Decadent Nanaimo Cake


  • Prep Time1 hr
  • Total Time1 hr 40 mins
  • Makes20 servings
*PLUS chilling time
Decadent Nanaimo Cake

Cake design by Julia Gallay, Produced by Chantal Braganza and Sun Ngo, Photography by Christie Vuong, Prop Styling by Madeleine Johari, Food Styling by Michelle Lucas Larving.

The beloved bar becomes a sheet cake! We take the recipe—first published in the 1980s—up a notch with decadent adornment.


  • 2 520-g pkgs chocolate cake mix

  • 1 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts

Toasted Coconut Caramel

  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp (223 g) granulated sugar

  • 3/4 cup 35% cream

  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1 tsp flaked sea salt


  • 3 cups (340 g) icing sugar

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1/3 cup 2% milk

  • 1/4 cup vanilla custard powder

  • 1 tsp vanilla, optional

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1 batch Buttercream Icing, see below

  • cocoa powder, sifted


  • Position rack in centre of oven, then preheat to 350F. Line two 9 x 13-in. baking pans with parchment, then spray with oil.

  • Cake: Prepare cake mix following package directions, then fold in walnuts. Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake following directions. Transfer cakes to a rack. Cool completely in pans.

  • Caramel: Meanwhile, spread coconut on a baking sheet. Toast at 350F until golden-brown, about 10 min. (Stir every few min.) Set aside to cool.

  • Combine granulated sugar with 1⁄2 cup water in a heavy-bottomed pot set over low. Stir until sugar dissolves and syrup is completely clear. Increase heat to medium and bring syrup to a boil. When syrup along edges of the pot starts to turn golden, stir occasionally with a whisk or heat-proof rubber spatula. Boil until caramel is a golden-brown colour.

  • Remove from heat, slowly pour in cream and add 6 tbsp butter. Stir until melted and combined. (Take care, as caramel will bubble rapidly in this step.) Stir in flaked sea salt and toasted coconut. Set aside until cooled and thickened.

  • Filling: Meanwhile, beat icing sugar with 1⁄2 cup butter, milk, custard powder, vanilla (if using) and salt in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low, 1 min. Increase speed to medium-high; beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 min.

  • Run a knife around inside edges of pans, then turn cakes out onto a rack. Remove parchment. Use a serrated knife to trim cake layers so they are even, if needed. Set one layer on a serving platter. Spread filling over cake using an offset spatula. Drizzle caramel over filling. Top with second cake layer and press down firmly. Freeze cake until filling and caramel are firm, at least 3 hrs.

  • Mix enough cocoa powder into buttercream icing to achieve a light brown colour.

  • Assembly: Place frozen cake on a serving platter. Spread icing over top and sides to cover. Fill a piping bag, fitted with a medium open star tip, with icing. Pipe rosettes over top of cake. Garnish with flowers or fresh fruit, if desired.

Get more Nanaimo bar recipes, including our classic Nanaimo bar recipe and our staff favourite recipe for salted-almond Nanaimo bars (they're less sweet than the traditional version!)

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