Nanaimo Bars

There’s some properly iconic architecture in Oxford, so they feel like they have to throw in some ugly buildings to make sure we all appreciate the good stuff. One such building is the Manor Road Building, a blocky, 60s-style concrete and glass box on the edge of the centre of town. It’s not the worst modern building in Oxford, not even that close, but it’s not the sort of place that soothes your aesthetic principles every time you visit. Nevertheless, I have a slight soft spot for it, because it’s where James and I met. And that’s all worked out pretty well.

One thing the MRB does have, besides thousands of right angles, is a cafeteria, for which a woman called Steph makes baked goods of which James is rather fond. This weekend, he asked me if I knew how to make something he particularly liked: ‘these Canadian chocolate things, sort of like tiffin… but nicer… I don’t know what they’re called.’

I did not.


Thankfully, Google is omniscient, and once James had figured out the name of the baked good in question, we were in business. Not only did I not know how to make them, I had never ever heard of them. I’m still not sure how to pronounce their name. Nah-nay-mo bars? Who knows. Since they’re Canadian and I am, technically, a Canadian citizen (with the passport to prove it), I feel almost no guilt for hideously mispronouncing the name and being pretty liberal in my interpretation of the recipe.

These chocolatey bars of goodness are more like tiffin than anything else I know of, but with the addition of a custard icing layer between the biscuit and the chocolate, and a lack of dried fruit within the base. They’re easy, no-bake, and low on prep time – although you do have to wait for them to set as you make each layer, but that just involves bunging them in the fridge. I know fridge cake isn’t quite the thing for nearly-November – I should be baking something warming and scented with apple and cinnamon – but I am time-poor these days and anything you can throw together with odds and ends from the cupboard sounds pretty good to me.


Source: A random recipe from the internet. I’ve adapted it quite a bit.

Notes: Obviously, this recipe is joyfully adaptable, so go forth and bake with whatever is lying around in your cupboards.


Bottom layer
120g butter, room temperature
50g caster sugar
30g cocoa powder
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g crushed digestive biscuits, hob nobs, or whatever other fairly plain biscuits you have
50g shredded coconut
50g chopped pistachios (I put pistachios in everything because I love them, but go for your favourite nut)

Middle layer
60g butter, room temperature
4 tbsp whole milk
20g custard powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g icing sugar

Top layer
150g milk chocolate


  1. Line a square tin with baking parchment and make sure there’s actually space to put it in your fridge (there’s never any space in my fridge).
  2. Bottom layer first. Put a large saucepan over a low heat and melt the butter, then take it off the hob and quickly stir in the sugar and cocoa. Let it cool a little, then gradually whisk in the beaten egg and pop the pan back onto a low heat and keep stirring the contents for two minutes. It will initially look all split and weird and like a really bad idea, but then it will come together and look like a smooth, glossy, chocolate sauce. Take it back off the heat and stir in your vanilla, crushed biscuits, coconut, and nuts. Smush it evenly into your tin, cover, and chill for an hour.
  3. Then the middle layer. Beat the butter until it’s very smooth and soft in a bowl with an electric whisk, then beat in the milk, custard powder, vanilla, and icing sugar. You should end up with a smooth, relatively thick, buttercream-style icing. You want it thin enough to spread but not so thin that it runs everywhere. Spread it on top of the chocolate base and chill for half an hour.
  4. Finally, unsurprisingly, the top layer. Melt your chocolate however you think best, then quickly spread it over the chilled custard icing and put the whole tin back in the fridge for ten minutes to firm up the chocolate. Then get it out and cut the thing into squares before it becomes rock solid. My kitchen was pretty warm, so I put the bars back into the fridge.

These will live in my freezer and be brought out in sugar-emergencies (i.e. every night).