Gluten Free Nanaimo Bars Without Coconut

With the hot weather we’ve been having, I thought I would make a no-bake dessert. Nanaimo bars are a Canadian treat. I substituted the traditional packaged pudding (or packaged pastry cream, depending upon brand) with gluten-free cream cheese (just 2 tablespoons). You can always use your own homemade custard. Mothers and grandmothers used to make these for their kids beginning in the 50’s and 60’s, and some still do. I made them without coconut, due to food allergies. Shredded coconut is usually used in the bottom layer. I substituted coarsely chopped almond meal. You can use regular. I just ground my own. This is a special treat that everyone can enjoy because you can change ingredients fairly easily to allow for food allergies. Enjoy!

Note: Nanaimo is a city on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada

Gluten Free Nanaimo Bars Without Coconut


Yield: 16 small rich bars

Gluten Free Nanaimo Bars Without Coconut


    For the Crust
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) + 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup pure unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups gluten-free graham cracker crumbs (store-bought or my recipe)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pecan, chopped
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • butter or oil for pan
  • For the Filling
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free cream cheese (I use Philadelphia brand.)
  • 2 tablespoons milk (of your choosing)
  • For the Top Layer
  • 1 cup gluten-free bittersweet chocolate morsels (I used Ghirardelli brand.)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter


  1. In a medium size sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.
  2. Add cocoa, sugar and salt; stir well until all incorporated. If it starts to look lumpy or granulated, don’t worry about it. It will all smooth out once you add the egg.
  3. Add egg to chocolate mixture while whisking it in continuously; remove pan from heat and add egg gradually, as to prevent egg from scrambling; return pan to heat and continuously whisk for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth.
  4. Add vanilla or your favorite flavoring and whisk.
  5. In a separate bowl, add graham cracker crumbs, nuts and almond meal; whisk together; add chocolate mixture on top of crumbs and stir well.
  6. Place mixture into a 9x9" baking pan; press into pan to create an even layer, using a pastry roller or the back of metal spoon. If using a spoon, after evening out well, take the back of the spoon and run it back in forth in both directions, as if you were painting with a brush and smooth out completely. If the chocolate hardens quickly, you can use a pastry cutter to cut all of the ingredients together.
  7. Refrigerate until firm, 25 to 30 minutes.
  8. In the bowl of your mixer or food processor (or with a whisk), cream butter until smooth; add powdered sugar, cream cheese, vanilla and milk; beat until smooth. Start with a low speed so the sugar doesn't fly all over and then slowly increase to high.
  9. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour 15 hours or longer.
  10. In a small bowl add chocolate and butter; place bowl over a pan of slowly boiling water; whisk until blended; pour over other 2 layers; and spread evenly.
  11. Refrigerate until top layer is firm, about 20 minutes.
  12. With a knife, loosen the edges and cut into squares. If you are unable to cut through all layers leave out for a 15 minutes or so and then try again. You may wish to leave the cut pieces out, as well, or serve cold.


The Grainless Baker graham crackers are made with bean flour, which tends to be bitter, but is grain-free. You should use a graham cracker that you have already tasted and enjoy. If you do not have access to gluten-free graham crackers you could substitute them for gluten-free chocolate wafer crumbs. Pamela's products makes some, "Extreme Chocolate Mini Cookies", however, they are not grain-free. You can also make your own graham crackers. See recipe for Gluten-free Honey Cinnamon Grahams, You wish to leave out the cinnamon, though (or not).

UPDATE: Just found a winning recipe from 1986 on the city of Nanaimo’s website: Nanaimo Bars recipe. Be sure use gluten free graham crackers, and skip the custard powder and use the filling above instead for the second layer.

4 Replies to “Gluten Free Nanaimo Bars Without Coconut”

  1. Thank you Nanaimo B.C., Canada for the origin of this delicious dessert!!! My life wouldn’t be the same without it.

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