Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Nanaimo Bars!

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

Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh. These bars have 3 layers: a base containing graham crackers, cocoa, coconut and nuts, a middle custard layer, and a topping of chocolate. They are extremely rich and available almost everywhere across Canada.

A little bit about the challenge:  This was designed as a gluten-free challenge, although the original recipe was not gluten-free.  The requirement was to make our own graham crackers and then use them in the base layer of the Nanaimo bars.  I don't have any pictures, this time, of the process I went through in my little galley (i.e. mixing and rolling the very sticky graham cracker dough), but believe me it got messy AND cluttered!  There are a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but precious little room in which to work.  I also am trying to emulate cooking at sea, so I'm REALLY trying hard not to use electric appliances (i.e. food processor, mixer, etc.) and do everything by hand.  

In spite of my "self-imposed" limitations, I managed to turn out a super sweet dessert bar that my husband really liked, but our 4 yr old, Ben, did not.  I think for Ben, it was the texture of the bottom "cookie" layer.  There are a lot of things you can do with the recipe to change the flavors and the textures of all of the layers.  John, my husband, and I came up with a few as we were eating our way through the bars...Aside from having to make our own graham crackers, it was a snap to put together.  Now for the recipe...

Preparation time:
• Graham Wafers: 30 to 45 mins total active prep, 2 ½ hours to overnight and 45 mins inactive prep.
• Nanaimo Bars: 30 minutes.

Equipment required:
• Food Processor
(I did not use one, I mixed them by hand) 
• Bowls
• Parchment paper or silpats
• Cookie sheets
• Double boiler or pot and heatproof bowl
• 8 by 8 inch square pan
• Hand mixer or stand mixer 
(Again, I did not use one, I mixed by hand)
• Saucepan

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

1 C.  Sweet rice flour (aka. glutinous rice flour)
3/4 C.  Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 C.  Sorghum Flour
1 C.  Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 tsp.  Baking soda
3/4 tsp.  Kosher Salt
7 T.  Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 C.  Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 T.  Whole Milk
2 T.  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 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.

Nanaimo Bars


Bottom Layer
1/2 C.  Unsalted Butter
1/4 C.  Granulated Sugar
5 T.  Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 C.  Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 C.  Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 C.  Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer
1/2 C.  Unsalted Butter
2 T. and 2 tsp.  Heavy Cream
2 T.  Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.) (Not being able to find Custard Powder, I substituted and amount of cornstarch and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla flavoring)
2 C.  Icing Sugar (aka confectioner's sugar)

Top Layer
4 oz.  Semi-sweet chocolate
2 T.  Unsalted Butter

1. 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" pan.

2. Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

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

Well, this was a messy, gooey, but great challenge!  It was my first baking challenge from the Daring Bakers.  The Daring Bakers is part of a website, The Daring Kitchen, a group was started to challenge bakers and cooks to step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves to try new and different things.  I joined not only to learn to bake and cook, but also to see how far I can push the limits of the space I have to work in, a 5'x6' sailboat galley.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed my challenge! All aspects look amazing and kudos for doing it by hand =D.

  2. I used to make these in the 80's, when I nicknamed them Ten Dollar Bars - because that's what it cost me to buy the ingredients. LOL I wonder what it would cost me now.

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