Nanaimo bars…oh how I love you. And what a joy it is to have created an authentic low carb nanaimo bar recipe that tastes just as good as the original. The famed Canadian dessert gets a healthy makeover just in time for Canada Day. These low carb, sugar-free nanaimo bars will blow you away!
For some of you, many of whom are probably above the 49th Parallel, this recipe will have you dancing for joy. For others, most of whom are probably south of the longest undefended border in the world, you will be scratching your heads a bit, wondering what the heck a Nanaimo bar is.
You probably aren’t even sure how to pronounce it, what it’s made of or if it’s any good. Don’t worry, it’s good (very very good!) and I will give you the full explanation in a moment. Some of you who have followed me for a long time might even know that I already have a low carb Nanaimo Bar recipe on All Day I Dream About Food, but it’s one that includes an ingredient I no longer wish to use, namely sugar-free Jello Pudding. So this was a great Canadian treat in much need of a healthy update.
What are Nanaimo Bars?
So for my confused peeps, let’s start with a pronunciation lesson, a geography lesson and a wee bit of a history lesson. First of all, it’s pronounced Na-Nigh-Mo. Nanaimo. It’s a small city on Vancouver Island, in the western-most province of British Columbia. The word itself is the anglicized version of a First Nations word meaning “big, strong tribe”.
And it is where what might be the most beloved Canadian dessert was supposedly invented, although that is somewhat contentious. Similar recipes for this confection all appear around 1953/1954 in Nanaimo, Vancouver, and all the way across the country in New Brunswick.
Okay, blah blah blah, Carolyn, hurry up and tell us what Nanaimo bars actually are! Very well, it’s a lovely no-bake treat with a chocolate crust usually made with graham crackers, a vanilla buttercream distinguished by the addition of custard powder, and melted chocolate poured over the lot.
And it’s truly delicious. No matter where they were invented, they became very popular all over the country. There is nothing quite like a Nanaimo Bar to make you look back fondly on your Canadian childhood. They were my favourite dessert growing up, competing mightily with the other beloved Canuck dessert, the butter tart. (and yes, I have a low carb version of those too…).
How to make Keto Nanaimo Bars
I was so, SO delighted with myself when I first created low Nanaimo Bars. That was almost 6 years ago now and it was probably the moment where I thought…okay, I can really do this low carb thing for life.
Figuring out the crust was the easy part, since graham cracker crumbs and almond flour are quite similar in texture.
But custard powder was a whole ‘nother issue and it doesn’t come in a low carb form (it contains cornstarch). Not being quite as adept at low carb dessert as I am now, I relied on artificially sweetened sugar-free pudding mix. There was so much in there that I really didn’t like but it was worth it to recreate Nanaimo Bars.
But I always had it in the back of my brain to go back and figure out a way to make it truly healthy, with no aspartame or other unmentionables. And this past weekend, I tackled it to great success. Since I can’t use custard powder, why not actually create a vanilla custard and turn THAT into a buttercream for the filling?
I also got quite a kick out of bringing them out for friends on Saturday night and saying “who wants a Nanaimo Bar?”. The blank looks and choruses of “a WHAT bar?”, followed quickly by “oh man, these are good, can I have some more?” were priceless.
Don’t be daunted by the long ingredient list and instructions. These are actually quite easy to make, require no baking and are undoubtably worth it. And you get a little taste of Canada into the mix.
- 4 ounces cream cheese softened
- 1/4 cup butter softened
- Pastry cream
- 6 tbsp powdered Swerve Sweetener
- 3 ounces sugar-free dark chocolate such as Lily's, chopped
- 2 tbsp butter
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring whipping cream to a simmer. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with sweetener and salt until well combined.
- Slowly whisk about half of the hot cream into the yolks to temper, then stir the yolk/cream mixture back into the remaining cream in the saucepan and cook until thick and glossy, about 3 to 4 minutes, whisking continuously.
- Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Let cool to lukewarm.
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Stir in cocoa powder and sweetener, and then slowly whisk in the egg.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, almond flour, shredded coconut and nuts. Press crust into a 9x9 or 8x8 square pan evenly and refrigerate until firm.
- Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the cooled pastry cream until well combined, then beat in additional powdered sweetener. Spread filling over crust and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.
- Combine chopped chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth. Spread over filling and let set.