I was inspired to create this recipe by my families love for Nanaimo bars! My mom takes the more traditional approach to making them (using butter and icing sugar) and so I wanted to create an organic, vegan, lower in sugar version to see if I could win over my family!
After trying a few different versions, both my mom and I received rave reviews from everyone around us for our different recipes. I am excited to share what I came up with which are not only delicious, but are also better for you than most Nanaimo recipes out there! My biggest tip as always, is to always look for organic products when buying your ingredients.
NOTE: I am sharing 2 different options for the middle custard layer
1) The first one is slightly more indulgent using vegan butter and some organic icing sugar! Far from what I usually use in my baking, however okay for a treat once and a while!
2) The second one is raw & way lower in sugar, containing no icing sugar (much more like what I usually bake)
Take your pick of which middle you want to make depending on your personal preferences (and perhaps those who will also be enjoying them)!
For the Base
– 1 cup walnuts
– 1/2 cup graham crackers (I used Annie’s as an organic option)
– 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (I prefer the thick ribbon ones over the skinny flakes)
– 2 Tbsp. raw cacao powder
– 1 cup medjool dates
– 1 Tbsp. raw honey
– Pinch of sea salt
For the ICING SUGAR & VEGAN BUTTER Containing Middle Option
– 1/2 cup earth balance (ensure you buy the organic option)
– 2 Tbsp. coconut cream
– 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
– 2.5 Tbsp. custard powder
– 2 and 1/4 cups icing sugar
For the REFINED SUGAR FREE Middle Option
– 1 cup cashews soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then rinsed and strained
– 160mL can of coconut milk (this is the small can)
– 2 Tbsp. Maple syrup
– 4 Tbsp. raw cane sugar
– 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
– 2 Tbsp. custard powder
For the Top
– 1 cup semi-sweet dairy free chocolate chips
– A few splashes of almond milk OR 2 Tbsp. earth balance
It’s best to start making the middle layer as it needs to sit in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Instructions for the middle layer that contains icing sugar:
– In a small bowl, stir together the coconut cream, maple syrup, and custard powder, trying to get it as lump free as possible
– In a large bowl, add the vegan butter and icing sugar and with an electric mixer, beat them together on medium high for 2 minutes
– Next add the custard mixture and continue to beat for 4 minutes
– The mixture should appear smooth and creamy by the time you are finished beating
– If for some reason your mixture is too runny, you can add an additional 1/4 cup icing sugar or a 1/4 cup white flour to thicken things up!
Instructions for the Refined Sugar Free Options
– Rinse and strain cashews and then place them into a Vitamix or high powered blender
– Add the maple syrup and coconut milk and blend on high until the cashews are broken down very well and the mixture is somewhat smooth
– Add all other ingredients and blend on high until you reach a super smooth and silky consistency without any chunks (this can take a few minutes to blend it to this level)
Place the bowl containing the middle layer in the fridge for 15 minutes while you make your base layer
For the Base:
– Place the walnuts in a blender or food processor and mix for approximately 45 seconds (until they are ground down into small pieces but not quite a flour like consistency)
– Add the graham crackers and coconut flakes and continue to blend for 30 seconds
– Next add the dates, cacao powder, honey, and sea salt
– Blend/ process until well incorporated
– NOTE: the type of dates you use will make the base vary. I use very moist medjool dates as I find it helps things bind super well. If you are finding your bottom too crumbly or dry, you can add an additional 1/4 cup of dates and/or 1 Tbsp. coconut oil to help things bind better
Press the base layer into a rimmed pan of your choice. I like really thick bars so I prefer to use a 9.5 x 5 inch pan – although you could also use an 8 x 8 pan (you don’t necessarily need to spread the mixture over the entire pan). Next spread the middle layer over the base and then place the pan in the fridge for 30 minutes.
For the Top
– Melt your chocolate chips on LOW heat on the stove top or use a double boiler
– If you prefer to use almond milk over vegan butter, add a few tiny splashes (a couple teaspoons only) as your chocolate begins to melt, otherwise add the vegan butter
– Be very careful not to burn your chocolate by stirring the entire time and only heating on low – it melts fast, trust me!
NOTE: if you are using the vegan butter but find the mixture too thick, you can feel free to also add a few tiny splashes of almond milk. I find the type of chocolate chips you use have an effect on the way things melt
– If you want your chocolate to have a “crispness” to it when you bite into your bars, try tempering your chocolate. Read about how to do that here!
After the pan has sat in the fridge for 30 minutes, remove and spread melted chocolate on top. Place in the fridge for another 30 minutes before cutting into square size pieces to serve.