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 www.nanaimo.ca.

First things first: I adore Lauren (I check her posts every month!) and I’m all for going gluten free, but I couldn’t justify the cost of the gluten-free ingredients this month.  (If the recipe had been gluten free and dairy free, I might have gone for it because I could have fed the bars to my dear friend Leslie.)  Since we were allowed to use all-purpose flour, I did.  Also, I haven’t found a place here in Denver that sells Bird’s Custard Powder yet; I used to buy it at Central Market in Dallas.  Therefore, I substituted vanilla pudding powder as recommended.

Since I had never heard of Nanaimo Bars before the challenge, I’ll share some background (courtesy of Lauren) for the sake of any others unfamiliar with the treat.  Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in Nanaimo, British Columbia. (It’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh.) These bars have three 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.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned doing this challenge (beyond the existence of the Nanaimo Bar) is that homemade graham cracker dough might be the most delicious thing on the planet.  Wow.  Plus, there’s no egg in it, so there’s no salmonella worry.  (Not that I usually let that stop me, honestly.)  Working with the dough was a bit tricky because it’s very sticky; it reminded me a lot of the gingerbread dough from last month’s challenge.  I just made sure I had enough flour on my work surface and my rolling pin in order to make it work.  I also used 1/8-inch dowels to help roll my dough to the proper thickness.

Once the graham crackers were made and ground into crumbs, the recipe was extremely easy.  Here are a few of my notes from the process:

  • When I was making the base layer of the bars, the recipe said to “add egg and stir to cook and thicken.”  I had to switch from a spatula to a whisk to get things to fully incorporate.
  • For the middle layer, I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment to beat the ingredients together.  I let it go for about 5 minutes at medium speed.
  • I was surprised by how thick my top layer chocolate was; it was spreadable, but definitely not pourable.  I used the correct amount of butter, so I’m not entirely sure what happened there.

Anyway, here is the final result:

Nanaimo Bars

They aren’t the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made, but in terms of flavor, they were amazing.  The bottom layer was really soft and slightly chewy; I could really taste the coconut (I’m a fan!) and I loved the slight crunch from the chopped almonds.  The center layer was like a rich vanilla buttercream frosting.  To get an ideal “layered” look, I think I probably could have doubled the chocolate on top; there was just enough to cover that middle layer.  Still, I think the balance between the bottom chocolate layer and the top chocolate layer was nice, so doubling might be overdoing it.

I’ll admit that I didn’t push the boundaries of creativity with this one, but I really wanted to try the classic version for my first Nanaimo Bar experience.  The graham cracker effort and the kitchen mess were well worth it. 🙂  Thanks, Lauren!

Recipe link: Nanaimo Bars

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8 Responses to “Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Nanaimo Bars”


  1. 1 Mary January 28, 2010 at 5:12 am

    I am in total agreement about the graham cracker dough–I could not stop eating it and am thinking of making more, and maybe even baking it! Your Nanaimo bars look great, and just like what we’d find in a bakery or coffeeshop here. Not that I ever need to buy another one! Glad you liked them!

  2. 2 Marcellina January 28, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Honestly, Nanaimo bars don’t need to much added creativity, they are so delicious just the way they are. Yours look perfect!

  3. 3 tikitonic January 28, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Classic is always a winner! Great job on the Nanaimo bars, they look delicious!

  4. 4 ap269 January 28, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    I agree, the dough (I made it gluten-free) was the most delicious dough I’ve ever eaten, plus it’s egg-free and you don’t have to worry about poisoning yourself. I couldn’t stop eating from the plain dough!

  5. 5 Megan January 29, 2010 at 12:32 am

    I followed the normal recipe for the bars too — for the same reason, I wanted the first ones I tried to be the traditional ones. Loved them! Yours look beautiful!

  6. 6 Natalie January 29, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Your bars turned out beautifully! Looks like we both had iron will power to keep from cutting our bars until the chocolate cooled. 🙂

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  7. 7 Leslie January 29, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Yea i know what you mean about there barley being enough chocolate to cover. Next time i will definitely use more chocolate. Your bars look beautiful!


  1. 1 a gal’s gotta eat « Displaced Southerner Trackback on January 30, 2010 at 11:47 am

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