January 27, 2010

Nanaimo Bars - A Tribute to Canada

January Daring Bakers Challenge

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.

Our Daring Baker Challenge this month also celebrates that the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver begin next month. The Nanaimo Bar recipe is a tasty way to welcome everyone to Canada!

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 http://www.nanaimo.ca/.

This month the challenge was a bit more difficult from the supply perspective. I usually don't have any trouble living north of New York City finding just about anything I need. However, for this challenge I'm living in central Michigan where my husband is working on a contract. There aren't any Asian groceries, so I couldn't find any sweet rice flour. The local mega box store, Meijer, does have a small gluten free section with a nice basic selection of flours. Then I found a fantastic Co-op about 30 miles away in Mt. Pleasant, the Greentree, that has a wonderful array of organic and local foods.

Next, I went searching for Bird's custard powder. We began our search at the Eastman Party Store, as they said they carried a large selection of foreign foods. My husband and I imagined that it was a gourmet food store given their name, until we walked in the door. When we saw the numerous aisles of wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages, we understood the reason for the "Party Store" name. Wandering around, we found a variety of foods from around the world, including a jar of Bird's custard powder.

Now all I needed was a bag of sorghum flour. Since I also needed other gluten free flours that aren't easily found locally, I placed an order to a vendor I like to order from. After carefully filling out the form and double checking the Michigan shipping address, I clicked send. When I got the tracking notification for my box, I realized that my box was headed for New York and not Michigan. That meant a little juggling with the flours I had with me to make the Nanaimo bars.

When I worked on the recipe, I made an adjustment to the amount of sweet potato flour as the overall dough was basically honey flavored goo.  The extra 1/2 cup sweet potato flour, fixed the goo issue and also kept the honey flavor from being over powering in the graham crackers. The final cracker was lightly honeyed and beautifully crisp.

The Nanaimo bars are fabulously rich and decadent. My family liked them cut into small squares for just a bit of sweetness. 

Preparation time:

• Graham Wafers: 30 to 45 minutes total active prep, 2 ½ hours to overnight and 45 minutes inactive prep.
• Nanaimo Bars: 30 minutes.

Equipment required:

• Food Processor
• Bowls
• Parchment paper or silpats
• Cookie sheets
• Double boiler or pot and heatproof bowl
• 8 by 8 inch square pan
• Hand mixer or stand mixer (You may use a wooden spoon, but this makes it much easier!)
• Saucepan

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers Recipe

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet Potato Flour
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Arrowroot Starch
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Buckwheat Flour
1/4 cup (56 g) (2 ounces) Brown Rice Flour
1/4 cup (56  g) (2 ounces) Almond Meal
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Chia Seed Meal
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.

Nanaimo Bars Recipe

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) or Smashed Corn Flakes

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer:

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (60 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Vanilla Extract
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.

Additional Information:

1. These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.
2. The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


Pontch said...

Great job and beautiful results :}

Malin said...

..this is probably going to sound like an odd compliment, but the middlepart of your nanaimo bar looks so fluffy. o.O

Your nanaimo bar looks perfect. :)

oonsky said...

For all the trouble you went through - your bars still came out fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Your bars look fantastic!

Lauren said...

I'm sorry you had such a hard time finding all of the flours! Your bars look fantastic! Stunning job on my challenge =D.

Cheryl Harris said...

those look picture perfect! I used chia, too.

Anonymous said...

Your bars look absolutely perfect! You must have had the willpower to wait until everything was set before cutting into them since there are no telltale chocolate streaks. ;)

Terrific work!

Rachel said...

They look really decadent.

Sarah said...

Wow! The top layer of your nanaimo bars is perfect. Great work. :)

Anonymous said...

supply issues can cause such problems can't they? your bars look delicious though, well done.

Rachel said...

Very elegant pic of the bar.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done!

Jill @ Jillicious Discoveries said...

I love the simplicity of your photo--your bars look delicious! :)

Asha @ FSK said...

really like your photo! so clean and crisp! did you increase the amount of the custard layer? it's so thick!

Eve said...

Thanks for your nice comment! :) I must say, your Nanaimo bars look AMAZING! It's like perfection. :)

The Cooking Ninja said...

I love your thick top layer of chocolate and your fluffy 2nd layer. :) My middle layer turned out very yellow but I do see some that are kinda whitish like yours. I wonder if it has to do with the york.

chef_d said...

yummy looking bars :) i didnt make mine gluten free but the graham crackers still tasted great

Barbara Bakes said...

Sounds like a fun shopping adventure! It's nice that you were able to make the GF grahams! Your bars look perfect!

Anonymous said...

Your Nanaimos look great! :D I didn't have time to shop for the special flours either although I would have loved to just to see what they tasted like :)

Lisa Michelle said...

Natalie, thanks so much for the sweet comment! Your Nanaimo's look perfect and lovely! You know, I didn't even attempt to find the custard powder, even though I'm 10 minutes from NYC. Just used vanilla pudding powder LOL

Aparna said...

They're very, very good. I'm honoured to have "inspired" you a bit.
I couldn't find the "alternate" flours unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Natalie, your comment was really welcome, thank you! I actually put the pastry in the freezer (on trays) for a short time before baking - it was the stickiest dough I've worked with.

But I should have frozen the cooked bars - I didn't know they'd freeze well. I did freeze half the cooked graham crackers for the next batch, so will definitely freeze the bars then.

Anonymous said...

Natalie, you did so well sourcing everything! Even down to the Bird's Custard powder too! Your bars look fantastic! :D

Y said...

Your Nanaimo bar looks perfect! Awesome job, considering you had a few obstacles to overcome in terms of sourcing ingredients. By the way, intrigued by the sweet potato flour, as I love sweet potatoes!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment Natalie!
All your trekking around was worth it - your bar looks molto bella!

Cheri said...

Your nanaimo bars are utter perfection. Too bad you had so much trouble finding the ingredients. :( Job well done though!

Jennifer said...

I want to eat one of those bars right now, please!