Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nanaimo Bars


Lauren of Celiac Teen asked us to go gluten-free for this month's Daring Bakers' challenge. She gave us a recipe for gluten-free graham crackers to try out. But being the kind hostess that she is, she also gave us the option to be wheat-based if we could not find the three specialty flours used in the gluten-free version. I was able to find two of the three flours very easily. Tapioca flour and sweet glutinous rice flour are available in most regular supermarkets around here. Also, my mom always has both in her pantry since they are widely used in Chinese cooking. But I was not able to find the third one, sorghum flour, even at Whole Foods Market. So I decided that I would have to pass on the gluten-free this time.


The graham cracker dough was really easy to whip up in the food processor. But my dough was extremely sticky. I am already handicapped in the dough rolling area so handling sticky dough just made it even harder for me. After rolling the first half out as best as I could and docking the dough to somewhat resemble graham crackers, I decided to just roll the rest into little balls to make round graham crackers.


Oh, I should have mentioned that it didn’t really matter to me what my crackers ended up looking like since I would be smashing the crackers into crumbs to make Nanaimo bars as part 2 of this month's challenge. According to Lauren, Nanaimo bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. This was also fitting since the Olympic winter games are being hosted in Vancouver, BC next month.

The middle layer of the Nanaimo bar is called a custard layer, but it's really more like a layer of frosting. And it's my least favorite kind of frosting too. It's that one dimensional, sickly sweet butter and powdered sugar kind. My addition of nut butter improved it a bit by making it less one dimensional, but it was still way too sweet for me. I did not want to buy custard powder to make this layer. Lauren said that we could substitute instant vanilla pudding mix, but I never buy instant pudding mix since I'm a "from scratch" girl. I found an acceptable substitution (from Nigella Lawson) of cornstarch, sugar, vanilla extract since custard powder is just that along with some food coloring too.

The bottom layer is made with graham cracker crumbs, almonds, shredded unsweetened coconut and some Dutch-processed cocoa powder. This was my favorite layer. I liked the fragrant coconut, the hint of cocoa and the nuttiness of the almonds. I used ground almonds which added a pleasant chewiness to the crust. The top layer was a simple glaze of melted chocolate and butter.


After tasting the frosting alone, I had no desire to even try the fully assembled bars. I just brought it all to the office. I was surprised that they were very well liked by my office mates. I heard words like decadent and sinful. It was a good thing I cut them into tiny 1 by 1 inch squares. I did save one piece at home for my husband who said that when the frosting was combined with the crust it was not as sweet as you would think. So I took a tiny bite and he was right. Even though I still thought the bar was too sweet, the crust really helped to temper some of the sweetness from the frosting.

Overall, the Nanaimo bar was not something that I would make again, but I enjoyed making the graham crackers and I vow to make them gluten-free in the future.

The fine print:
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and


Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour) *
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour *
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour *
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, mild-flavored such as clover
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.
2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
8. Bake for 25 minutes*, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.
9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

* If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten-Free Graham Wafer Crumbs or wheat-based graham crackers (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/3 cup almond butter or peanut butter (optional)
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tbsp Cornstarch
2 tsp Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1/4 tsp Pure Almond Extract (optional)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing (powdered confectioners') Sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For Bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, almond butter (if using), heavy cream, cornstarch, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract (if using) and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Note: Nanaimo bars usually use custard powder, but I have made a substitution in my recipe since custard powder is basically cornstarch, sugar, vanilla extract and food coloring. 1 tablespoon custard powder = 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. I did not add any food coloring.


chef_d said...

wow, your middle layer looks so smooth! i made the wheat version of the graham crackers too. yours look perfect :)

Wic said...

this looks absolutely delicious. love the round crackers and will do the next time with the dough exactly that.

Anonymous said...

As to the sorghum flour: I couldn't get flour but plain sorghum and ground it with my grain mill. That worked perfectly. Your bars look great!

fairy_mi said...

yummmm, your nanaimo bars version looks really great!
Love the presentation
Great job!
(also a DB)

MeetaK said...

lovely looking bars!! i was happy enough with the crackers the bars were too rich for me!

Rambling Tart said...

Great job on the crackers! I'm Canadian so Nanaimo Bars are part of every major family celebration, but I've never tried them with homemade crackers before! :-) Well done!

Rachel said...

Like always a well done challenge

RuckusButt said...

I've never liked Nanaimo bars as they are too sweet for my taste too.

Reading this, I wonder if the base (aka yummy) layer would be good with a simple, real custard on top.(?)

LittleRed said...

They look so beautifully done:) You could have omitted the corn starch in the buttercream layer as it serves no purpose. Birds custard powder is used only to add flavour and colour.

Laura said...

Beautiful looking grahams and nanaimos. Lots of people found these bars super sweet, but they were a huge hit when I served them, too. I cut down on the sweetness a bit with extra extra dark chocolate on top and with some extra cocoa and some coffee in the base.

Jill @ Jillicious Discoveries said...

What a great idea to just roll the graham cracker dough into balls--I like how they turned out. I agree, the bars were just too sweet, the graham crackers were my favorite part of this challenge. :)

Claire said...

Looks great! You did a really nice job of getting the top chocolate layer smooth. I only got rice flour (which I LOVE) and used oat flour for the rest (oops, guess that's not gluten free...I tried). The round crackers are a great idea...makes me even MORE willing to do the crackers again.

Tia said...

awesome job this mo!!! i really enjoy your blog

Karine said...

Great job with your nanaimo bars! They look delicious. Thanks for sharing :)

kekstester said...

Yeeks, one bite for me please!