Can You Make Nanaimo Bars with Olive Oil?

Longtime readers of this site probably already know of my deep and undying love for a Canadian specialty known as the Nanaimo Bar. But today I'd like to explore an interesting question about this traditionally butter-filled treat: can you make Nanaimo bars with Olive Oil? 

But first, let me back up just a little.

If you’ve never sampled a Nanaimo bar, you are in for a seriously sweet three-layer treat. Nanaimo bars (pronounced “nuh NYE moe”) are a no-bake bar cookie that hails from a city by the same name in Western Canada. The bars are such a big deal there that the city’s museum has a display dedicated to them, complete with Nanaimo-bar shaped benches upon which you can sit and take it in. The traditional bars are composed of three layers: a cocoa, coconut, nut, and graham cracker crust, a custard buttercream midsection, and a firm chocolate topping.

Butter figures prominently into the recipe, so making them with olive oil is not only untraditional, but might be seen by some as a travesty. But to me, it's a delicious detour. 

Perhaps the most notable departure from the traditional recipe is in the middle section of the bars, in which olive oil is folded into a rich stabilized whipped cream mixture rather than a butter-based cream. Slightly untraditional, perhaps. But with one bite of these rich, creamy, nutty olive oil-infused treats, complemented with deep, dark chocolate, you’ll undoubtedly embrace this recipe as fusion cuisine at its absolute sweetest.

Nanaimo bars with olive oil 


  • For the crust
  • ⅓ cup good quality olive oil 
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup lightly toasted shredded coconut
  • 1 ½ cup finely crumbled graham crackers (or other dry biscuits/cookies)
  • ½ cup finely chopped pecans
  • For the filling
  • 1 ¼ cups whipping cream
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder, such as Bird’s (if this is unavailable, use instant vanilla pudding powder)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For the topping
  • 3.5 ounces (1 large bar) chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil 


  1. Lightly grease, and line with parchment paper, an 8x8-inch square baking pan.
  2. Prepare the crust. In a large saucepan, combine the olive oil, granulated sugar, and cocoa powder. Place over medium-low heat, and cook until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to bubble.
  3. Remove from heat briefly, and whisk in the beaten egg. Return to medium-low heat, and cook briefly, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. This will only take a few minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, and add the coconut, crushed graham crackers, and chopped pecans. Stir until the ingredients come together into a cohesive mixture.
  5. Press the mixture into the prepared pan, taking the time to press it into a layer as even as possible. Place the pan in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, so it can chill before the next step.
  6. Make the filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using a hand mixer, whip the cream on high until it forms soft peaks. Pause the mixing, and add the sugar and custard powder or pudding mix. Whip until the mixture forms firm peaks. Stop mixing, and fold in the olive oil.
  7. Spread the whipped cream mixture on top of the crust, making sure to spread it as evenly as you can. Let chill in the freezer for an hour, or until firm.
  8. Prepare the topping. In the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate (this can also be done in the microwave). Once melted, remove from heat and whisk in the olive oil, mixing until the two have formed a cohesive mixture. Let cool for about five minutes so it is not scorching hot. Give it one last stir, then pour it over the chilled middle layer of your bars. Rather than spreading, which can tear up the delicate middle layer, gently tilt the pan this way and that, letting it drip until it has evenly covered the middle section.
  9. Return to the refrigerator. After about 20 minutes, remove the pan; the chocolate on top should be partially set. Partially slice the bars, scoring the top chocolate portion into four rows vertically and horizontally. This will make slicing the bars easier later.
  10. Once scored, place the bars back in the refrigerator and let chill for several hours to firm before slicing into bars. If the bars are messy when you begin to slice, place the pan in the freezer for several minutes; this should make them easier to slice.
  11. Keep these bars chilled. The bars will last up to a week when covered in plastic and stored in the refrigerator, or up to a 2 months in the freezer.

Have you ever tried a Nanaimo bar (traditional or otherwise)?