Daring Bakers Go Canadian (Nanaimo Bars)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

nanaimo-25

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.

The Nanaimo bar is a dessert of Canadian origin popular across North America. It’s a type of layered no-bake bar named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It consists of a chocolate and graham cracker crumb layer, topped by a layer of light vanilla or custard flavored buttercream, which is covered in yet more chocolate.  The bar is thought to have originated south of Nanaimo in Ladysmith in the early 1950s by a local housewife from Cowichan Bay, by the name of Mabel Jenkins.  Mabel submitted the recipe for publication in the Cowichan Women’s Institute Cookbook.  The bars became quite popular and were soon being sold in many of the coffee shops in and around Nanaimo.  They were originally called Mabel Bars, but area tourists came to refer to them as “Nanaimo Bars”, and the name caught on.  They have since come to be known as one of Canada’s favorite confections.

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Okay, I’m just going to say it and get it over with. While I love my neighbors north of the border, I did not like these bars.  Not even a little bit.  I really wanted to. I mean, what’s not to like about chocolate, coconut and custard?  The recipe and the pictures I saw looked so good!  And, I’m pretty sure that I made them correctly, because mine looked just like the ones in the pictures.  I used really good quality ingredients too.  But, when it came right down to it, I just didn’t like the way they tasted.  They were just waaaaay too rich and sweet for me.  Almost sickeningly sweet!  And, they had a weird mouth feel too.  It was like biting into a hunk of really sweet, chocolate-flavored butter. It was kind of sad, really.  Other people liked them, though.  Mini SGCC ate several. And, the folks at the office enjoyed them. Then again, if they didn’t like them, they probably wouldn’t have said so for fear that I would stop bringing them treats.

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On the bright side, I really did like the gluten free graham crackers that we had to make for the crust layer of the Nanaimo Bars.  In fact, I liked them so much that I made a second batch using regular flour, even though that dough was a b%&#@ to work with!  They were crunchy and deeply permeated with the flavors of honey and dark brown sugar.  They were so delicious that even Mr. SGCC indulged!  I will definitely make them again.  I’ll bet they would make awesome s’mores!

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If you’d like to see how the rest of the Daring Bakers fared with this challenge, stop by the Daring Kitchen and check out the blogroll.   If you’d like to try making Nanaimo Bars for yourself, the recipe follows.

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Nanaimo Bars

Ingredients:

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 (recipe follows)
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)

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

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

Directions:

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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.

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2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.

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3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Notes:

  • These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.
  • The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
  • If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.
  • For the Nanaimo Bars, if making with wheat, replace the gluten-free graham wafer crumbs with equal parts wheat graham wafer crumbs!

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

Ingredients:

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
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-flavored such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

Directions:

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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.

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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 zip lock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Enjoy!

56 responses to Daring Bakers Go Canadian (Nanaimo Bars)

  1. On January 27, 2010 at 12:42am, cathy/ShowFoodChef said...

    Your pics are so helpful for people and the bars look beautiful. I had a great time with these also (will post by California morning) and I almost WISH I didn’t like them so I wouldn’t have eaten so many :D Great job! Auguri.

  2. On January 27, 2010 at 12:42am, Ruth Ann said...

    Awesome post! Hope all is well with you.

    • On January 27, 2010 at 8:08am, Susan said...

      Thanks, Ruth Ann! Everything’s good here. Hope all is well with you too! :)

  3. On January 27, 2010 at 12:44am, Erika from The Pastry Chef At Home said...

    hmmm. Chocolate flavored butter sounds a like a good idea in theory… This looks like a lot of work for a recipe that disappoints in flavor :(

    On the bright side, the photo of the butter covered beater is gorgeous!

    • On January 27, 2010 at 8:10am, Susan said...

