WHAT ARE NANAIMO BARS?
Our no-bake Keto Nanaimo Bars are three layers of heavenly decadence. The base layer is a mixture of almond crumbs, chopped nuts, and shredded coconut, coated in melted butter, cocoa powder, and vanilla. A middle layer of creamy vanilla custard is topped with a dark chocolate and butter melt. They are truly the perfect balance between texture and sweetness. We believe these bars are one of our best keto/low carb desserts we’ve made!
My sister, Kathy, has been the custodian of our family Nanaimo (pronounced nuh-NYE-mo) bar recipe. We’d almost forgotten about these spectacular bars over the years, and rediscovered her recipe in our family cookbook. She’s been making these no-bake bars for as along as we can remember, bringing them to family gatherings and watching them disappear in minutes.
These bars originated in the Canadian city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It’s believed the base layer was created in the 1950’s among housewives all around the British Empire, and the women of Nanaimo added the middle and top layers. The town was both a coal mining center and timber town, and these bars were packed into lunchboxes for a tasty sweet treat.
We compared her recipe to tens of others and found one big difference: Kathy adds 3 ounces of cream cheese into the middle layer. We tried it with and without, and hands down, the cream cheese addition wins for both flavor and texture.
HOW WE TURNED NANAIMO BARS KETO/LOW CARB
The remainder of the recipe needed adjustments. A typical Nanaimo bar is loaded with carbs, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work on substitutions. Traditionally, these bars use loads of graham cracker crumbs, sugar, custard powder, and sweetened shredded coconut. We substituted the graham cracker crumbs for almond crumbs, the sugars for both granulated and confectioners sugar substitutes, the vanilla custard powder for sugar free instant vanilla pudding, and used no added sugar shredded coconut.
HOW TO MAKE KETO NANAIMO BARS
Typically, ketoizing a dessert recipe takes us several tries. Not this time. Since it’s a no-bake refrigerator bar, it’s basically foolproof! At first glance, the ingredient list may look a bit long, but stay with us here: It’s truly easy to prepare! We promise. Start by melting together butter, sugar substitute, cocoa powder and vanilla, and whisk in a beaten egg until the mixture thickens. You can use a double boiler or heavy bottom saucepan on low heat for this. Then add in the remainder – almond crumbs, no-added sweeteners coconut, and chopped nuts. We used pecans, but walnuts and almonds are also perfect. Toss until all ingredients are coated, then press firmly into the bottom of an 8×8 or 9×9 square baking pan that’s been prepped with butter and parchment paper. Place it in the fridge as you want this layer to chill before adding on the next.
For the middle layer, beat together the butter, sugar free vanilla instant dry pudding mix (we use Jell-O brand), cream cheese, and heavy cream until smooth. Then beat in the confectioners sugar replacement, one cup at a time, along with a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Spread this layer over the chilled bottom layer and place in the freezer while you’re making the top chocolate layer. This prevents the chocolate melting into the custard layer.
We make our own double boiler with a saucepan that’s about 1/3 to 1/2 filled with water and heat over medium until the water starts to simmer. Place a metal or glass bowl that fits snugly over the top of the saucepan, but without coming in contact with the water. Chop the dark chocolate with a heavy knife into small pieces and add to the top of the double boiler along with the butter. Melt until smooth and shiny. Remove from heat for a few minutes before evenly spreading on top of the second layer.
We recommend refrigerating these bars for a solid 2-3 hours before enjoying. Before cutting into squares, remove from the refrigerator for 15 minutes so chocolate layer softens a bit, making the cuts easier to perform.
Keto Nanaimo Bars
- 8x8 or 9x9 Baking Pan
- Double Boiler
- Heavy Sauce Pan
- BOTTOM LAYER
- ½ cup butter
- ¼ cup granulated sugar replacement truvia Sweet Complete, Swerve Granular, etc
- 5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1¾ cups almond crumbs
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- ½ cup finely chopped pecans walnuts or almonds
- MIDDLE LAYER
- ½ cup butter softened
- 2 tbsp sugar free instant vanilla pudding mix (dry) we use Jell-O brand
- 2 cups confectioners sugar replacement truvia, Swerve
- 3 oz cream cheese softened
- 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract optional
- TOP LAYER
- 4 oz 78% cocoa dark chocolate Lindt Excellence
- 2 tbsp butter
- Line an 8x8 square baking pan (or 9x9) with parchment paper, leaving a few inches hanging over the sides for easy removal. Butter parchment paper.
- In a heavy saucepan or in the top of double boiler, melt the butter over low heat. Add granulated sugar replacement, cocoa, and vanilla extract. Continue over lowest heat on stovetop or double boiler while whisking until ingredients are smooth. Slowly add beaten egg and whisk or stir until mixture thickens into custard-like consistency.
- Remove from heat. Stir in almond crumbs, coconut, and pecans until coated. Press firmly and evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Place in refrigerator to cool.
- Using a stand or hand mixer, beat butter, cream cheese, unsweetened instant vanilla pudding mix (dry), and heavy cream until smooth, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add vanilla (optional). Add confectioners in one cup increments, beating well after each addition until velvety-smooth. Spread evenly on top of chilled bottom layer and place in freezer while making top layer.
- Using a double boiler, melt chocolate pieces and butter, whisking until smooth. (DIY by half filling a saucepan with water and heat until water begins to simmer. Place a metal or glass bowl over the rim of saucepan without the bottom touching the water.) Let chocolate mixture cool on countertop for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove pan from freezer and pour chocolate on top of second layer, smoothing out with icing knife or back of spoon. Refrigerate until chocolate is completely set, about 2-3 hours. Using parchment paper tabs, remove from pan and set on cutting board for 15 minutes to soften chocolate layer. Score the top with sharp knife, then cut into 25 squares.