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:
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