Daring Bakers: Nanaimo Bars & A Surprise!

I've had Nanaimo Bars on my list of recipes to make "someday". My recipe list comes in many varieties. I've bookmarked recipes that I've found on one of many favorite food blogs, or the stack of magazines with beautiful pictures and delicious sounding recipes that I've kept for years, or the recipes that I've printed out and actually filed them in my recipe binder which seems to grow daily. So when I saw this challenge, I was excited to cross this dessert off my list and complete another Daring Bakers challenge.

Before I get into the details of this challenge, let me introduce our hostess, the writer of one of my favorite blogs:

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/.

I've been following Lauren's blog Celiac Teen for several months now and have gotten to know her through her wonderful and informational blog. Her posts are always a delight to read and I learn something new about baking gluten-free. She challenged us to make our own graham crackers, either gluten-free or with wheat flour (according to our preference) and then the Nanaimo Bars which incorporate the graham crackers in the bottom layer of the bars.

Lauren explains what Nanaimo Bars are:

"Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh. These bars have 3 layers: a base containing graham crackers, cocoa, coconut and nuts, a middle custard layer, and a topping of chocolate. They are extremely rich and available almost everywhere across the country."

[Check out this website for more details about how Nanaimo Bars and the history.]

As we did have the option to make regular graham crackers, I went with what ingredients I had on hand and will share the recipe that I followed. If you would like the recipe for the gluten-free version, click here.

Although these bars are full of the ingredients that I enjoy (chocolate, nuts, coconut, etc.) the BIG SURPRISE of this challenge was the graham cracker recipe.

These graham crackers are the best I've ever had and I will never purchase the store brand graham crackers again. These were AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS!! Once you've had something so good, it's impossible to go back to an inferior product. If the challenge had stopped here, I would have been 100% satisfied with these alone. Since making them, I've been thinking about different varieties and ideas to incorporate these in other desserts--more about that in a later post.

Of course, I just had to make them in several shapes and sizes--you know, if they are a bite size, then you can eat more of them!

Seriously, these pictures don't do these wonderfully tasty crackers justice. You NEED to make these and taste for yourself. They are my new favorite snack and I have to say THANK YOU Lauren for including this recipe in our challenge.

Now for the recipe. *My notes are in this color.

Graham Cracker Recipe
From 101 Cookbooks

2 1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
*1/2 tsp. cinnamon--I added this for a little extra zing and it worked well with the other ingredients.
3 1/2 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover *I used an organic wildflower honey--great subtle flavor.
5 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. 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. *I chilled my dough for about 2 hours and after taking it out of the refrigerator, I let it sit for about 5 minutes, before rolling it out.  If you keep it floured, so it doesn't stick, you won't have any problems.

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. *I used Silpats and they worked great.

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 re-roll. 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. *I baked mine for about 18 minutes.

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.

The other part of the challenge was making the Nanaimo Bars with all three layers, either following the recipe given or adapting it with our own flavor choices. Of course I immediately thought of something Hawaiian and tropical, so I adjusted the recipe to include more coconut flavoring and macadamia nuts.

Overall, I thought the bars were delicious looking, but a bit too rich for my taste. The middle layer was too sugary and sweet and if I were to make them again, I'd replace the middle layer with a higher quality filling, such as a pastry cream or custard. Also, after sampling the AWESOME graham crackers and LOVING them, I was bummed to discover that once they were made into crumbs and folded into the bottom layer, I could no longer taste them and they were really only in there for the texture.  Because they were so rich, I cut them into small bite-size squares, which was plenty for one serving.

Nanaimo Bars
*Coconut-Macadamia Nut 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, Beaten1 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) *I used unsweetened coconut and roasted macadamia nuts.

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
*pinch of salt
*coconut extract

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.

Additional Information:
These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.

Thanks again Lauren, for a fun challenge and be sure to visit the other Daring Bakers' blogs for more creative ideas.

Monday Must Have: The Beater Blade (and the reason I've been M.I.A.)

I know, I know, it's been three weeks since my one and only post in January so far. But it's Monday, so let's start with the Monday Must Have and then if you want to know more about what I've been up to, I'll give you the scoop.

I've had my eye on this kitchen gadget for a few months now. I've read some reviews, kept eyeing it at the store and hoped that it would go on sale. It didn't, but after reading positive reviews and promising to treat myself after the busy holidays, I finally purchased a Beater Blade for my Kitchen Aid mixer.

