice cream, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cake pops, waffles, fudge, and cocktails. Yes, there’s a Nanaimo bar cocktail.

Nanaimo Bars in Calgary

It’s no surprise that you’ll find these bars in many coffee shops across the city.

If you're new to the city, Higher Ground offers a big solid square for $4 that tastes like paradise on your mouth. Sunterra, M&M Food Market, Sidewalk Citizen, and Co-Op are also other options to try.

Recipe If you feel like cooking, here’s the 1986 award-winning Nanaimo bar recipe that won’t let you down.

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 the first 3 ingredients on top of a 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 the 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 the second layer and chill in the refrigerator.



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