Thursday, January 28, 2010

Daring Bakers: Nanaimo Bars & A Surprise!

I've had Nanaimo Bars on my list of recipes to make "someday". My recipe list comes in many varieties. I've bookmarked recipes that I've found on one of many favorite food blogs, or the stack of magazines with beautiful pictures and delicious sounding recipes that I've kept for years, or the recipes that I've printed out and actually filed them in my recipe binder which seems to grow daily. So when I saw this challenge, I was excited to cross this dessert off my list and complete another Daring Bakers challenge.

Before I get into the details of this challenge, let me introduce our hostess, the writer of one of my favorite blogs:

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

I've been following Lauren's blog Celiac Teen for several months now and have gotten to know her through her wonderful and informational blog. Her posts are always a delight to read and I learn something new about baking gluten-free. She challenged us to make our own graham crackers, either gluten-free or with wheat flour (according to our preference) and then the Nanaimo Bars which incorporate the graham crackers in the bottom layer of the bars.

Lauren explains what Nanaimo Bars are:

"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."

[Check out this website for more details about how Nanaimo Bars and the history.]

As we did have the option to make regular graham crackers, I went with what ingredients I had on hand and will share the recipe that I followed. If you would like the recipe for the gluten-free version, click here.

Although these bars are full of the ingredients that I enjoy (chocolate, nuts, coconut, etc.) the BIG SURPRISE of this challenge was the graham cracker recipe.

These graham crackers are the best I've ever had and I will never purchase the store brand graham crackers again. These were AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS!! Once you've had something so good, it's impossible to go back to an inferior product. If the challenge had stopped here, I would have been 100% satisfied with these alone. Since making them, I've been thinking about different varieties and ideas to incorporate these in other desserts--more about that in a later post.

Of course, I just had to make them in several shapes and sizes--you know, if they are a bite size, then you can eat more of them!

Seriously, these pictures don't do these wonderfully tasty crackers justice. You NEED to make these and taste for yourself. They are my new favorite snack and I have to say THANK YOU Lauren for including this recipe in our challenge.

Now for the recipe. *My notes are in this color.

Graham Cracker Recipe
From 101 Cookbooks

2 1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
*1/2 tsp. cinnamon--I added this for a little extra zing and it worked well with the other ingredients.
3 1/2 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover *I used an organic wildflower honey--great subtle flavor.
5 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. 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. *I chilled my dough for about 2 hours and after taking it out of the refrigerator, I let it sit for about 5 minutes, before rolling it out.  If you keep it floured, so it doesn't stick, you won't have any problems.

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. *I used Silpats and they worked great.

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 re-roll. 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. *I baked mine for about 18 minutes.

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.

The other part of the challenge was making the Nanaimo Bars with all three layers, either following the recipe given or adapting it with our own flavor choices. Of course I immediately thought of something Hawaiian and tropical, so I adjusted the recipe to include more coconut flavoring and macadamia nuts.

Overall, I thought the bars were delicious looking, but a bit too rich for my taste. The middle layer was too sugary and sweet and if I were to make them again, I'd replace the middle layer with a higher quality filling, such as a pastry cream or custard. Also, after sampling the AWESOME graham crackers and LOVING them, I was bummed to discover that once they were made into crumbs and folded into the bottom layer, I could no longer taste them and they were really only in there for the texture.  Because they were so rich, I cut them into small bite-size squares, which was plenty for one serving.

Nanaimo Bars
*Coconut-Macadamia Nut Nanaimo Bars


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, Beaten1 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) *I used unsweetened coconut and roasted macadamia nuts.

For Nanaimo Bars — 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
*pinch of salt
*coconut extract

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:
These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.

Thanks again Lauren, for a fun challenge and be sure to visit the other Daring Bakers' blogs for more creative ideas.


  1. I have never tasted Grahan Crackers but what we made was sentational! I love them, too! I also loved the bar however I added espresso coffee to the middle layer and they are irristable! Your bars look brilliant but I can imagine they would be very sweet.

