Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers Challenge January 2010: Nanaimo Bars

So my dealings with Canadians up until a few years ago had been of disbelief. What? Canada? That's a completely different world. Of course, I never said this, but rather, "You're Canadian? Really?" Until I began to work with them, and my whole perception changed. Canadians are awesome. I am just going to repeat that in case you skipped over that sentence. Canadians are awesome.

One of my favorite radio shows, This American Life, even had an episode dedicated to Canadians, called "Who's Canadian?" in which they out several famous Canadians. I won't say who, but prepare yourself to say, "Really? Canadian?"

Aside from a recent New Yorker article arguing that Poutine is rapidly becoming Canada's national dish, I have no clue when it comes to Canadian specialties. So it was quite surprising to find out that the January Daring Baker's Challenge was Nanaimo Bars. Don't worry, I hit backspace a few times while typing that out, so you'll also get some time to adjust to the name.

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 You can get the recipe here, though I'll post my measurements in metric at the end of this post.

I typically never, ever buy this kind of flour, though after reading Mark Ruhlmann's Ratio, I think I'll have to reconsider. Type 405 flour is low in protein and is taken from the very center of the endosperm of the wheat, so it's the whitest of the white flours, and is actually the most common. You can normally get 2kg for about a Euro in any discount supermarket, but I spent a little more to get a half kilo of a slightly better quality.

If participating in the BBA Challenge has taught me anything it's that having a good mise en place makes things go faster. It's also taught me that taking photos of your baking makes the whole process last as long as it would if you hadn't had a mise in place.

Here's the mise en place for the Graham Crackers. The only odd ingredient is the brown sugar, which is not the same as Brauner Zucker in Germany. Good brown sugar, the kind with healthy molasses mixed back in, can be found in almost any Asia Laden in Berlin. Why? No clue, but that's where you get it.

One of the problems I had with the recipe instructions was its high reliance on a food processor. I've generally been against them, but after having this small attachment to my hand-held blender, I might start looking at them, particularly since I love making hummus.

I did want to make the Graham Crackers gluten-free, but I could not find the flours in time, and the 405 was all-too-readily available. I think maybe next time I'll try Whole Spelt, just to see if there is a difference in flavor.

The liquid ingredients are mixed together. Honey, milk, and the ever-beautiful Vanilla floating atop the milk.

Mashing the dry ingredients is supposed to happen in the food processor, but I just didn't have the capacity. Instead, I relied on my Made-in-the-Czech-Republic Danish Dough Whisk.

I gathered the dough together as though making a pie, and refrigerated it overnight.

The next day, I rolled out the dough.

Put the flat pieces of dough on my baking sheet...

And poked holes in the crackers using a pair of coffee stirrers.

So the actual Nanaimo Bars- remember, we're making Nanaimo Bars. So the Nanaimo bars require Graham Cracker crumbs. One of the helpful suggestions was to crush them in a resealable bag. It worked wonderfully.

Although you can't tell from this picture the Graham crackers themselves came out rather brown. I think it is because I used my very heavy (and very dark) blue steel sheet pans. The bake time was way shorter than the 25 minutes the recipe called for.

Again, the mise en place: unsweetened flaked coconut, Sarotti Cocoa Powder, Graham Cracker crumbs (in all their dark glory), egg, butter, sliced almonds, and sugar.

You basically melt the butter with the sugar and the cocoa in a double boiler, and add the egg to thicken. When it's all thick and liquidy, you add the crumbs, coconut, and almonds. Stir until it all comes together into a wonderful crumbly consistency.

And then press down to make a uniform base for the bars. I used a rectangular Pyrex dish instead of the square one called for in the recipe.

The next step is my discovery of buttercream frosting. The mise en place is pictured above. 254 glorious grams of powdered sugar are called for in the recipe, but I used a 250g box since I just had it lying around.

The ingredients are creamed together. If the butter had been at room temperature, I would have put everything into my DLX and cranked it up to make the frosting. But I thought it would be a bit much to use a 8 quart capacity mixer to make a small amount of frosting. Maybe once I get through Ratio and bake a few cakes.

The frosting is spread over the first layer. That's two out of three.

The last step involves a chocolate frosting layer. I melted 85% Lindt chocolate with butter.

Though I'm by no means a chocoholic, this is is one of my favorite things to do with chocolate.

The mixture is then spread over the top of the two layers and chilled.

Here's where this post takes another turn. This batch was taken to the last day of work celebration of one of my friends and no pictures survive. Luckily, one of Amy's colleagues is having a last day on Friday, so I made these again.

This is what they look like in the Pyrex dish just waiting to be devoured. Plus, the first photo, way at the top, is what a special round bar, just for me, looked like before I discovered just how good this recipe is. You will too.

The recipe for the bars themselves is as follows, lifted wholesale from the Daring Baker's Challenge Page, but listed in metric measurements from my notes. The recipe for the gluten-free Graham Crackers can be found at the Daring Baker's recipe page for this month, as well as at Celiac Teen's wonderful post.

Nanaimo Bars


For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer

115g Unsalted Butter
50 g Granulated Sugar
40g of your best Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
160 g Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See this recipe)
55g Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped- My first bars used sliced almonds, the second ones used slivered almonds)
100g Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened) Mine was finely shredded.

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer

115g Unsalted Butter
40g Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Vanilla Custard Powder (I used Vanilla Pudding powder because it was all I could get)
1 box/250g Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer

115g of your best Semi-sweet chocolate (in my case, 85% Lindt chocolate)
28g 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.


  1. What? Canada is a completely different world?? Nobody told us. We just happily eat our Nanaimo bars, poutine, smoked meat, tourtiere, Montreal bagels and butter tarts.
    Glad you liked these! I plan to make the graham crackers again soon.

  2. Ratio has been on my to-read list for quite a while . . . how is it?!

  3. Hey, you are HERE, too? Can't escape from you, it seems - LOL! Anyway, glad you enjoyed making Nanaimo bars. BUT, where's the custard powder for the middle layer - you're cheating (just kidding). Looking forward to reading your next DB challenge post (and of course, all the other posts, too).

  4. your graham crackers & nanaimo bars both turned out beautifully! well done.

  5. You did a fantastic job on this challenge. I love the step-by-step photos and detailed instructions. Congrats.