No-Bake Vegan Nanaimo Bars
These no-bake vegan Nanaimo bars are easy to make with just a handful of wholesome ingredients and taste just like the classic Canadian Christmas dessert.
About this Recice
You will absolutely love these homemade no-bake Nanaimo Bars! They taste just like the original but are made with just a handful of wholesome ingredients. No powdered sugar, no butter, no white sugar and no heavy cream.
These Nanaimo bars really are easy to make too. There’s a bit of blending involved but no baking or any other tricky methods or techniques. Anyone can make them!
What are Nanaimo Bars?
Nanaimo bars are no-bake dessert named after the Canadian city of Nanaimo, BC. They consist of 3 layers: a wafer, nut and coconut crust, a custard icing in the middle and a layer of chocolate ganache on top.
Nanaimo bars are enjoyed year-round but are most known as a Christmas dessert.
- Vegan (dairy-free, no egg) and gluten-free.
- Freezer-friendly – make a double batch in advance!
- No baking required.
- No butter, no white sugar, no heavy cream.
- Taste just like the original!
Let’s go over the main ingredients you’ll need to make these:
- Raw Cashews: The cashews make the creamy base for the custard filling. Look for raw cashews with no added oil or salt, they should be pale in colour. It’s recommended to soak them before use but we’ll cover that below.
- Dates: You’ll need soft, moist dates to make the crust. If you only have dry dates, they can be soaked before use. I like medjool dates, sayer dates or deglect noor dates.
- Walnuts: Use raw walnuts with no added oil or salt.
- Coconut: You’ll need medium or fine shredded (desiccated) coconut. I’d suggest fine shredded coconut.
- Cocoa Powder: Use dark cocoa powder, regular cocoa powder or raw cacao powder. Dark cocoa powder will add the richest chocolate flavour!
- Chocolate: You can use dairy-free chocolate chips such as Camino or Enjoy Life or use any dark chocolate. I’d recommend a maximum of 70% cocoa content so it’s not too bitter.
- Maple Syrup: You can substitute agave syrup. Do not substitute granulated sweetener. It needs to be liquid.
- Coconut Oil: This is needed to make the filling firm so there’s no substitute. Do not substitute another oil.
- Coconut Milk: A good quality, thick and creamy full-fat coconut milk works best. When you’re at the store, give it a shake. It should feel almost solid when you shake it so you shouldn’t hear much swishing around. If it feels watery, try another brand. Canned coconut cream is also suitable.
- Turmeric: A small amount of turmeric is used to enhance the yellow colour of the custard. Don’t worry though, you can’t taste it! The turmeric is optional though if you don’t want to use it.
Before You Start
Before you start there are a few things you need to do:
- Soak the cashews. See next section for the how-to.
- Prepare a standard-sized loaf pan lined with parchment paper. You want the edges of the parchment hanging out over the sides so you can easily lift out the finished bars.
- Assess your dates. You’ll need soft, moist dates. If your dates are overly dry or you’re unsure, soak them in hot water for 15 minutes then drain well before use.
How to Soak the Cashews
If you have a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix or Blentec, you can “quick soak” the cashews by pouring boiled water over them in a bowl and letting them soak for 15 minutes.
There is no harm in letting them soak for longer though, so you can also soak them in a bowl of water at room temperature for a few hours up to overnight.
If you do not have a powerful blender, cover the cashews with water in a bowl and soak for at least 4 hours but preferably 8-12 hours (overnight is perfect).
Once soaked, drain and rinse rinse the cashews and proceed with the recipe.
1: Make the Crust
The crust is easy to make with just 4 ingredients. You’ll need the cocoa powder, dates, coconut and walnuts. Add everything to a food processor and mix into a thick dough.
Quick Note: The dough will seem crumbly when blended but it should stick together if you press it between your fingers. If it seems to dry, add 1 tsp of warm water and blend again. Repeat if needed.
Firmly press the dough into the prepared loaf pan in an even layer to form the crust.
2: Make the Custard Filling
Next, let’s tackle the filling! The filling is best made in a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec.
Add the soaked cashews, coconut milk, turmeric, maple syrup and coconut oil to the blender and process until smooth and creamy.
