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Slate's post on the United Sweets of America gave every state in the U.S. a specific dessert to call their own. (Image: Jess Fink / Slate)

Nanaimo Bars are WA State's Sweet of Choice

Don't know what a Nanaimo bar is? First of all - you're not alone. We polled the newsroom over here at KOMO and only about sixty percent of people did. Regardless, it's been dubbed our state's Dessert of Choice in Slate's most recent United Sweets of America post.

From the same author of United Steaks of America back in March (reminder - ours was salami), Slate determined each state's favorite sweet based on a couple rules: no two states could have the same dessert, brands are not desserts, and no state gets apple pie or chocolate chip cookies.

Seems fair - although I'm going on record that if any state should have been able to get apple pie, it would be Washington. Come on! Apples? George Washington? Only seems fair.

But no, we got the elusive Nanaimo Bar (name originated from Nanaimo, BC). While they are Canadian by birth, our own Starbucks pulled them down south of the border and into stores across the U.S., making them not only nationally popular - but synonymous with Washington state as well.

Here's a great recipe for the bars we found on Joy of Baking:


Bottom Layer:

  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar

  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (regular or Dutch-processed)

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 2 cups (200 grams) graham cracker crumbs or crushed Digestive Biscuits

  • 1 cup (65 grams) sweetened or unsweetened coconut (shredded or flaked)

  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

Middle Layer:

  • 1/4 cup (56 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 2 - 3 tablespoons milk or cream

  • 2 tablespoons (20 grams) vanilla custard powder (Bird's) or vanilla pudding powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar (confectioners or icing) sugar

Top Layer:

  • 4 ounces (120 grams) semisweet chocolate

  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter


  1. Butter or spray a 9 x 9 inch (23 x 23 cm) pan with a non stick vegetable spray.

  2. Bottom Layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

  3. Middle Layer: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover, and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).

  4. Top Layer: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Then, in a heatproof bowl, over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or just until the chocolate has set. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.

Yield: Makes about 25 squares. Preparation time 45 minutes.