There’s a good chance you are probably reading this right now and thinking – what the heck is a Nanaimo bar?! Rest assured, you are not alone. Unless you grew up in Canada or have a passionate Canadian in your life, you likely won’t have heard of this amazingly delicious treat. Those who do know it though, know that it is ubiquitous around here. You’ll be able to find Nanaimo bars in every grocery store and every local bakery across the country

A Nanaimo bar is a no bake treat made of a chocolate graham cracker/coconut base (sometimes also with almonds), followed by a yellow custard filling and finally a layer of chocolate. According to Wikipedia, there seems to be a bit of controversy as to where the bar actually originated, but to avoid any potential wrath, I’m going to stick with saying it was in Nanaimo, BC.

Did you KNOW (and this is news to me) that you can  do a self-guided tour in Nanaimo and try over 30 different variations of Nanaimo bars?? They have a map with all the delicious locations you can hit up. Amazing. That Nanaimo bar milkshake is calling my name.

Nanaimo bars are known for their signature yellow custard layer. There is really nothing like it. There’s also not much to it, to be honest. It’s basically butter, powdered sugar, and custard powder (which is what gives it that signature yellow color). I’ll fully admit that the only things I’ve ever used custard powder for are this cake and actual Nanaimo bars. I wish it came in a smaller container! It’s not a bank-breaker, but I don’t like to see things go to waste.

  • Dark Chocolate Ganache:
  • 3 oz good quality dark chocolate
  • 3 oz heavy cream
  • Chocolate Cake:
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk room temperature
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 2 large eggs room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Chocolate Coconut Crumble:
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup fine shredded coconut unsweetened
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp black cocoa powder optional (for color)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter melted
  • Vanilla Custard Frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar sifted
  • 1/4 cup custard powder
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream more if needed
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • US Customary - Metric

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

  1. Finely chop chocolate and place into a bowl. Bring cream just barely to a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 2 mins. Stir with a spatula until combined, smooth, and silky. Set aside to cool completely until thickened but still pourable. See notes.*

Chocolate Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease three 6" round baking pans and dust with cocoa powder. Line bottoms with parchment.
  2. Place all dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl whisk all wet ingredients (pour water in slowly as not to cook the eggs if very hot).
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix on medium for 2-3 mins. Batter will be very thin.
  5. Pour evenly into prepared pans. I used a kitchen scale to ensure the batter is evenly distributed. Bake until a cake tester comes out mostly clean. A total of 35-40mins.
  6. Cool 10 minutes in the pans then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Coconut Crumble:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Whisk all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour in melted butter and stir until it begins to clump.
  2. Spread evenly on baking sheet and bake for 15mins. Cool completely before using on cake.**

Vanilla Custard Frosting:

  1. Prepare a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk butter until creamy, scraping bowl as needed.
  2. Reduce speed to low and add in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until well blended, add custard powder. Increase speed to med and beat for 3 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla and 2 Tbsp cream and continue to whip on medium for 1 minute.
  4. Add more cream as needed until desired consistency is reached (I added all 4 Tbsp). Whip until the frosting is smooth and silky.


  1. Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving dish. Top with about 2/3 cup buttercream, spread evenly. Sprinkle some of the crumble on top. Repeat with remaining layers, but don't sprinkle crumble on the very top layer.
  2. Frost and smooth the outside with a thin crumb coat (thicker on the very top). Chill for 20mins.
  3. Using a small spoon, place dollops of ganache around the top edges of the cooled cake, allowing some to drip down. Fill in the top of the cake with more ganache and spread evenly with an offset spatula.***
  4. Use a 1M tip to pipe dollops on top with remaining frosting and sprinkle some crumble in the middle.

* For the ganache, I let mine set overnight (with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface). It will be too thick at this point, so I microwave it for 5-10 secs and stir it until it's the right consistency.
** You will have some crumble leftover after using it in the cake. You can use this as a topping for ice cream or a crunch layer in another cake.
*** You may have some ganache left over.

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