3: Add Filling to Crust Layer
After you’ve blended the filling, pour it over the prepared crust in the loaf pan and place the whole pan into the freezer for a couple hours to set. As soon as it’s firm, it’s ready for the chocolate topping.
4: Make the Chocolate Ganache
Last step! The chocolate ganache. This part is easy. Just melt some chocolate and vegan butter and pour it over the firmed custard filling.
How to Melt the Chocolate: You can either melt the chocolate in the microwave or melt it stovetop, ideally using a double boiler. To melt it in the microwave, start with 20 seconds then stir every 15 seconds.
Once there are just a few chunks or chocolate chips left, stir until they’ve melted and it’s smooth and creamy.
5: Add Ganache & Freeze
Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the custard layer, smooth with a small spatula and place the whole pan in the fridge or freezer until the chocolate has hardened.
It will firm faster in the freezer so pop the whole thing in there if you’re just dying to try one. The chocolate doesn’t take too long to set.
6: Slice and Enjoy!
Once the chocolate has hardened, carefully lift the bar out of the pan using the parchment paper and place them on a cutting board.
If there are edges that aren’t lined with parchment, run a knife under hot water and then run it along the edge of the pan to loosen the bars.
To prevent cracking the chocolate, let the bars sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Run a knife under hot water then score the bars, creating lines where you wish to cut. I’d recommend slicing into 8 portions. Once scored, gently slice all the way through.
Notes and Tips
- Good quality coconut milk is important. Shake the can at the store. If it feels water and liquidy, try another brand. Look for one that feels thick and nearly solid when you shake it. You can also use canned coconut cream.
- I did my best to get the proportions right but the custard and crust layers are probably a bit thicker than a traditional Nanaimo bars. For thinner bars, you can use a larger pan.
- I don’t mind them thicker but I would suggest slicing them into 16 mini bars instead of 8 large squares because they’re quite decadent and a little goes a long way!
- If your dates seem overly dry or you’re unsure, soak them (pitted) in hot water for 15 minutes then drain well before using in the recipe. If you’re using medjool or sayer dates you should be fine without soaking and you can always add a bit of warm water to the crust if needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. To make these without a high-speed blender, just be sure to soak the cashews for at least 8 hours.
You can also use a food processor to make the custard filling but I find you get a smoother result using a blender and a smooth, creamy custard is key!
The purpose of the vegan butter in the ganache is to make it a little softer and more ganache-like when it firms up. It also prevents the chocolate from cracking when you slice the bars. You can leave it out but just keep that in mind!
If you don’t want to use butter, almond butter or cashew butter also works.
Yes. You can double the recipe and make the bars in a 8-inch square baking pan.
Use butter, vegetable oil or almond butter in the chocolate, don’t cut them directly from the freezer, instead let them thaw for 5-10 minutes, and use a sharp, thin knife that’s been heated under hot water.
When ready to slice, score them by tracing lines where you plan to cut them, then gently cut all the way through with the hot knife.
No. You can omit the turmeric if you like. It simply adds colour.
- The bars must be kept chilled.
- They can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 1-2 weeks but I’d suggest keeping them frozen.
- Store in a sealed container or freeze bag for up to 3 months. Keep frozen until 5-10 minutes before serving then sit at room temperature or in the fridge until ready to serve. I love them straight from the freezer!
- They will get very soft and melty if they’re left at room temperature for too long, especially in a warm environment.
More Christmas Recipes
Here are some more fun treats to add to your Christmas list:
- Easy Vegan Turtles: Just 3-ingredients and super fun to make!
- Vegan Rum Balls: No-bake rum balls perfect for Christmas.
- Gluten-Free Vegan Thumbprints: Super yummy Christmas cookie with a twist.
- Vegan Eggnog: Goes amazing with Nanaimo Bars.
- Coconut Macaroons: No-bake and so easy and delicious.
- Vegan Chocolate Pie: Super easy no-bake pie made with…tofu!
Did you try this recipe?
I’d love to hear about it! Click here to leave a review and be sure to tag me @runningonrealfood if you post it on social media.
