Gluten-Free Nanaimo Bars - This West Coast Mommy
Desserts Recipes

Gluten-Free Nanaimo Bars

Eek! Nine days until Christmas, and I’m nowhere near done! I still have presents to pick up, crafts to make, and a gingerbread house still in pieces. I do this to myself every year. It seems like there’s lots of time… plenty of time… still some time… then BAM! Time’s up! Full-blown panic sets in! I estimate I’m about two days from this year’s panic.

Yes, getting ready for the holidays can be stressful, but the flip side is they’re also a pretty good reason to enjoy all the treats and desserts I (usually) pass over the rest of the year. It’s like my holiday from clean eating. I know I’ll be getting back into the healthy groove of things in January, likely kickstarted with a new Whole30 Challenge, so I’m saying a guilt-free yes to my favourite treats over the next couple of weeks. While I’m making lists, doing last minute shopping, cleaning the house, and hunting down glue sticks for the kids, I’m working on some holiday baking too.

These classic Nanaimo bars are now gluten-free!

I’m not sure how well known Nanaimo bars (pronounced nah-NIGH-mo) are in the rest of the world, but here in Canada these are a classic. Originating in the City of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, these no bake dessert bars are made with a base of chocolate coconut graham cookie crumbs, custard icing, and a layer of chocolate on top. Nanaimo bars are a holiday tradition for many of us, but what to do when half of your family can’t eat gluten? Just make your own with gluten-free graham cracker crumbs instead!

This is my mother-in-law’s Nanaimo bar recipe and a family tradition every Christmas. Nowadays they’re made with gluten-free graham crumbs and goat milk, but nobody can tell the difference. They’re still my favourite sugar bomb – head and shoulders above the pale tasteless store-bought versions! The best Nanaimo bars are a delicate balance between the cookie base, icing, and chocolate. These have achieved that perfect harmony.

These can be made ahead of time and frozen until needed. (I actually think they’re extra yummy straight out of the freezer still frozen!)

Gluten-Free Nanaimo Bars
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Chocolate Base
  1. 1/2 cup butter
  2. 5 tablespoons white sugar
  3. 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. 2 cups gluten-free graham cracker crumbs
  5. 1 egg
  6. 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  7. 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  8. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing
  1. 1/2 cup butter
  2. 1/4 cup milk or non-dairy milk alternative
  3. 1/4 cup custard powder
  4. 4 cups sifted icing sugar
Chocolate Topping
  1. 4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate (4 squares)
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
Make the chocolate cookie base
  1. Place softened butter, sugar, cocoa, egg, and vanilla extract in a small bowl and set in a pan of boiling water.
  2. Stir until butter is melted and mixture thickens.
  3. Remove bowl from water bath and add graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts. Mix well.
  4. Spread chocolate coconut mixture in a 9x13 ungreased pan. Pack it down firmly with the back of a spoon.
  5. Place in fridge to cool for about an hour before adding icing.
Make the custard icing
  1. Cream butter.
  2. Mix milk and custard powder together, then fold into creamed butter.
  3. Gradually stir in sifted icing sugar to make a stiff icing.
  4. Spread evenly over chocolate base and allow to set in the fridge, about an hour.
Make the chocolate topping
  1. Slowly melt semi-sweet chocolate and butter in a small double boiler, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Once melted, pour over top and place in fridge to harden.
  2. Cut into small squares and enjoy!
Notes
  1. Of course you can substitute regular graham cracker crumbs if you don't need this to be gluten-free. You can use dairy milk (cow, goat) or non-dairy alternatives (almond, cashew) in this recipe.
  2. Nanaimo bars freeze well, so make these ahead of time and freeze for later.
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31 Comments

  • These are a must for me to make at Christmastime! My brother is gluten intolerant and loves Nanaimo bars, too, so now I can make these for him to enjoy, too! Thanks for the recipe!

  • My husband spent some time in BC teaching so I asked him how to pronounce this bar. Of course he knew and finished with, “the most amazing things ever!” I guess I know what I’m making for Christmas when his Canadian Grandmother comes to visit. 🙂 Thanks for the recipe!

  • Thanks for the recipe. I forwarded it to my sister who’s husband is allergic to gluten…….hope she makes them over the holidays so I can sample!! 🙂

  • These Nanaimo bars look and sound delicious. I have never had Nanaimo bars before and I can’t wait to try these. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  • I’m not that well-read on Nanaimo Bars–only the name. I love that you’ve made a classic/traditional treat into something your family can enjoy. Thank you for sharing, Olivia. Merry Christmas to you and your family.
    (hope the holiday panic attack never showed!)

  • Okay, I’ve never even heard of Nanaimo bars, but they sound (and look) SO good! I may have to make this traditional Canadian dessert for Christmas Eve at our friend’s house… They’re Canadian natives! 🙂 Thanks for linking up with us at Delicious Dish Tuesday!

  • I am so grateful to find so many gluten-free recipes online now…my granddaughter is on a restricted diet but now she can enjoy many special goodies. Thank you for your great contributions!

  • I can’t say enough about your Gluten Free Nanaimo bars, my plan is to gather all ingredients this week to make a batch and share with the family as a New Years Eve treat! Thank you!! 🙂

  • Where do you get vanilla custard pudding powder? I never figured it out, so whenever I make Nanaimo I just tear open a packet of instant vanilla pudding and use some of that. I feel like I’m cheating though, so I’d love do know where to get the right ingredient!

    • You know, my mother-in-law has always called it vanilla custard powder, but I just looked and it’s actually just custard powder. We use the regular Bird’s Custard Powder which you can usually find in the baking section of your grocery store. I’ve corrected the wording in the recipe. Thanks!

        • As far as I know, Bird’s custard is safe. I read that they moved to a gluten-free facility a couple of years ago, but to be 100% sure I would call the 1-800 number on the side of the carton and verify with their customer service. Hope that helps!

  • Another yummy-looking recipe to try! This brings back memories for me… my hubby and I visited Vancouver Island a few years back and I remember him making fun of me for butchering the pronunciation of Nanaimo. (We’re not local to the PNW so I’d never heard of it.) Na-na-eeee-mo. Anyway, now I have another great way to remember that awesome trip and fill my belly at the same time. Thanks! 🙂

  • Just a heads up, Unless your making your own Graham cracker crumbs this isn’t Gluten free. Most of today’s graham crackers are made from refined wheat flour

  • We have at least three family members with Celiac. I am looking for recipes that they may be able to share in with the rest of us.
    I really like your recipe for Nanaimo Bars and hope to make them during the holidays. I have saved them to my favorites. Thank you so much.

  • I was thinking of making these tomorrow but I am lactose intolerant. Have you ever Tried making these with a lactose free butter spread like Becel or Earth Balance. Just wondering if it would turn out.

      • So…it worked! For the most part. I used becel lactose free, gluten free margarine and it was great except that the margarine was a bit oily for the chocolate layer on top. It tastes fine and the texture is great once it is cold but there are a few spots of chilled oil on the top of the chocolate. If it got warm I think it would look a bit greasy. According to the portion of my family that eats gluten and lactose, they taste just like regular Nanaimo bars.

        • Did you use the vegan Becel? That’s what I’m thinking of doing, because I’m gluten and dairy free. I normally bake with coconut oil, but I don’t feel like coconut oil is a good choice here. I might use coconut oil for the chocolate layer on top but margarine in the rest.

  • Thank you for posting a gluten free recipe for nanimo bars that doesn’t have a bunch of weird or hard to find ingredients!! I’ve been looking for one like this for a bit now!