Gluten-Free Vegan Nanaimo Bars are made with a date, almond, and coconut base, a dairy-free buttercream middle, and a rich chocolate top. A healthier take on the favorite no-bake layered dessert bar.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Allergy-friendly twist on the Canadian classic dessert
- No bake recipe
- Simple ingredients
What are Nanaimo Bars?
Named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, the classic Nanaimo bar is traditionally made with a base layer of cookie wafers and coconut, a middle layer of custard filling, and topped off with a layer of chocolate ganache.
In my research, I've discovered that there are many variations of this sweet treat (like one with a mint-flavored center!), and today I'm offering one without gluten or dairy.
Ingredients and substitutions
Here are a few quick notes about the ingredients in this recipe. You can see a complete list of ingredients and instructions in the recipe card below.
Medjool dates - I recommend using the large Medjool variety as they are larger and sweeter than others. (Perfect for making date paste.)
You want soft dates so that they help bind.
Raw almonds - Ground with the other ingredients, this help form the no bake dessert base.
Shredded coconut - Use unsweetened here. Unsweetened coconut flakes can be substituted but they may take longer to process.
Gluten-free rolled oats - Make sure you choose certified gluten-free oats if needed. Rolled oats (also known as old-fashioned oats) give our bar base a great chewy texture.
Unsweetened cocoa powder - Unsweetened cocoa powder (or natural cocoa powder) creates a rich chocolate base. Raw cacao powder can be substituted. The flavor will be more intense.
Vegan butter - Helps us achieve a buttery dairy-free custard layer.
Coconut milk - The richness of this non-dairy milk aids in the custard-like flavor and texture of the middle layer.
Organic powdered sugar - Also known as icing sugar, is used to make our "custard layer."
Turmeric - Classic Nanaimo bars have a light yellow tint due to custard powder in the middle layer.
Arrowroot starch or cornstarch - Also known as arrowroot powder, this helps thicken the middle layer.
If in need of a substitute, tapioca starch or corn starch would be your best bet.
Dairy-free chocolate chips - Semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips both work well.
Before you start: Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper.
Step 1: In the bowl of a food processor, place dates, almonds, oats, salt, cocoa powder, and coconut. Pulse then add melted butter.
Process until "dough" comes together and almonds are in small pieces.
Step 2: Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Press the mixture into an even layer and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Step 3: In a medium bowl, cream your vegan butter for about 30 seconds, then add coconut milk, arrowroot starch, powdered sugar, and a couple of pinches of turmeric.
Use an electric mixer at medium to high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Step 4: Take the base layer out of the fridge and spread the custard mixture on top of the cooled bottom layer.
Place the pan back in the refrigerator while you prepare the chocolate topping.
Step 5: In a glass or microwave-safe bowl, add your chocolate chips and vegan butter. Microwave for 30-second intervals until melted.
Step 6: Remove pan from refrigerator again and working quickly, pour melted chocolate over the top of the middle layer and gently spread it into an even top layer over buttercream.
Place the pan in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes for the chocolate layer to set.
- This vegan Nanaimo bars recipe is without custard powder, so add 2-3 pinches of ground turmeric to get the same effect.
- To save time, you can prepare the base layer the day beforehand and store it in the refrigerator.
These no bake bars should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Yes! Walnuts, cashews, or even pecans would make a great substitute. Just be aware that some nuts have more of a distinct flavor they may bring to the flavor of the bars.
Yes, this vegan Nanaimo bar recipe can be frozen for longer storage. Make sure to wrap them well before placing them in the freezer.
More no bake recipes
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Gluten-Free Vegan Nanaimo Bars
- ¼ cup vegan butter room temperature
- 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch or cornstarch
- 2 cups organic powdered sugar
- 2-3 pinches ground turmeric (optional)
- 4 ounces dairy-free chocolate chips ¾ cup
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a food processor, place dates, almonds, oats, salt, cocoa powder, and coconut. Pulse a few times then add melted butter. Process until "dough" comes together and almonds are in small pieces. If your mixture is not coming together, add a teaspoon of water.
- Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Press into an even layer and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- While the base chills, prepare your dairy-free buttercream. In a medium bowl, cream your vegan butter for about 30 seconds, then add coconut milk, arrowroot starch, powdered sugar, and a couple pinches of turmeric. Use an electric mixer on medium to high speed until mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Take the base layer out of the fridge and spread the buttercream on top in an even layer. Place pan back in refrigerator while you prepare the chocolate topping.
- In a glass or microwave safe bowl, add your chocolate chips and vegan butter. Microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring after each, until mixture is almost completely melted. Stir until remaining chocolate chips dissolve.
- Remove pan from refrigerator again and working quickly, pour melted chocolate over top and gently spread it into an even layer over buttercream.
- Place pan in refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes. Using parchment paper, remove bar from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut 9 squares.