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Nanook of the North and Daring Bakers

January 27, 2010

Growing up across the river from Canada, it is not surprising that I developed a lasting affection for the sport of hockey, the  handy ability to remain calm when driving through twenty inches of snow, and the endearing habit of throwing in an occasional “eh” at the end of my sentences. I have not lived in my hometown for over fifteen years, and yet, all of these traits remain an integral part of who I am. And, yes, I still consider myself to be part Canadian.

When this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge was announced, my affinity for all things Canadian was tested just a little.  A beloved Canadian dessert, the Nanaimo Bar, had been selected. Mind you, I have never made, nor eaten, a Nanaimo Bar, a fact which comes in direct conflict with everything I wrote in my opening.  However, as the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver approach , it seemed such a fitting choice for this month’s challenge that I was willing to overlook how un-Canadian it may prove me to be.

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 It is pronounced nah-NYE-moh, though my husband and I quickly abandoned that in favor of calling it the “Nanook of the North” bar, or Nanook for short.

Nanaimo Bars, or as we started calling them, Nanook Bars

Reading through the recipe, I didn’t realize how much like a mixture of cake and pie this dessert truly is. The major players of the bottom crust are crushed graham crackers, coconut (which I omitted), chopped almonds, cocoa and butter. The middle layer is basically buttercream, with the addition of some custard powder (or in my case, the equivalent measurement of Trader Joe’s Vanilla Pudding Mix). Over all of that one finds a quite ordinary chocolate ganache layer.

The only actual baking in this challenge came from creating homemade graham crackers, and for this alone I am happy to have participated in this month’s challenge.  I did not make mine gluten free, as was encouraged by Lauren, the host. I wasn’t motivated to buy the extra (gluten-free) flours required to make gluten free graham crackers, because it simply doesn’t fit my MO  right now, which is to say, no extraneous ingredients crowding my pantry.  But the graham crackers I chose to make were fantastic. Easy to assemble, easy to roll out, easy to cut and easy to bake.  My kids will tell you, they are also easy to eat!  If you can make a sugar cookie, you can make a homemade graham cracker.

Once the graham crackers are baked and cooled, assembling the Nanaimo Bars is a matter of creating the chocolate-coconut-cracker-almond crust and pressing it into a pan, whipping together the buttercream layer and pressing it onto the crust, then topping the whole thing with a cooled melted chocolate ganache mixture.

To me, the end result is pleasant enough. My older daughter tried it and proclaimed, “This ROCKS, mom.” I’ll take that as a compliment. My husband is downstairs at this very moment lamenting the disappearance of the last of the Nanaimo Bars. Safe to say he liked them, too. Considering the ease with which one can make the basic model of Nanaimo Bar, it is something every dessert lover may want to try once. In fact, I might be tempted to make it again, if only to use up the remaining homemade graham crackers that I baked.

However, this is not my perfect dessert. Hubs is convinced that I need to add the requisite coconut to the crust to attain the proper texture. But I do not care for packaged coconut, so this would really only serve to prevent me from fully embracing this dessert. Plus, I make a three-layer chocolate cake with layers of buttercream frosting and a coating of ganache that is, in my mind, much more worthy of the splurge of calories. I think that the first layer (the crust) is too similar in texture and taste to the other layers, without adding any nuance or saltiness or outstanding crunch, and therefore leaves the whole bar cloyingly sweet. I keep a container of vanilla buttercream on hand in my fridge most of the time, and eating a piece of the Nanaimo Bar felt distinctly like I had been dipping into that container, albeit with a chocolate coated spoon.

In the end, I guess I am just not pseudo-Canadian enough to totally fall for the Nanaimo Bar. Perhaps when I open my own bakery/cafe, I should consider serving this, if only to add some international flare to the place!

Homemade Graham Wafers


2 1/4 c (303 g) unbleached 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-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (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. 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.
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 ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

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, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces)  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)

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

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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2010 11:01 pm

    I absolutely LOVE your picture of the Nanaimo Bars and Graham Crackers–they look perfect! 🙂


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