Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nanaimo Bars and Graham Crackers

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars (in honor of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and As I don't have dietary restrictions and am on a budget, I did not make the gluten-free graham wafers. You can find a PDF of the information we received (and the recipes) here.
This challenge provided me with a new dessert recipe and the experience of making crackers, which I'll talk about later, but more importantly it reminded me of/made me more aware of the challenges faced by those living with Celiac disease. For Lauren to eat these bars, that she once could pick up at almost any grocery store in Canada, she had to create a recipe to make gluten-free graham crackers and now has to make the crackers and the bars using them in the base every time. As you can see from her blog she handles the challenge her illness provides with grace (and probably eats better than most of us) but is is not something I can imagine dealing with...after all I can't even get myself to eat less sweets, my eternal goal. 

I made this month's challenge in Vika and Rafe's well equipped kitchen Sunday while listening to the Jets game, visiting and taking full advantage of Vika's help and her digital SLR/photography skills. It took about 5 hours, including rest times, to complete both aspects of the challenge. I suspect if my original graham cracker dough hadn't been so dry and crumbly it would have been quicker as my paralyzing fear of failure wouldn't have kicked in and dragged things out. 

I ended up putting the first batch of graham cracker dough in the oven figuring it didn't matter if it was a crumbled, rolled out mess since I was trying to create crumbs. After a consultation with Mom, Vika fixed up the second half of the dough using 3 teaspoons of milk. It made all the difference in the world as you can see below. Both sets of graham crackers were delicious though I was shocked by how sweet a mere 1/3 c. of honey could make them. When I make these in the future, I will definitely continue to leave off the cinnamon-sugar topping as they don't need added sugar. 

The bar portion of the challenge was a breeze in comparision to the graham crackers. My only changes to the Nanaimo bar recipe were substituting vanilla Jello pudding mix for the Bird's custard powder and using at least a half cup less of confectionary sugar for the filling. I cut the nanaimo bars into 1" x 1" cubes as they were so rich. Yet I keep eating them in multiples as they are so delicious so perhaps I could have cut them bigger. I love the creamy buttercream filling's contrast with the crunchy graham cracker-coconut-almond-chocolate base. 

Per Lauren these bars freeze well. I hope that is true as I had to put the remaining bits in the freezer to stop myself from eating them. Fingers crossed on that working.
I'd recommend making these and you could even cheat to make the whole process easier by purchasing store bought graham crackers (though I think making them on your own is definitely worth a try). Thanks for a great challenge, Lauren!

The finished bars!
Batter 1

 Batter 2 (Night and day, right?)
Base Layer
Cutting the Finished Bars


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed my challenge! Your bars look fantastic, as do the wafers!

    Gluten-free is something that gets much easier with time. If you're ever faced with it, things will be okay and you will be able to eat the things you missed, it just takes a bit more work =D.

  2. These were yummy! I nominate my kitchen for more baking challenges :)

  3. These look great! But maybe reduce the honey in the bar because the cinnamon flavour of the topping really adds to their enjoyment.

  4. Wow, the crackers really do look different eh! I'm glad you liked the bars, and don't worry about missing out on the Birds custard powder... this is the only dessert you will ever use it for and every Canadian pantry has it left over for years!

  5. oohh looks so good. i made my crackers with wheat flour too. im going to do what you did and cut them into smaller squares next time i make them again :)

  6. Lauren - Thanks so much! I'm glad you have been able to adapt so well. I guess the upside is you have one more reason to cook/bake and be innovative. :)

    Vika - Yay for cooking/baking in your kitchen! I'm for it most anytime. ;)

    Sarah - I will definitely play with the honey next time I make the graham crackers. Good idea!

    Coco Bean - That's reassuring about the Bird's custard powder. Guess I'm not missing out too much!

    Chef D - Thank you! :)

  7. Your filling substitution reminded me that I forgot to include mine! I Googled, and found that I could substitute cornstarch (not sure if that is GF, though) and a bit if vanilla for the Bird's Custard Powder.

    Nice work! Oh, and I freeze most all leftover dessert around my house, or I end up eating it all myself, too... You aren't alone!

  8. Your bars turned out beautifully! Like Lauren said, eating/cooking/shopping gluten free gets easier the longer you do it. You get used to the fact that certain recipes require a bit more work than others. Usually, you get to enjoy a wonderful baking experience as well.

    Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

  9. First of all, these are so pretty!! Second of all, can I get a head's up on one of the defrosts so I can come over and try one?? Yes, I will travel from Brooklyn to the UES just for a sliver of this decadent-looking treat.

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  11. Your Nanaimo's turned out gorgeous! I also used vanilla pudding powder and cut the sugar AND kept them miniscule, but they were still too rich. Different filling for me next time. Nicely done all around!

  12. RCakeWalk - Buttercream is good on its own so I'm sure yours tasted great too. :)

    ap269 - Thank you!

    And now I'll get back to responding later...

  13. Natalie - Thank you. I'm glad gluten-free always gets easier. You and Lauren definitely make it into a fun challenge.

    Leslie - You are welcome to come over and have one! Just be warned that we probably should arrange this sooner rather than later since I'm definitely still eating them from the freezer. The good news is that I'll probably definitely revisit these.

    Karine - Thank you!

    Lisa Michelle - Thank you. They are irresistable, even this sweet. It'll be fun to see how you (and others) figure out ways to cut the sugar and get creative with the recipe.