      I thought the same thing, but too much of a good thing is still “too much”. Glad you like the beater shot. It’s one of my faves. :)

  4. On January 27, 2010 at 3:05am, Memoria said...

    Aww, I’m sorry you didn’t like these bars. I loved them! I devoured them! Anyway, your bars look great!!!

  5. On January 27, 2010 at 5:49am, nina said...

    This is why I like you, Susan. You give everything in life a fair chance and then you give an honest opinion…..Lovely tutorial though!!

    • On January 27, 2010 at 8:13am, Susan said...

      Thanks, Nina! I feel that I have to be honest. If I always “love” everything, then people won’t take me seriously.

  6. On January 27, 2010 at 8:31am, Caitlin said...

    I don’t think I’ve ever met a Nanaimo bar I didn’t like, however, I find some recipes too sweet/rich as well. I pulled out my Grandmother’s recipe (one she’s been making for well over 30 years; there’s always a tray of them in her fridge, it’s usually the first stop anyone makes when they visit her). Her recipe is very similar but has some differences that just might lower the sweetness enough! She uses 2 cups of graham wafers and 1/2 a cup walnuts instead of almonds in the bottom layer, the middle layer uses 1/4 milk (knowing her, it’s probably powdered skim milk- but I’m sure any milk would do) and 1/4 butter, and tops it with a very very thin layer bittersweet chocolate (2 squares) mixed with 1 tablespoon of melted butter. All the other ingredients and quantities are the same!
    Hope this helps anyone looking for a slightly less tooth-achingly sweet version!

    • On January 27, 2010 at 12:38pm, Susan said...

      Thanks, Caitlin! These might be worth another try with your tweaks.

  7. On January 27, 2010 at 8:38am, Melissa said...

    As a Canadian that grew up with “Naomi” bars… I’m excited and jealous that you were able to make these from scratch! I’m definitely going to have to coerce my mother to make some for me on my next trip home! On the other hand, I could just very well introduce these wonderful bars of joy to the folks in Maine.

  8. On January 27, 2010 at 9:25am, Joan Nova said...

    A little too rich for my taste…however, the photos are absolutely delicious!

  9. On January 27, 2010 at 9:48am, Tangled Noodle said...

    I grew up in Canada and never had Nanaimo Bars! What else did my anti-chocolate parents keep from me?! My sweet tooth can stand up to high levels of sugary-ness so I’d still give this recipe a go. Love your step-by-step photographs!

  10. On January 27, 2010 at 10:31am, dani said...

    woohoo canada! we know how to make a good bar cookie up north! :) love the gluten free version!

  11. On January 27, 2010 at 10:32am, Mary Corbet said...

    Loved your review of Nanaimo Bars. I’ve made them every year, for years, for a Canadian friend, but always found them a bit much, myself. They have all the right stuff in them to make me think I SHOULD like them, but I just don’t like them. And you think the buttery feel is bad when it’s winter? Try serving them in warmer weather. Eeeesh. Melty and messy. But you can cut down on the buttery mouthy feel (from that custard layer) by using part milk / part butter in the custard layer. It’ll still set up. And you can thin out that top layer of chocolate to help reduce both the butter feel and the sweetness. Best not to substitute vanilla pudding mix – use custard powder if you can find it. For some reason, according to Mr. Canadian Nanaimo Bar Fanatic, it makes a difference…

  12. On January 27, 2010 at 11:20am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    They certainly look delicious. I’m shocked they weren’t good. But I can see your point. The fact that they aren’t baked might give them too rich of a “raw butter” taste.

  13. On January 27, 2010 at 11:32am, arugulove said...

    Mmmmm…I lived in Canada for a few years and fell in love with these. I haven’t had one in about 10 years, so I can’t wait to try making these!

  14. On January 27, 2010 at 11:35am, vibi said...

    WOW! Perfect… winner of a food Olympics gold medal!

