Nanaimo Bars and The Return of the Daring Bakers!!!

What joy friends! I actually had the time, the energy, and the stomach fortitude to once again pick up my whisk and join the Daring Bakers! I never imagined that I would get so much pleasure out of spending a whole day in the kitchen whisking and kneading and throwing flour everywhere, but I really did miss not being able to make some extravagent desserts these last few months.

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

When I first saw the recipe, I will admit that I was a little skeptical. Seriously? A cookie bar? Come on! I joined the DARING Bakers to be just that…Daring! Of course I was going to do the recipe, but I was slightly put off by the fact that I was doing it in the first place. But after some consideration I had to remind myself that the challenge recipes aren’t just about the end product. It’s about the process, the new techniques that you learn, and working with new ingredients that is the main point here. Upon further inspection I came to realize that there were in fact parts to this challenge that I have never done before. I have never made homemade graham crackers (or crackers of any kind for that matter), and I have never melted chocolate and butter over a double boiler and then added an egg to thicken it up. Ok, so I would be learning something after-all. And, like my dear husband pointed out, I pretty much haven’t stepped into the kitchen since November, so even though this was no Dobos Torte or Macaron, this would be a good way to ease myself back into the world of the Daring Bakers. Alright, good point husband (I hate when he does that, but so thankful when he does).
Challenge Accepted.
I was quite pleased with how these little bars (and graham crackers) turned out. The crackers were infinitely better than the store-bought ones. Not quite as crunchy, with a nice slightly sweet flavor. I added a little bit of cinnamon sugar on the tops for a little bit of extra fun. Too bad its too cold for camping season, because they would be great as S’mores!

The bars themselves turned out great, too. The bottom layer is by far my favorite – the crackers, rich chocolate, crunchy almonds and exotic coconut come together for a great flavor. The middle layer I was expecting to be more of a custard, but it is actually more of a really thick buttercream. After reading some of the comments from other Daring Bakers about this layer being too sweet, I cut down the sugar to only 1 cup. I also couldn’t find custard powder, and so I used vanilla pudding mix instead. The top layer is just sweet delicious, really good for you chocolate and butter. YUM. Added together these three layers each bring their own punch to the party, and you are left with a decadent little bar. Don’t cut these as big as you would a brownie, though, or you will be in waaaay over your head. And have some water or milk close at hand as well. 

The challenge recipe for graham crackers was gluten free, which I will of course supply for you, but I chose to be cheap and use what I had at home, and that meant good old all purpose flour! After much debating, I decided to use the recipe from Smitten Kitchen (plus, I am madly in love with her, and any change to use one of her recipes always makes me giddy). You can find the recipe I used here.

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
1 cup Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup Sorghum Flour
1 cup Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons Whole Milk
2 tablespoons 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.

Nanaimo Bars — 

Bottom Layer

1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs 
1/2 cup Almonds (Finely chopped – Walnuts or Pecans can also be used)
1 cup Coconut (Shredded, unsweetened)

Middle Layer
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Vanilla Custard Powder (Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups Powdered Sugar

 Top Layer
4 ounces Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter

For bottom Layer: 
Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Don’t freak out if it starts to curdle a bit. Stay calm and keep stirring with your spatula, I promise in a few moments it will magically come together and thicken right up! Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan. I lined my pan with parchment paper for easy removal. 

For Middle Layer 
Cream butter, cream, custard powder (or vanilla pudding mix), and powdered sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

For Top Layer: 
Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

I found I liked them much better if they were straight out of the fridge. That way they stay nice and firm and you have a good chance of finishing your piece before the chocolate starts melting all over you.

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  • Reply
    January 27, 2010 at 5:30 AM

    They look nice! I made the all-purpose flour version too, but I kept forgetting them in the oven and they are super crisp!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    LOL, you're right, definitely have a cup of water or milk when you have these, i was in a sugar coma for a while! Your bars look delicious, so does the graham crackers! I can still see some of the sprinkled cinnamon on top of them, great job!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2010 at 7:56 AM

    wow sensational!!! ya i agree they were so much better than the store bought ones!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Well done! The bars look nice.

  • Reply
    Susan @ SGCC
    January 28, 2010 at 1:33 AM

    Both your bars and your graham crackers look beautiful! Well done! This was certainly an interesting challenge!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2010 at 1:51 AM

    I got the cutters at Williams Sonoma! There's a link in the comments section:)

  • Reply
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    January 28, 2010 at 3:30 AM

    They look fantastic! I was really relieved that it was a straightforward recipe. I think my January was as hectic as my December hehe!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2010 at 4:08 AM

    Your bars look beautiful! You're right, they are so much better (and less messy) right out of the fridge!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    Haha… I know what you mean about Smitten Kitchen. I have rediculously high expectations for ANY recipe I use from her blog.

    Thanks for your comment on mine, too. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 28, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    Yay for getting back in the kitchen!! Isn't it just refreshing and exhilarating?? I watched julie and julia while I made my graham crackers – really helped to motivate me.

    Great job Jenni!

  • Reply
    Barbara Bakes
    January 28, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    Your bars look delicious! And your grahams look great. I struggled with mine. I'll have to check out Smitten Kitchen's recipe.

  • Reply
    Jill @ Jillicious Discoveries
    January 29, 2010 at 4:14 AM

    Everything looks delicious!! Thanks for the information regarding the Smitten Kitchen recipe. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 29, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    yes graham wafers were a good challenge indeed, a very nice recipe learnt, and yes this challenege was nowhere close to MACARONS 😛

  • Reply
    Natalie, aka "Sheltie Girl"
    January 29, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    You did a wonderful job on your challenge! I had a little trouble with the recipe as well. I ended up adding another 1/2 cup of flour just so I could control the mass of goo.

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  • Reply
    Lisa Michelle
    January 30, 2010 at 2:13 PM

    My DC challenge partner a year from!! Your Nanaimo bars turned out gorgeous, Jenni, as did your grahams..well done! How's the little bun in the oven? 🙂

  • Reply
    February 17, 2010 at 8:39 PM

    great job, and glad you are back in the kitchen!

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