I have a confession to make. Okay, well more than one. But let me start with the most pressing: I think I’m in love… with a dessert. Nanaimo Bars, where have you been all my life??? When I think of all the desserts, all the cookies, the cakes, the bars I have suffered through in my life, I only have one regret: that it took me 31 long years to find you. Was I perhaps a Canadian in my last life? Because I feel like I’ve known you longer than just a week. I feel an almost spiritual connection with you. When I press my lips to your unctuous sweetness, I feel as if I’ve come home. What do I love most about you? How to choose? First there’s your top layer, that dark ganache I can’t get enough of. Then I find your creamy center, so soft and buttery. All of this is supported by the strength and beauty that is your bottom layer, with chocolate and coconut and almonds and everything I could ever want. Put together, your layers make a symphony of deliciousness unlike any I’ve ever experienced.
I don’t quite know how to explain this forbidden love that I feel… what I do know is that I love you, Nanaimo Bars. Forever.
Before I continue any further with my love sonnet to your deliciousness, let me get this formality out of the way:
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.
Yes, Nanaimo Bars and I were introduced by friends, namely, the Daring Bakers. Oh, Daring Bakers, I will never be able to thank you enough for bringing us together. There are simply no words…
But now, for the second confession:
I am a failure of a Daring Baker. Or, more specifically, I’m a LAZY failure. This particular challenge came in two parts – to make homemade graham crackers (either regular or gluten free), and then use said crackers in the bars recipe. I could lie to you, my wonderful readers, and say I made the crackers but conveniently “forgot” to document the process with pictures. But I care about you all too much. I’m lazy, and shamefully bought my graham crackers at Whole Foods. But in my defense, I will say this: though based in laziness, my intentions were in the right place. I knew in my heart that if I didn’t buy the graham crackers, I would never get around to making the bars themselves. I guess you could say I’m a lazy pragmatist. And after seeing the recipe for my beloved Nanaimo Bars, I simply couldn’t wait. I knew they had to be mine, even if I cheated to get there.
Out of respect for the Daring Bakers, whom I don’t deserve to be among, I’ll repeat the graham cracker recipes below in case you are less lazy than I and want to make them for yourself.
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
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.
Regular ol’ Graham Crackers (courtesy of 101cookbooks.com)
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
topping: 3 tablespoons granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.
Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.
Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.
Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
Yield: 10 large crackers
From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)
And now, without further ado…
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)
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. **out of desperation, I used sugar/fat free butterscotch pudding mix as it was all I had at the time… and it was SUPER YUMMY)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar
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.
I tried, dear readers. I tried SO HARD to get a shot of the finished product – cut, out of the pan and ready for eating. But they were literally too delicious to stop and photograph. And then we made a second batch a few days later for my hunny’s work potluck, pressed into muffin tins for single-size OM-NOM-NOM-ing. These too somehow disappeared without a trace. The thought of grabbing the camera was there in my mind, but was quickly obliterated by the OH MY GOD I NEED TO EAT THIS NOW sensation. I call it my dessert-based temporary insanity defense.
Well, also there’s the fact that I never got a bar out of the pan that looked pretty enough for me to photograph. Because I’m a snob that way 😉