  15. On January 27, 2010 at 11:46am, Lucy said...

    These look really fantastic so I’m sorry you didn’t like them! The gorgeous pictures make up for that though – I adore your step-by-steps :D

  16. On January 27, 2010 at 12:08pm, tia said...

    as usual i love your pics. and cute accents with the almonds on top. :)

  17. On January 27, 2010 at 1:24pm, Rosa said...

    Your bars are beautiful!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  18. On January 27, 2010 at 1:59pm, Meeta said...

    these look great and i love the detailed post. while the bars were nice i was happy with the crackers – THEY were awesome!

  19. On January 27, 2010 at 2:50pm, Cristine said...

    Gorgeous bars and pictures!

  20. On January 27, 2010 at 7:04pm, Laura said...

    I agree these are supersweet. I added extra cocoa to the base, plus coffee, and used a very, very bittersweet chocolate (86 percent). This helped a whole lot.

  21. On January 27, 2010 at 7:51pm, Jenni said...

    Your Nanaimo Bars look great! It’s too bad you didn’t like them, but you are right, they are suuuuuper sweet! At least yours look fantastic! And your photography is absolutely stunning!!!!!!!

  22. On January 27, 2010 at 8:52pm, Heather B said...

    I was more a fan of the crackers too than the bars. Way to sweet and rich for me! Great job on both parts of the challenge this month!

  23. On January 27, 2010 at 9:20pm, lisa @ dandysugar said...

    Very nice step by step pics! I thought the bars were ok–just not my cup of tea. Your look lovely, I love how you garnished with the almonds. Great job!

  24. On January 27, 2010 at 9:25pm, marcellina said...

    Your pics are amazing! I’m sorry you didn’t like them. I actually thought I wouldn’t like them either but I love them. However, I did flavour mine with coffee.

  25. On January 27, 2010 at 10:05pm, Sabine said...

    Your bars look really nice, but I feel the same way about them. I really don’t like them, because they are too sweet and buttery. I even used less than half of the sugars and I still find them too rich. I think you either love or hate them. I know a lot of Canadians who also don’t like them ;-)

  26. On January 27, 2010 at 10:26pm, Manggy said...

    Oh noooo! Could it be that… You’re just not that into sugar as much as you used to? HMMMM! :) I’m sure I would have scarfed down a few myself, then we could follow it up with some of your savory Italian-American cooking ;)

  27. On January 27, 2010 at 10:33pm, Jenna said...

    Hi, I was wondering where you sign up for this Daring Baker’s Challenge. I am very interested in joining. All the recipes I’ve seen people doing for this look like fun and a challenge of course. Nice Nanaimo bars.

  28. On January 27, 2010 at 10:45pm, Mary said...

    Glad you liked the graham crackers, at least! They were my favourite part too. I used a pastry cream base to give a custard flavour without the overwhelming sweetness. The base was very buttery, though, and difficult to cut when refrigerator cold and all that butter was hard. And I’m Canadian…

  29. On January 27, 2010 at 10:46pm, ingrid said...

    Sorry to hear that these weren’t your cup of tea. :(

    I’ve heard such great things about the homemade graham crackers. I’m anxious to try my hand at making some.
    ~ingrid

  30. On January 27, 2010 at 11:53pm, Margaret said...

    WOW!! Those look incredible.

    Wish I had had time to do these.

  31. On January 28, 2010 at 12:46am, Lauren said...

    Even if you didn’t enjoy the bars, I’m so glad the graham wafers were a hit! Your photos are awe-inspiring =D. Thanks for trying my challenge!

  32. On January 28, 2010 at 1:48am, Amarok said...

    I know what you mean about the texture! I went through the same thing trying it. Maybe I’m just not a bar person.

    Regardless, yours turned out great!

  33. On January 28, 2010 at 6:42am, Bake in Paris said...

    Beautiful bars with very balanced thickness of each layers. Neat and cool!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,
    Kris

  34. On January 28, 2010 at 8:19am, bellini valli said...

    Since I am from Canda I grew up on these Susan in all it’s forms. You can also make peanut butter, maple, mint…the list in endless.