  2. Beautiful photos! I agree that the graham crackers were the most amazing thing ever. And you can't go wrong with coconut and macadamia nuts:)

  3. I too appreciate a newfound love of homemade graham crackers after this challenge! :) Beautiful work! I love your flavor combinations.

  4. You did such a nice job on these! I don't care for overly sweet desserts either but they are so pretty I don't think I could resist trying at least one! Your graham crackers are terrific too! ;0)

  5. Awesome photos! You did a great job!

  6. these bars look delcious!
    you are right though, that middle layer is a bit too sweet.......

  7. Jill,
    Wow, your bars look PERFECT, but I have to agree with you completely about the graham crackers being the star of the show! I absolutely loved them...SO MUCH better than store bought! All of your grahams look phenomenal, by the way! :)

  8. I think yours are the prettiest bars and grahams I've seen. Almost too pretty to eat!

  9. I loved the graham crackers, too! (I'm thinking of how wonderful it would be to replace the buttercream with peanut butter!)

    Your bars are gorgeous, Jill!!

  10. Beautiful! They look like little cakes :)
    I totally agree with you about the graham crackers.. they were unbelievably good.

  11. Jill, your bars look so beautiful and the presentation and photos are spectacular! Then again, I'm not surprised :) Hope all is well with you and yours and looking forward to your next post, OH, BTW..I've been dying to try that beater blade!

  12. i love your presentation of nanaimo bars! and i love your blog too!

  13. Macadamia is definitely a good addition to the bars... simply delicious.

    Beautiful presentation! Photos are intriguing :-)

    Sawadee from bangkok,

  14. Your bars look impeccable Jill! I love how you cut up the graham cracker bars into different cute shapes!

  15. Yummy! Amazing photos of the bars! All your graham crackers look super, too! Great job all around!

  16. Your bars are so pretty - absolutely love your photographs!

    I completely agree with you on the 'richness' aka total sugar hit from the bars. I also didn't like the sweetness of the middle layer and found that adding some cream cheese and vanilla reduced the sweetness somewhat...


  17. I still can't figure out how so many of you get such clean slices. The graham crackers were the big deal for me too. So good! I really like your idea of adding cinnamon to the dough. I wish I'd done that as I think the brown sugar-ness needed a hit of spice. Your bars looks picture perfect!

  18. Loved seeing your photos...just fantastic. You must have the sharpest knife ever to get such perfect pieces. BTW, I couldn't agree more about the feeling of utter waste over crushing up those wonderful crackers. I practically cried.

  19. That dessert looks like divine nature....I think I need some.... :)

  20. wow, your graham crackers looks better than the ones store bought! i would've never known the difference. Love how all your layers came out so smooth and clean-cut, you did a great job on the challenge!

  21. Such beautiful work! I think your graham crackers are absolutely perfect and I love the perfect, petite morsels :D

  22. Yum! I'm peeved I didn't get to the challenge this month!

  23. Wow! Lovely the tandem coconut-macadamias.
    I'm so glad you post your Nanaimo bars, they're simply perfect and they look delicious... or Jillicious?
    Big hug from Spain.

  24. I love the garnish on the top of each square - and it looks like we had similar tropical flavoring ideas! Lovely job, Jill!

  25. I also loved the graham crackers on it's own :) they were delicious! Love the look of your nanaimo and the flavors!!!
    Cheers fron rainy Ireland :) Anula.

  26. Just gorgeous! I love your presentation of these. Like you I was really reluctant to turn my crackers into crumbs. The crackers I'll make regularly to have with a cup of tea. Nice job with the challenge :)

  27. looking at your bars alone make me want to whip up these luscious bars again :)

  28. These are perfectly cut and beautifully decorated. Great job.

  29. Unfortunately I dropped the star graham cracker soon afterwards, and he broke. (But still tasty)

    And your Nanaimos are simply beautiful - how clean cut! Great presentation!

    Also, I definitely agree - the graham crackers were surprisingly delicious :)

  30. Great job Jill! I have yet to finish mine, and I don't have a camera to take pictures so it is even worse. I will post them today hopefully.

    I am with you about the middle layer, in fact I am doing something different.


  31. Gorgeous job!

    I thought the graham crackers turned out amazingly well, once I added another 1/2 cup of flour. My original gf mixture turned out to be a mass of goo.

