The Daring Bakers' January Challenge - Nanaimo Bars
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 http://www.nanaimo.ca/. (Recipe HERE.)
My guess is that some of my Alaskan and Washingtonian friends will know what Nanaimo bars are. The name comes from the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, where they were first made and where they are hugely popular. I have eaten them once or twice when I lived in Juneau, but have to admit I wasn't fond of them (the bars, I mean; not the British Columians! They're great people.)
The Nanaimo bar is, traditionally, made of three layers: a rich, fudgy layer with graham cracker crumbs, almonds and coconut; a "custard" layer (well, the Canadians call it "custard" but it's more of a buttercream frosting layer); and a semi-sweet chocolate layer. What made this challenge a challenge wasn't putting the bars together, but making, from scratch, one of the ingredients - the graham crackers used for making the crumbs in the bottom layer.
Lauren encouraged everyone to prepare the gluten-free graham cracker recipe, but said we could use the regular (wheat flour) recipe if we wished. That's what I did, because purchasing the tapioca starch, sorghum flour, and glutinous rice flour (which, despite its name is gluten-free), all needed for the gluten-free recipe, was going to be expensive, assuming I could even find all of them.
Now, I mentioned that I wasn't fond of Nanaimo bars when I ate them in Alaska. So to make them a little more to-my-taste, I took some liberties with the recipe. First off, coconut is one of my least favorite foods, so I replaced the coconut in the bottom layer with Rice Krispies. Secondly, that custard layer was way too sticky sweet for my taste, which prompted me to use a little less powdered sugar and a bit more cream; and, thirdly, I added a layer of cherry pastry filling, between the custard layer and the chocolate topping, which also helped to cut the sweetness a bit. Who doesn't like chocolate and cherries together?!
So here we go! The first task was to make the graham crackers. They turned out really tasty - more flavorful than store-bought ones, probably due to the large amount of vanilla in the recipe. Even though I rolled them very thin, they puffed up quite a bit and were thicker than I had hoped they'd be. But they cooked up very crisp and worked well in the recipe, after I pulverized some of them in the food processor. They didn't stay crisp for long, though. By the next day they had become softer, even though they were sealed in a zip-lock bag and even though I live in arid Albuquerque. They were still good, though.
This is the bottom layer, the one that the graham cracker crumbs went into. It's a tasty concoction, for sure. As you see, no coconut in mine. I roasted the almonds, so they were really nutty and crunchy.
Next came the "custard" layer. I put a big dollop of it on top of the fudgy layer and spread it evenly over top. I chilled these two layers for awhile, before going on to my third and non-traditional layer . . .
. . . the cherry filling
Finally came the semi-sweet chocolate topping. It was just semi-sweet chocolate with a dab of butter, melted together. After this final layer was added, I chilled the bars over-night. I had a hard time cutting them and getting them out of the pan, but they actually came out looking pretty nice. Dan and I each got a small piece, to taste-test, but most of the bars went to a dinner we were going to that evening. I thought the changes I made improved the Nanaimo bars, but I wasn't prepared for all the complements I received at the dinner. I had a stream of people coming to me, raving about the bars. And they were all gone before I even got one, myself. It was a good thing that I got that little taste-test earlier in the day!