  35. On January 28, 2010 at 9:00am, yasmeen said...

    Awesome step-by-step pictures.The bars look so elegant :D

  36. On January 28, 2010 at 10:33am, Maybe said...

    It looks delicious ! I’d really like to taste that !

  37. On January 28, 2010 at 11:07am, Teenie Cakes said...

    Your Nanaimo Bars look great…and beautiful photography. I’m with you about the bars…I didn’t do the challenge this month mainly because by the ingredients it really looked too sweet and the flavor combinations were not appealing. I’d have to eat it all or waste it! Congrats on your DB Challenge!

  38. On January 28, 2010 at 11:11am, Jodie said...

    What? These look fabulous. I haven’t done DB for a few months, but I’m going to have to try these!

  39. On January 28, 2010 at 11:33am, Eliana said...

    These look absolutely amazing Susan.

  40. On January 28, 2010 at 1:09pm, megan said...

    I agree the mouth feel was weird on the crust but over all. I like them. Definitly sweet!
    Yours look wonderful!

  41. On January 28, 2010 at 4:41pm, CookiePie said...

    I’m sorry they weren’t to your liking — they sure do look beautiful!!

  42. On January 28, 2010 at 6:32pm, noble pig said...

    Oh geez, yours are the most beautiful I’ve seen.

  43. On January 28, 2010 at 8:30pm, Michelle said...

    Well…. they’re beautiful nonetheless! Great job and lovely photos as usual.

  44. On January 28, 2010 at 11:03pm, Jill @ Jillicious Discoveries said...

    Great pictures!! I love all the step-by-step photos and your bars look beautiful! :)

  45. On January 28, 2010 at 11:33pm, Claire said...

    I agree about the texture but my problem was more the coconut. The graham crackers were AWESOME though. I love your addition of sliced almonds…so pretty.

  46. On January 29, 2010 at 11:03am, Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) said...

    These look so pretty! I’m surprised you didn’t like them, they always look so appealing. I have never tasted them!

  47. On January 29, 2010 at 11:46am, The Food Hunter said...

    I had never heard of these before but I would sure like to try one or two or three…

  48. On January 31, 2010 at 3:24am, sara said...

    Heehee, these were too sweet for me too! Luckily my friends thought they were yummy so they will not go to waste! :) We also made smores with the graham crackers – SO yummy with homemade grahams…I definitely recommend it! :)

  49. On January 31, 2010 at 3:58am, Aparna said...

    They’re lovely. Never knew they were called Mabel bars! I found them a bit too rich and sweet, but no one complained. In fact, my husband and daughter were fighting for the last few pieces!

  50. On March 01, 2010 at 3:44pm, Blaine from Silicone Bakeware said… said...

    I have been trying to make this receipt for weeks and finally did it. I must say that the sweetness in these bars is not missing. I would have to agree that they are too sweet. I am going to try powdered milk in place of the milk and thinner layers of the chocolate/sugar. Also I thought of using pecans rather than the almonds. I will let you know how it turns out.

  51. On March 29, 2012 at 10:36pm, Jan said...

    Nanaimo Bars can be absolutely fabulous, gluten free, & not sooooooo sweet. Use Rice Chrispie cereal (crushed with a rolling pin) in the base rather than home-made Graham Crackers. The filling can be made with pastry cream; once cooled add a 1/2 cup of beaten whipped cream. The surface chocolate can be done with a good semi sweet chocolate ganache. WONDERFUL!

  52. On July 10, 2013 at 4:58pm, Katie said...

    I am the nanaimo bar queen:) I LOVE them!……..I am not a sweet/junk food eater (I am a marathon runner, and a weight trainer!) but these are my weakness! I make a variety of flavours and they’re all to die for. I appreciate your honesty but I hope your bad refer doesn’t stop anyone from giving them a try!

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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