Good Eats and Sweet Treats from My Small Boston Kitchen

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.

I’m super excited to post this recipe, because this is my first month completing a Daring Bakers Challenge! I became a member in December, just in time for the greatest challenge of all times — Gingerbread Houses! I’ve made them for years, so it seemed the perfect challenge to ease in with, because I knew I’d be making one anyway. Well, I did make one, and used the Daring Bakers recipe and created my own template and took photos and everything, but then I forgot to post it! So the deadline came and went, and before I knew it we were in January and I’d missed my chance. What a way to start!

So I vowed that this month, with the beginning of a new year, I’d start over fresh. I completed this challenge within the first week of January, and have waited impatiently to post it ever since. I was nervous about having to make a gluten-free dessert — it’s not something I’d ever even considered before — but excited too, because a woman near and dear to my heart was recently been diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, and this was something I could safely make for her! So while the challenge was a bit daunting, it was fun and exciting at the same time.

The graham cracker dough was unlike anything I’d made before, and some of the ingredients were things I’d never even heard of! Sorghum flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca starch … fortunately for me, the Whole Foods staff are very knowledgeable, and these ingredients aren’t really as rare as I seemed to think! So I gathered everything I needed, and made some very messy dough. After it had a chance to chill overnight, it was much more behaved, and somehow I managed to successful produce some graham crackers! My kitchen smelled strongly of vanilla for days after, but I can’t complain. The crackers tasted just like normal graham crackers do, but the lingering after taste was a bit different — the texture and feel in your mouth changes significantly with the introduction of such new flours and seldom-used ingredients!

So, graham cracker round one was successful. Next it was time to make the crust. Between the homemade graham crackers, coconut, and chocolate, I was pretty convinced it’d be delicious. The crust came together nicely, as did the creamy butter layer, and the ganache on top just finished everything out.

Now I’m not one to wait, but I let these pretty little bars sit outside until they were well and chilled. While New England winters are pretty brutal, one thing they are good for is chilling desserts quickly!

After I brought the bars inside and sliced into them, I found the very dense and decadent result to be much better than I expected — the pictures actually looked pretty accurate! I was super excited, but very wary of what the flavor would have to say about my baking prowess. I served the bars to my family that evening, being sure to explain the ingredients and process beforehand. There was a “gluten-free warning” broadcast to all — I had to cover my butt in case these bars were a major flop!

Well, flop they were not. These just might have been the best things I’ve ever made. What a wonderful challenge! And the best part is — I delivered them to the woman with Celiac’s, and she was over the moon. There’s nothing like making someone’s day with a batch of fresh baked, gluten-free bars. I’d make these again in a second — they’re simple, and way beyond delicious. But maybe next time, I’d steer clear of making my own graham crackers.

Want to try these bars for yourself? Here’s the recipe:

Nanaimo Bars

Recipe by: City of Nanaimo
Yields: About 13-14 bars depending on size

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 (recipe follows)
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)

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

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

Directions:
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 x 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.

Overall, this was a great first experience! I’m excited for what’s to come in my baking future, and can’t wait for the next challenge!

Until then… much love, and sugar. Enjoy!

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