Caramel + Coconut Nanaimo Bars

Caramel & Coconut Nanaimo Bars

Easy Nanaimo Bars

Hello from beautiful Oregon!  I’m here for the next few days road tripping through the state, and I have big plans of drinking lots of beer + coffee and buying all the cheese at Face Rock Creamery!  Yesterday, we went fishing on the Umpqua River, and I caught 20 fish!  I even stuck my thumb into a few of their mouths, because apparently this stiffens them up and keeps them from flopping everywhere.  I wasn’t totally down with this method of fish-holding, or any method for that matter, but I did it for the ‘gram.  The Umpqua River might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, so for most of the journey, I sat back on the boat and admired the view.  I saw at least a dozen giant birds, including some bald eagles which you can recognize because they have white butts.

Today, I head over to the coast, and apparently there will be wine tasting involved!  I’m also in desperate search for some good coffee, because being in the middle of nowhere Oregon = little to no coffee options, and I’m dying of caffeine headaches.  On the other hand, I found a legit drive-up ice cream spot today, which I honestly didn’t even know existed anymore, and they had cherry-dipped cones (a.k.a. the way to my heart).  I vote that Reno gets an ice cream drive-up that specializes purely in cherry-dipped cones.  I will invest actual money into this enterprise.

Coconut and Caramel Nanaimo Bars | Serendipity by Sara Lynn

Nanaimo Bars with Coconut, Caramel, and Chocolate

For the trip, I threw together these Nanaimo bars, which are a Canadian specialty consisting of chocolate, coconut, nuts, and custard, which are essentially all the best things in life.  Back in college, I worked at this restaurant called The Cheeseboard, and the baker would make these occasionally.  I had no interest in them at all until we had extras one day and I decided to take them home to my housemates.  At one point that night, I drunkedly took a bite of one and realized that they’re sososo good.  They have all the textural components you could want in a dessert, and just the pure fact that they have coconut and nuts in them was enough for me.  Perhaps equal to cherry-dipped cones, but slightly higher on the list of ‘the ways to my heart’ is anything containing coconut + nuts.

The only thing that I couldn’t get past with the Nanaimo bars were how sweet they are.  And I know that dessert is supposed to be sweet, but I’ve tried some recipes that are tooth-achingly sweet.  In some ways, I would consider them more to be candy than dessert.  So I set off to make a less-sweet version of my own, and for some reason, I was compelled to make mine with Girl Scout Samoa cookies instead of the traditional graham cracker.  I realized this seems counterintuitive, and I can’t even quite remember how I came to that conclusion, except that it was probably Girl Scout cookie season and I had been guilted into buying a few too many boxes.  The first version of this recipe used Swiss meringue buttercream for the filling, which was really good, so I posted the recipe.  However, since then, I have rediscovered traditional Nanaimo bars, and I realized I wanted to try my caramel + coconut cookie version with more of a custard filling.  I tested and tested a few different recipes to make them less sweet, and I was finally successful with this one!  These bars are crunchy and chewy and creamy and chocolatey.  They have a coconut flavor that’s not overpowering, and somehow the caramel doesn’t make them sickeningly sweet.  I even cut mine up into little fun-size bars, and it’s like eating a perfect candy bar.  It’s taken me a while, but I’m now willing to accept that I may have been wrong about the Swiss meringue buttercream.  Try this recipe instead.

Caramel & Coconut Nanaimo Bars | Serendipity by Sara Lynn

A side photo of nanaimo bars on a white marble table

Caramel + Coconut Nanaimo Bars

Canadian Nanaimo bars with a coconut-caramel cookie base, creamy caramel filling, and dark chocolate!
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Canadian
Servings 12


Cookie Crust

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 7.5 - 8.5 oz package coconut-caramel cookies (Samoas, Caramel deLites, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts or almonds chopped
  • 1 cup shredded coconut unsweetened

Caramel Custard

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp vanilla custard powder
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • Pinch salt

Chocolate Ganache

  • 4 oz baking chocolate
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Extra cookies, nuts, coconut, caramel for garnish (optional)


  • For the cookie crust, remove three or four cookies from the package, and set them aside for garnish (optional). Pulse the rest of the cookies in a food processor until the crumbs are uniform. You can also do this by placing the cookies in a bag and crushing them with a rolling pin. Melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa on the stove over medium heat. When it’s combined, mix 1/4 cup of the mixture into the egg to temper. Add egg mixture back to the chocolate mixture and stir over the heat until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cookie crumbs, almonds, and coconut. Press into a greased 8×8 or 9x9 baking pan. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
  • To make the caramel custard, beat the butter and custard powder until fluffy. Beat in the powdered sugar until the custard is very fluffy and has doubled in size, about five minutes. Add the caramel sauce and salt. The custard should be fluffy but not runny. Pour the custard over the crust layer and refrigerate for about 15-20 minutes, or until the custard is cold and somewhat firm.
  • While the buttercream firms, heat the chocolate and butter over low heat until melted. Spread chocolate evenly over firm buttercream layer. Sprinkle chopped cookies, nuts, and coconut over the top, and refrigerate until chocolate is hardened. Cut into 12 bars or into bite sized pieces. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Oh, wait. You don’t keep at least one extra box of Samoas in your freezer for important candy-making needs? Use any caramel-coconut cookie you can find. There is a brand that will work, and I will not mention by name, but it rhymes with Neebler. Please note that different cookie brands will have different sized packages. As long as you use between a 7.5 - 8.5 ounce cookie package, you'll be fine!


Serving: 1barCalories: 374kcalCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 3.1gFat: 21.6gSaturated Fat: 14.2gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 188mgPotassium: 122mgFiber: 2.5gSugar: 33.3gCalcium: 33mgIron: 2mg
Keyword bars, canadian food, caramel, coconut
Did you make this recipe?Tag @serendipitybysaralynn on Instagram!

xo Sara Lynn

*Song of the day: Dreaming by Seapony

Coconut & Caramel Nanaimo Bars

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