Ahh the Olympics! I love the Olympics! They are just around the corner and the Daring Bakers are honoring the host country, Canada, with this month's challenge. Our host is from Canada and she chose a traditional Canadian dessert bar.
Lauren says, "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 the country."
Lauren also has Celiac Disease so she challenged us to make our Nanaimo Bars gluten-free! I know very little about Celiac or the gluten-free lifestyle, so this was a great introduction into that for me.
The first part of the challenge was to make our own gluten-free graham crackers. I had a hard time finding the special flours needed so I just purchased gluten-free all-purpose baking mix and hoped for the best. The dough came together fairly easy. The only issue was that it was SO STICKY! Even after rolling it out a bit with a lot of (gluten-free) "flour" on the counter, I had trouble moving it to plastic wrap. I would suggest that you dump it right out onto the plastic wrap....save a step and a mess!
I chilled my dough overnight, but I was surprised at how soft it was even after that. I rolled it out onto parchment paper because other Daring Bakers had said that it was difficult to transfer to the baking sheet. I'm glad I did this because I can see how it would have been a challenge because the dough softened so quickly, turning a bit sticky again.
One re-chilled, the dough was off to the oven. I must say, it smelled wonderful! The honey and vanilla really shine through while baking. They didn't quite turn out as solid as I'd thought they would, but since I was just going to whirl them into crumbs for the bars, I didn't mind. Honestly, the taste of the graham crakers alone was a little to be desired...but they were decent. I may try them again with "wheat flour" to see if that helps with both the consistency and the flavor.
Once the graham crackers cooled, I started to make the bars. The ingredients were easy to find and what you would normally find in desserts. I found that a bit surprising because of the challenge to be gluten-free. I suppose I never really thought about what did or did not have gluten in it.
Since I don't have a traditional double-boiler, I use the old fashioned pot with a bowl on top method. It works great except you have to be careful for the steam escaping. The bottom layer had me worried. It involves adding an egg to the warm chocolate. I added a bit of the chocolate to the egg and then added that to the rest of the mixture. It worked out great although it did have me worried at one point...it does not look glamourous at first....but keep going, it comes together!
The custard layer is my favorite! It is pulled together much like a frosting or icing would be. This is made a ton easier by remembering to have room temperature butter. I used vanilla pudding, because I could not find the custard powder that was suggested.
For the final layer, I used my microwave. I find it easier when you just have the chocolate and butter to zap it instead of doing it on the stovetop. I'm sure our great-grandmothers would have loved to have this choice! The trick with using the microwave for this is to set it for less time than you would think it would take and then slowly add if necessary. I find that for 4 ounces of chocolate with 2 tablespoons of butter my microwave takes about 30-40 seconds....then stir, stir, stir! Of course, this receipe requires that the chocolate then cool down a bit before pouring it onto the custard layer. Don't skip this step! Mine was fairly cool and still tried to mix a bit along the edges. Another tip: Use an off-set spatula for this step. It made it a lot easier!
I then chilled the whole thing overnight. The top layer becomes hard again. It's really solid and a bit difficult to cut. I must say though that the end result is beautiful! Very layered and precise in those layers. After taking the glamour shot I took the pan to work and shared with my co-workers. They raved! I thought that they were really good, though the bottom layer was an interesting texture for me. I swapped out the coconut and put oatmeal in its place...but I can see where coconut would be very good in these (if you like coconut, which I don't).
All-in-all, this is a quick easy dessert that was a big hit! I'd make it again, especially since the ingredients are common enough (the wheat version at least!) that I'd likely have most of it on hand. Thanks to Lauren for a fun challenge, educating us on Celiac and introducing us to a truly Canadian dessert. While watching the Olympics this year I will enjoy knowing that I know a bit more about the host country and their foods.....but I must say....
GO TEAM USA!!!
Graham Wafers: 30 to 45 minutes total active prep, 2 ½ hours to overnight and 45 minutes inactive prep.
Nanaimo Bars: 30 minutes.
- Food Processor
- Parchment paper or silpats
- Cookie sheets
- Double boiler or pot and heatproof bowl
- 8 by 8 inch square pan
- Hand mixer or stand
For 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-flavoured such as clover
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract
* Note: I used 2 1/2 cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Mix instead of the above flours. You could also use the same amount of regular all-purpose flour, though it would no longer be gluten-free.
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.
For 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 (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)
*Note: I used oatmeal instead of coconut.
For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar
For Nanaimo Bars — 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, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. 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.
Enjoy with Love,