Homemade Graham Crackers & Nanaimo Bars

nanaimo bars

It is that time of the month again…time for a post about baking instead of ice cream…time for the Daring Bakers Challenge.  I had mixed feelings about the January Daring Bakers challenge.  I was excited to try making homemade graham crackers because graham crackers are a favorite childhood treat of mine.  I was excited because the recipe was gluten free.  I was excited because I would have the chance to use my beautiful, new Sophie Conran rolling pin that I received for Christmas.

I was not excited about this month’s DB challenge because it had so many steps.  I was not excited when I could not find one of the ingredients (sweet rice flour) in ANY of the stores near me and I did not have time to order it.  I was not excited that this recipe appeared be choc full of sugar and butter.  Usually that is not a problem, but too much is just too much.

homemade graham crackers prep

Despite some of my disappointments, I decided to get started on the recipe a few weeks ago.  My first task was to make the graham crackers.  As I mentioned above, they were supposed to be gluten free, and as much as I would have liked to make them that way I could not find all of the ingredients.  So I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the gluten free flours.  The dough was very easy to make and came together well.  With a liberal dusting of flour, the dough rolled out easily (especially with the help of my new roller and dough bands).  In the future, I would consider rolling out the dough on a Silpat or other non stick surface because I had a hard time getting the dough off on the counter and onto the cookie sheet.  Once in place, the graham crackers baked in about half the time that was suggested for the gluten free version.  Toasty brown with just the right amount of sweetness…these crackers were addicting.  I ground up enough crackers for the Nanaimo bar recipe, stuck them in the fridge, and waited until the following weekend to finish the challenge.

homemade graham crackers

Step number two in the challenge was to use the graham crackers to make the Nanaimo Bars.  The base of these layer bars is composed of butter, sugar, cocoa powder and eggs.  Some of the steps involved in making the base were kind of strange to me.  The butter, sugar and cocoa powder came together okay, but I was a bit confused when the next step said “add egg and stir to cook and thicken.”  Cook the egg?  Shouldn’t I temper the egg first?  Well I added the egg as directed and the mixture was instantly gross.  The egg  cooked alright but into little chunks and the chocolate mixture separated.  Down the drain it went.  Attempt number two was much more successful when I used some of the chocolate mixture to temper the egg before I added it to the rest of the chocolate.  I immediately removed the mixture from the heat and added the mix-ins (ground graham cracker, almonds, and coconut).  The finally product was almost doughy and pressed into the bottom of the pan well.

nanaimo bars prep

The second layer made me leary.  It was a sickening sweet layer of buttercream (flavored with vanilla pudding mix…bleh).  The third layer was chocolate and butter…always good.  I stuck the final product in the fridge for a little while and it set just as instructed.  I cut a piece for myself to try and just as predicted, it was ridiculously sweet.  I really enjoyed the bottom layer and could have eaten that by itself.

nanaimo bars 2

Since I put this recipe together the day of the NFC Championship (Go Saints!), I took the bars along with me to a party.  The bars were a hit.  Although I don’t think I would make these bars again for myself, I will probably keep the recipe as a party recipe.  And I will definitely make the graham crackers 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.

Graham Crackers
Recipe adapated from 101 Cookbooks and GF adaptations by Celiac Teen

2 1/4 cups (303 g) wheat pastry flour*
1 cup (200 g) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) 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

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour, 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.

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.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

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.

Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

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.

Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

Bake for 10-12 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.

When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups 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.

*For gluten-free graham crackers, substitute the following flours for the all-purpose flour:
1 cup (138 g) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) Sorghum Flour

Baking time will increase to around 25 minutes with these adjustments.

Nanaimo Bars
Recipe by City of Nanaimo

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (160 g) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) Coconut (Shredded, unsweetened)

Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder or vanilla pudding mix
2 cups (254 g) Confectioners Sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) Unsalted Butter

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.

For middle layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

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

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