No-Bake Vegan Nanaimo Bars
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 8 1x
- Category: Dessert
- Cuisine: Canadian
- Diet: Vegan
These homemade no-bake vegan Nanaimo bars are surprisingly easy to make with just a handful of ingredients. These amazing sweet treats are rich, decadent and taste just like the classic Christmas dessert!
For the Chocolate Coconut Crust
- 1 cup packed, soft pitted dates (220 g)
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder (25 g)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened fine shredded coconut (50 g)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or walnut pieces (60 g)
For the Custard Filling
- 1 cup raw cashews (140 g)
- 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp thick and creamy full-fat coconut milk (105 g)
- 3 tbsp coconut oil (45 g, measured solid)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (85 g)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
For the Chocolate Ganache
- 3/4 cup dairy-free chocolate chips or finely chopped dark chocolate (120 g)
- 2 tbsp vegan butter (30 g, optional)
- If you’re using a high-speed blender, soak the cashews for 15 minutes (longer is ok) in boiled water before proceeding with the recipe. If you do not have a high-speed blender, soak the cashews in room temperature water for at least 8 hours up to overnight.
- When you’re ready to make the recipe, line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper so that there are two flaps sticking out either side.
- To make the chocolate crust, add the ingredients to a food processor and mix into a crumbly dough. The dough will seem a bit crumbly but should stick together if you press it with your fingers. Use your hands to firmly press the dough into the prepared loaf pan to form one even layer.
- To make the custard filling, drain the cashews and add them to a high-speed blender with the coconut oil, coconut milk (see notes), turmeric, vanilla and maple syrup. Start blending on low then slowly increase the speed until it’s completely smooth and creamy. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan over the chocolate crust. Place the entire pan in the freezer for 1-2 hours to set. Once it’s firm, you can add the chocolate ganache.
- To make the chocolate, add the chocolate and vegan butter to a small bowl and melt in the microwave, stirring every 15-20 seconds. When it’s mostly melted but still a bit lumpy, gently stir until it’s smooth and creamy. If you prefer, melt the chocolate stovetop using a double boiler.
- Gently spread the chocolate over the set custard filling until smooth.
- Set the pan in the fridge for 20-25 minutes until the chocolate has hardened.
- Gently run a knife along the ends of the pan where there is no parchment paper then use the flaps of parchment to lift the entire bar out of the pan. Place on a cutting board and slice into 8 large squares or 16 small bars. They are quite rich and decadent so I like to do 16 smaller mini-bars.
- Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freezer for up to 2 months. If storing in the freezer, let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving. They are best stored in the fridge.
There are lots of helpful tips and notes in the post above so be sure to have a read before you start making the recipe.
The butter in the ganache is optional makes it a little softer like ganache and prevents the chocolate from cracking when sliced. Almond or cashew butter also works.
Keywords: vegan nanaimo bars, no-bake nanaimo bars
Originally published December 10, 2019.
Scrumptious! I made this for the first time and they’re delicious. Custard set fast, sweetness was perfect. I should have pre cut the chocolate top before refrigerating as it was fiddly to cut after. Also, I’m going to try adding 1 cup of rice cereal to the base next time for crunchiness. Otherwise these are a tasty and healthy nanaimo bar!
Can you use coconut cream in this instead of coconut milk?
I think that should be fine although I haven’t tried it! Let me know if you do.
These are so amazing! I could eat the whole batch in one sitting 😛
Haha…they really are so delicious!! Thanks for the review, so glad you enjoyed them!
This recipe is a winner. We love eating them straight out of the freezer! I originally made them as a Christmas treat but I know I’ll be making them year round.
Made these for a second time and had to come back on and tell you again how much I love them! I plan to share some with my neighbours here in Colorado, but just realized they’ve probably never heard of Nanaimo bars. Such a great Canadian treat that you’ve made so much better! Thank you!
Thanks for letting me know, Mira! Have a wonderful Christmas.
They look beautiful. I hate to ask b/c it changes the recipe, but I don’t really like coconut or turmeric. Does it have a strong coconut flavor – if not, that’s fine and I can handle a little bit 🙂 And can I omit the turmeric? Thanks!
