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.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate dessert to make right now, considering the Olympics are just around the corner. For those of you who are not familiar with Nanaimo Bars, they hail from Nanaimo, British Columbia, and are more or less the official dessert of BC. Seriously, they are everywhere.
That said, I already knew off the bat that I have an extremely strong dislike for Nanaimo bars. I really enjoyed this challenge, however, because it allowed me to pinpoint exactly why I detest them so much. The middle layer is always described as a “custard”… which I think of as kind of a thick pastry cream or pudding. I like custard. I do not, however, like the “custard” layer AT ALL. Now that I’ve made it, I realize that it’s hardly a custard, but more of a glorified buttercream… and I loathe frosting. Seriously, hate it. That nauseatingly sweet, tooth-dissolving flavor and texture is a HUGE turn off for me. But please, don’t let MY dislike of Nanaimo Bars turn you off. A simple test – if you savor the frosting on your cupcake and save it to the very end, make these – fast! If, like me, you try to wipe off every last drop and still wind up throwing out half of the cake because it is too “tainted” with frosting…. well, just make these for your Olympic opening ceremonies party, but pass on trying one out yourself. :)
The first part of the challenge was to make homemade graham crackers. I opted to pass on the gluten free version, not because I am opposed to gluten free baking, but I am making an extreme effort to cut down on groceries, and by making these with regular all-purpose flour, I already had all the ingredients on hand. I rolled out my dough on the thicker side, and LOVED the results. Instead of crunchy like a normal graham cracker, it had the exact same flavor, but was soft, similar to the difference between a gingerbread cookie and actual gingerbread. I liked these so much that I’m not sure if I’ll ever buy another packaged thin crispy graham cracker again!
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
7 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup honey
5 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the cubed butter and cut in until the mixture forms a coarse meal.
Whisk together honey, milk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together.
Turn the dough onto plastic wrap and chill until firm, 2 hours or overnight.
Sift a layer of flour on the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle (depending on the size of your work surface, you may want to divide into two balls of dough), about 1/8 inch thick (mine were 1/4 inch think). Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Move to parchment-lined baking sheets and prick surface with a fork.
Bake for 12 minutes at 350F, or until golden brown in color.
For Bottom Layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
For Middle Layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder or vanilla pudding mix
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
For Top Layer:
4 ounce semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Melt unsalted butter, sugar, and cocoa in the top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, nuts, and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8x8 inch pan.
Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and confectioner’s sugar together. Beat until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.
Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.