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A new year and the Daring Kitchen has kicked off again. 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 was pretty enthusiastic about the challenge, given that it required some gluten-free cooking and I am wheat free. I ordinarily just use spelt flour in my cooking, so thought it would be good to try a full GF recipe and see the results. I was also pretty interested in the Nanaimo Bars – as an Aussie that hasn’t visited Canada I had never really heard of these. There was much talk about how great the bars are, so I couldn’t wait to give them a try.

Saskia came over to my place to tackle the challenge. This was a pretty easy challenge but turned out to be quite time consuming due to the need to chill the pastry for the Graham Wafers. If I was to do this again I would probably make the wafers ahead of time.

Making the Graham Wafers

First step was to make the Graham Wafers. Lauren (this month’s host) recommended that we mix our own GF flour, in order to have control over the mix (different brands have different mixes). In this regard, she provided a GF recipe for Graham Wafers which used a mixture of sweet rice flour, tapioca flour and sorghum flour. I headed to my local healthfood store (Organic Wholefoods in Smith St, Collingwood) but was dismayed to see that while it stocked a range of alternative flours (amaranth, besan, maize, quinoa, soy etc) it did not stock any of the flours I needed. Given that I couldn’t get hold of the flours, I thought I would try the GF flour that I already had at home – F.G. Roberts GF Flour, which is a mix of maize starch, tapioca starch, soy flour and rice flour.

Making the Graham Wafers was pretty straightforward and involved the same processes as making pastry (ie. using a food processor to incorporate the butter and flour, then bringing it together gently and refrigerating it). A slight twist was that the butter was frozen before use – I am not entirely certain of the chemistry behind this but assume that for a GF pastry it is even more important that the butter maintains some structure, given there is no gluten holding the pastry together.

Lauren warned that the mixture would be very sticky and difficult to work with, but mine was not too sticky at all. I actually think that the pastry I have made with spelt flour was probably more sticky and tricky to use.

We rolled the mixture out and cut it into squares:

Baked them in the oven, cooled them and crushed them with the mixer:

Crushed wafers (with some intact wafers in the background)

Making the Nanaimo Bars

The base

The next step was to use the wafers to make the base for the Nanaimo Bars. At this stage I will admit that I hadn’t read the recipe too closely, however in the course of making the bars I came to realise that this recipe is really fatty and really really sugary. I guess this is what people were alluding to when they mentioned that the bars are ‘very rich’.

Making the base was fine, it involved melting the butter, sugar and cocoa over a double boiler, adding an egg, then mixing this with the dry ingredients (crushed wafers, coconut and nuts). We used hazelnuts rather than almonds as we already had some in the house.

Mixing the base together...

I pressed the mixture into the base of my pan and was quite disturbed to see a layer of melted butter resting on the top of the mixture. I ended up using some paper towel to blot the excess butter – yuk. Here’s the base after the excess butter was removed:

I chilled the base in the fridge while I made the custard layer as it was over 30C (about 90F) and I was concerned it wouldn’t get hard enough.

The custard layer

As neither Saskia or I had eaten a Nanaimo Bar before we decided to make the traditional version, rather than playing with flavourings.

To make the middle layer we mixed icing sugar with cream, butter and custard powder. At this point we tasted the mixture and were pretty amazed by how sweet it was – it basically just tasted of sweetness and nothing else.

The super sweet (and yellow!) mixture

Neither Saskia or I could stomach such a sweet mixture, so we added some cream cheese to it and also a fair whack of vanilla extract to add some much-needed flavour. With the addition of the cream cheese and vanilla the mixture was more palatable but we still didn’t really like it. If I were to make the bars again I would definitely cut back on the amount of icing sugar and also add a flavouring to create some interest – an orange or perhaps sour cherry flavour could have been great.

We put the second layer into the pan:

Our lighter, less sweet, middle layer in the pan...

We then refrigerated it while we made the chocolate layer.

The chocolate layer

The last element of the Nanaimo Bar is a layer of chocolate on the top. We melted some chocolate and butter over a double boiler, waited for it to cool to room temperature and then spread it over our chilled layers.

We then chilled the Bars in the refrigerator for several hours – we tried to eat them after about an hour of chilling, but they completely fell apart in the hot weather:

Gooey mess...

After being chilled overnight, the  bar was looking a lot better:

End result!


Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

Note that this recipe makes significantly more wafers than required for the Nanaimo Bars. You could easily make one-third of this recipe and you would still have enough wafers for the bars.

205g GF flour (we used F.G Roberts brand)
200 g Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt (use less than this – ours were a bit too salty)
100 g Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
80 mL Honey, Mild-flavoured
75 mL Whole Milk
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.  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 GF 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 GF 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 (don’t fret too much about making them perfect as they will eventually be blitzed anyway). 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 and any scraps.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
6. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
8. When cooled completely, blitz them in a food processor.

Nanaimo Bars


Bottom Layer
115 g Unsalted Butter – I would recommend using less than this, probably use 100g or less.
50g Sugar
75 mL Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
160 g Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
55 g Hazelnuts, chopped
130 g Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer
115 g Unsalted Butter
40 mL Heavy Cream
30 mL Vanilla Custard Powder
2 cups Icing Sugar – I would recommend reducing this, it was very sweet.
100g cream cheese
50ml Vanilla extract

Top Layer
150 g Semi-sweet chocolate
35 g 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. Chill.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, icing sugar, cream cheese and vanilla together. 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.

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14 Responses to “The Daring Kitchen: Baker’s January Challenge – Nanaimo Bars”

  1. Lauren says:

    The cold butter is so that when baking, it releases a little bit of steam causing the tiniest air pockets. Nothing to do with being gluten-free =D. Just about the texture of the wafers.

    I’m sorry you didn’t love the bars, but they look fantastic! Thank you for completing my challenge!

  2. ericasedibles says:

    Beautiful, they look perfect!

  3. chef_d says:

    great looking bars 🙂 i will try flavoring mine with cream cheese the next time i make them again

  4. Karen says:

    Nicely done, and I love your red Kitchenaid 😛

  5. marcellina says:

    Your bars look great! I know what you mean about the melted butter sitting on top. I made a few adjustments that helped and to cut the sweetness.

  6. Mary says:

    Rich and sweet is no exaggeration for these bars! Believe it or not, they are sold in quite large squares in Canadian coffee shops! I made a pastry cream based filling to cut the sweetness a bit. Glad you liked the wafers, at least!

  7. angelica says:

    cream cheese is a great idea to mellow out the bars, they must’ve tasted delicious!

  8. s says:

    great idea using cream cheese….nice detailed pics

  9. ap269 says:

    Good-looking bars.

  10. wic says:

    love your version of this months challenge amazing work.
    adore the step by step pictures.

  11. pontch says:

    Great job
    look delicious

  12. Wonderful step-by-step pictures!! Your bars look delicious! 🙂

  13. angelica says:

    Your bars look amazing! It really didnt matter if the GF crackers looked appealing or not, they tasted delicious and were going to be pulsed into crumbs anyway! And cream cheese sounds like a great addition to decrease the sweetness, but i’m not surprised that it STILL came out too sweet, lol, nanaimo bars are really somethin, aren’t they?

  14. Nadia says:

    you are right, they were indeed sweet and after reading many comments at DB forum i cut the icing sugar in the middle layer by half cup, turned out great.

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