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  32. Thanks for visiting... I enjoyed reading about your version above. I completely agree that I was disappointed at the disappearance of the graham cracker in the Nanaimo bar. (I loved my version of graham cracker, too, and would make them again.) That said, everyone at my husband's work loved the bars. I wish I thought of using Mac nuts. I may have to re-try.... Take care! Adrienne @

  33. So many graham crackers! I agree, they were very yummy! I like the idea of incorporating macadamia nuts, and it would indeed be interesting to try a smoother filling. Great job!

  34. I think our thoughts on this challenge are pretty much the same :)
    Love the decoration on your squares! And your layering looks so very straight, great job!

  35. Beautiful! Love how thick your chocolate layer is and your grahams are absolutely perfect. I also like how you make your comments/reviews in a different color font - that's nice...may have to steal that tip!

  36. Jill, your bars are beautiful! I love the fancy decorations you added! I agree with you about the graham crackers -- SOOO good and SOOO much better than store bought. The difference is uncomparable actually. Great job on this challenge. Great idea adding coconut extract to the filling, I bet it really enhanced the flavor!

  37. Oh I like the shredded coconut on top as well. Ties in nicely with the coconut in the base layer. Good thinking :-)

  38. That is totally sold out!!, I love the way you have presented them, and how did you cut it out so well, it looks as if you bought it from a shop!!, they are gorgeous!!

  39. Totally agree with you on the graham crackers!! I made the gluten free version and was surprised it was still really GOOD!!
    How did you keep your layers so even??? They are beautiful! Is the coconut on top fresh? I scoop some out, but forgotten to place it on top when I took my pictures! :P

  40. I actually loved how rich these were... but I did only eat a tiny square at a time. I love your alteration with the macadamia nuts and coconut.

  41. What pretty and perfect bars! Great job!



  42. These look amazing! I think the macadamias would have tied in very nicely with the chocolate and coconut (although I did think the almonds gave the base a very Almond Joy chocolate bar quality). Did the touch of cinnamon come through to the Nanaimo Bars? I'm sure they took the graham crackers to a whole new level of yum!

  43. your graham crackers & bars look so good! i like the bite-sized idea, they were definitely rich but i would be worried that if they were bite sized i would be tempted to pop more into my mouth haha.

    & the Hawaiian twist with the macadamia nuts? yum. :)

  44. Jill, I am so glad that you enjoyed the graham wafers as much as you did! They look simply sensational =D. You did a wonderful job on my challenge!

  45. Your Nanaimo Bars are just the right size, as I also found them very sweet. Your topping is very pretty as well.

  46. Jill, I thought you had to have special flour for graham crackers. Not true? I hope not!

    The bars look delicious, but a little too sweet for me too... Great photos!

  47. you're so creative, the bars look so pretty :)

  48. Beautiful presentation! I used both AP flour and whole wheat--also good, more grahamy flavor.

  49. How lovely! Just a little something extra makes such a big difference... You can see the care the care that went into making and presenting these treats. :)

  50. Really liked the way you finished those bars. They look so pretty. Your right, those crackers were a delightful surprise.

  51. what an elegant looking bars..
    they look too perfect to bite into them
    great posting..
    i bookmarked your recipe ,like to try it one day

  52. *Still* haven't done this challenge (3 mos. behind now...) but still have hope for this weekend. Yours turned out beautifully! I agree w/you on homemade graham crackers. Made some for moonpies once and oh my -- they're so good. Trying to find a substitute for the Bird's filling here -- it's slowing me down :)

  53. I agree, the homemade graham crackers were really the star of the challenge! (I thought the bars were too rich as well.) But - those graham crackers - so good! :) I LOVE how you decorated those nanaimo pretty! :)

  54. Those squares look so perfect! I like the sound of pastry cream as a filling for future reference too :)

  55. They look amazing. I am just drooling looking at them.

  56. Oh my goodness, yours look perfect! Love the pretty topping.

    I just finished mine and need to go take pics.

  57. They turned out so cute! I love how you made them into petifores with that super yummy topping. Perfection.