Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nanaimo Bars ... Eh??

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

Nanaimo Bar has got be one of the worlds most perfect foods. When they were announced for this month's bakers challenge.....I was tickled and a little perplexed. I was pretty excited to make them because I don't make them very often, although I do love them.......they are so easy to find here in the grocery stores and you are almost assured to find some at any luncheon you might attend......but perplexed that this unbaked dessert had been selected for a 'bakers challenge'. After reading further into the challenge, I discovered that the baking portion of the challenge was to be making the graham crackers from it all made sense! Graham crackers are one of the most common staple snacks to have on hand for families with little kids. I myself don't keep them in the cupboard, probably because my mom never did. This challenge reminded me that I have on occasion eaten a lightly buttered graham cracker as a snack and they are good. I was well on my way to getting very excited about this challenge. The recipe provided has received great comments on it's goodness and I would encourage you to give it a try. I chose to use this recipe but substituted graham flour for the total amount of gluten free flours recommended. For me it really wouldn't be a graham cracker if I didn't use graham flour, and I was very very curious to see just how much better a homemade graham cracker might be than a store bought one. Plus I had all the flours necessary to make a traditional graham flour version. The recipe provided lacked the wheat germ and wheat bran which give graham crackers their distinctive flavour. If you happen to have wheat germ and wheat bran on hand (oddly enough I did) you can make your own graham flour as per the link above. In the future I would like to try the gluten free version to see if they actually taste like a graham cracker, as it did get very good feedback from other bakers.

As it happens...the home baked graham crackers were really nice. The dough was quite sticky to work with and I floured the board very liberally with rice flour while working with it. The crumb of the cracker is finer than that of store bought ones. Very nice for a snack just on their own and I will most definitely make some more for Ike to have after school since he has already gobbled up the extras I had. (I only made a 1/2 batch)
The Naniamo/New York debate- There has been some controversy over the origins of this dessert. Some claim its origins to be Vancouver Island (Nanaimo Bars)....while others claim it originated in the US under the name New York Slice. I myself had never heard of a Nanaimo Bar until I was in high school when they had a resurgence in popularity and they became widely available in the grocery stores. At that time I discovered that Nanaimo Bar=New York Special........they are exactly the same thing. Certainly I had eaten more than my share of Nanaimo Bars up to that point, but in our house the recipe in my mom's recipe box had always been labeled 'New York Special'. My mother grew up having these bars at many a bridal shower or baby shower. If there was a get together you were just about guaranteed to run into a pan of these. That was in 1950-1953 and they were called New York Special. Sometimes the butter cream layer was tinted pink and sometimes green just to make it pretty......probably to match the dyed bread ribbon sandwiches which you could also bank on seeing at any bridal or baby shower in the area. Perhaps it is a regional for me they will always be New York Special, and when someone says Nanaimo Bar.....I still have to do the translation in my head. Regardless of it's origins......the Bar is certainly more pervasive in the Canadian dessert repertoire now than it is in the US. It is this persistent production that drives the sale of Birds Custard powder in Canada. It always struck me as odd that the butter cream layer (yes it is a buttercream layer flavoured with custard is not a 'custard' layer) used custard powder to flavour it. I was never really keen on the uncooked cornstarch (the major component of custard powder) being in that layer....yuck!....and I swear that I can taste the uncooked corn starch.......but I suppose there is an amount of cornstarch in icing sugar anyway......
All questions of its origins is very popular here in Canada like no where else. Whether it was ours to begins with or certainly is ours now. The recipe provided below is very similar to the original with a slight increase in the ratio of coconut to graham crumb, a substitution of almonds over the more traditional walnut, and the use of unsalted butter. Since I had almonds on hand I decided to give them a try......although I think I'd prefer the texture of the walnut better. I also toasted the almonds which made the bottom layer very much tasting like a burnt almond chocolate bar. Although this is not a bad thing, it is really not the way a 'Nanaimo Bar' should taste and I would definitely not use the almonds again.....but now I know:)

Canadian cooking is certainly a tree with very broad roots, and it is wonderful that the span of these roots continues to grow and evolve. I'm certain that years from now the cooking which defines Canada will be even more varied. Off the top of my head, these are a few foods that strike me as being 'Canadian'. They may not all be 'distinctly Canadian' .....but if you are've likely had a good number of these or at the very least know what they are. Canadian cooking is very regional.
  • Tourtiere (very good with gravy or ketchup)
  • French Canadian Pea Soup (kicks ass on green pea any day)
  • Fried Bannock (OMGoodness that stuff is good)
  • Jiggs Dinner (an odd one....but super easy and quite tasty)
  • Poutine (french fries and gravy...good already I know....well add some cheese curds)
  • Wild Rice
  • Ginger Beef (Alberta Style twice fried beef in a sweet and ginger spicy sauce)
  • Matrimonial Slice (deceivingly good date and oatmeal squares)
  • Butter Tarts (delicious straight out of the freezer)
  • Persians (if you like cinnamon buns...these are even better)
  • Flapper Pie
  • Saskatoon Pie
  • Sugar Pie
  • Grand Pere au Syrop
  • Figgy Duff
  • Bloody Caesar (Bloody Mary doesn't stand a chance poor girl:( )
Now...for the Challenge Recipe....

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
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-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) Gluten Free 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.

If you'd like to see some other Nanaimo Bar results have a look over at the Daring Bakers.


Jen said...

Wow. I love the history of this little treat, especially being that I'm from NY. Funny, I have never ever seen them here. And, I totally agreed with your thoughts on the graham flour and the uncooked cornstarch in the middle layer. However, when they were all done they were pretty addictive. I'm definitely putting mine in the freezer to save myself.

Next Canadian classic to tackle - the pea soup.

LittleRed said...

Well if you go to any Tim Horton's coffee shop they sell them there, and you can compare the taste.

Felicity Lingle said...

God those look yummy!!

Nadia said...

ur bars really look very neat, great work

Shelley said...

Your bars look great, and I really enjoyed the story about the New York Slice. I am originally from PEI, and had never heard them called either name, so go figure!
Your blog is really interesting!

Anonymous said...

They look awesome. It takes me back fifty years when these were on the top ten bake list and they were expected to be seen at ALL bridal and baby showers....and they were.
Good Job...


LittleRed said...

Thanks everyone:) I really got a lot out of this challenge and hope to make the graham crackers again....also was fun to make the bars....but way too much fun to eat.