The crust has a bit of coconut flavour but it’s not super over powering. Yes, you can omit the turmeric. Thanks!
Just made these bars today and they are amazing 😀 Just the right amount of sweetness and crunch from the base and top! The filling is so yummy you want to eat it out of the bowl! My non-vegan Canadian husband and friends loved them too! Thanks a lot Deryn for this recipe-it will become a staple in our German-Canadian household from now on xx
I’m so very glad everyone enjoyed it! Thanks for giving them a try. I know they’re a little different than a traditional Nanaimo bar but I just love them! I appreciate the review, thanks very much 🙂
Delicious recipe and so fun to make!
As a nutritionist I love that this dessert is blood sugar balancing. All the healthy fats from the nuts actual make you feel full so you’re satisfied with just one 😋
At step 2 of making these right now (crust and filling are chillin’ in the freezer) and I’m excited!
I had to add a few tablespoons of water to the crust to get it to actually come together – maybe my dates were too hard since I put them in straight out of the fridge. But a little water seemed to help everything come together just fine. I also used pecans since I didn’t have walnuts.
The filling tastes so interesting! Maybe I’m just very sensitive because I can definitely taste the turmeric – not a bad taste, but a bit spicy and almost peppery? It’s an interesting combination of flavors, and a really lovely color once it’s all blended together.
Excited to finish these up tomorrow and try them!
Let me know how they turn out! Can’t wait to hear!
Great recipe!! Hits the spot when you have a sweets craving💛
I just wanted to mention that RAW cashews, the type that are not processed at all – just shelled – are toxic. I learned this the hard way by bringing some with me from my husband’s country – Indonesia -when we moved back to Canada. I thought this was a stellar idea, buying direct from the cashew farmers, as I bought several spices like nutmeg & vanilla beans in volume there.
Raw cashews, the type I purchased, must be steamed or otherwise heated as I understand, to inactivate the poisons in them which can cause some very unpleasant symptoms. I was vomiting & had some severe stomach cramps.
The type in the store have already gone through this process but wanted to mention this as many people now buy online & may not be aware of this.
Some related information. Cashews are actually seeds, not nuts, interestingly.
Of course, I do not mean truly raw cashews straight off the tree, but the cashews used in recipes like this are typically labelled as “raw cashews” even though they’ve been heat processed to remove the toxic shell. The “raw” simply means they haven’t been processed further, such as roasted. And yes, they are indeed the seed of a fruit from the cashew tree!
Deryn I came across your site a little time back and I’m seriously hooked! I love your recipes, how you’ve set up your blog and I’m so impressed with what you are offering! Thank YOU so much!!! p.s. Your vegan no-bake nanaimo bars were the bomb at the holidays in a family who never really enjoyed the traditional far too sweet version. I may be the only steadfast vegan, but the family has long since come around to appreciate a plant-based lifestyle :))
I just wanted to say YOU ARE AMAZING!!!! and if you happen to have a vegan beet soup borscht recipe for our second Christmas gathering in January….I would really love to try it!!
Much love to you!!
Thank you, Dorothy! Your message made my day! Thank you so much for your sweet words, I’m so happy you’ve been enjoying my site and loved the Nanaimo Bars! I think these are AMAZING too. I would love to work on a borscht recipe, great idea!
Love these bars! I have tried so many vegan Nanaimo bar recipes and have always been disappointed. I love these. And so easy to make.
Hands down, these are better than the real thing. The real ones have that too sweet/ extra richness that makes you want one, but then after one bite you can’t have anymore. I’d say that’s just me, but I just made these for my vegan and non-vegan friends and they all agreed they would prefer these over the real one. And I don’t mean they taste healthy, because they don’t (even though they are). They’re just perfect.
It took no time at all to make (outside of freezer time) and that fact along with flavour guarantees I’ll be making them every year.
I didn’t have vegan butter so I made a ganache for the top layer with a bit of left over coconut milk and coconut oil and it worked well, just a little soft instead of hard.
Thank you so much for trying them and leaving such a great review! I’m so glad everyone enjoyed them…they sound great with homemade ganache too!