I use the paddle attachment (see the attachment on the left in the above picture) for most of my mixing needs; cakes, cheesecakes, cupcakes, some types of frosting, muffins, cookies and more, and I've always been pleased with the results. What really intrigued me with the idea of the Beater Blade, is that it is supposed to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixer bowl, so you don't have to scrape as often with a spatula. And the fact, that it looked like a very cool gadget. So last week, I finally purchased one and the first chance I had, I used it.

The package lists a few claims that the Beater Blade can do to make the mixing process even better:

1) Scrapes the dimple at the bottom.
2) Virtually eliminates hand scraping and batter build-up.
3) Cuts mixing time by as much as 50%.

I wanted to know if the Beater Blade claims were going to be as fantastic as they sounded, so I tested it on three different 5-inch cakes that I made for a Wedding Consultation for the bride to sample. Each of the cakes have very specific mixing methods and all needed to have the bowl scraped down from time to time during the mixing process.

The first cake batter that I mixed, was completely mixed in about half the time and because I didn't have to stop and scrape the bowl several times, it really was much faster! I used it on the second and third cakes and I was very happy with the results--less mixing time, and the batter was mixed completely and my cakes turned out the way they were supposed to.

The biggest test was the bottom of the mixing bowl, where the butter in these types of mixing methods, tends to collect and I always need to be sure to scrape it very well and make sure it gets incorporated in the batter, especially with larger amounts of batter. Every time I checked that problem spot it was clean and all the ingredients were uniformly mixed into the batter. *Note the bottom part of the Beater Blade and how it is set up to scrape even that hard-to-reach area when using the regular paddle attachment.

You can see how the bottom of the mixer bowl is raised in the middle and since the Beater Blade has the scraper split in the middle, it is very effective in scraping the bowl very clean and incorporating it throughout the batter.

Everything that the package said the Beater Blade could do, it did. I will continue to use this attachment with many future baking needs. The website suggests that this can replace your paddle attachment. However, I still love the paddle attachment and I don't mind scraping down my mixer bowl from time to time. I think both attachments are a valuable asset to any kitchen, especially if you are a serious baker and bake quite often. I would definitely recommend the Beater Blade to anyone who would like to save a bit of time during the mixing process.

OK, so now let me explain what I've been doing for the last three weeks. After finishing a busy holiday season, I took advantage of the first week being very slow (you know, everyone is starting diets and new year's resolutions to not eat sweets, etc.) and I have been thinking about what changes I want to make in my own life. I also took a week off from baking, just to have some time to clear my head and enjoy a little vacation from work.

So nothing too major, just took some time off, did somethings just for me, and even had some friends come and visit from out-of-town. I also taught a cake decorating class here in the
Jillicious Kitchen and have been working on getting desserts ready for the Valentine's Day menu. I'm still trying to figure out what changes I want to make in my personal life and business life too--but that seems to be an on-going process and when I figure it all out, I'll keep you updated.

Although many of you who read my blog, I haven't met in person, I feel like I do know some of you and for those of you who sent me kind emails inquiring of my whereabouts, I really appreciated it and want to say a BIG THANK YOU!! Those emails and comments really made my day. I've really missed reading your blogs and I will be catching up on those this week as well. Again, thank you for the wonderful support and caring that you've shown me over the past few months as I've worked on this blog.

Monday Must Have: Book List for 2010

One of my 2010 New Year's Resolutions is to take time to read more food books.

Let me explain what I mean by food books. Of course cookbooks are always something that I think one can never have too many of (and believe me, I test this theory every chance I get), but I'm referring to books that are written about food, the history of food, people's experiences with food or in the food industry, food from different cultures or food theme novels, and so on.

I received several fascinating books from my sister for Christmas, that I'm dying to read and have already started (THANK YOU again sis!!) and that inspired me to create a themed book list for 2010.

So here is the Monday Must Have challenge for you; whatever your reading interests are (food, biographies, mystery, drama, fiction, non-fiction, etc.), to compile a list of books that you want to read by the end of the year.

I've started a list of books already on my shelf. Started is the key word, this is the beginning of my 2010 list that I will continue to add to during the year. And to hold myself a little more accountable, when I've finished the book, I will post a summary and my thoughts about the book and list them over on the side bar under the title, 2010 Book List.

Jill's 2010 Book List (so far):

1) My Life in France [by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme] *I started this before the holidays and I need to finish it this month.

2) The Art of Eating [by M.F.K. Fisher]
*This is a compilation of five of her books:
Serve it Forth
Consider the Oyster
How to Cook a Wolf
The Gastronomical Me
An Alphabet for Gourmets

3) Pomegranate Soup [by Marsha Mehran]

4) Rosewater and Soda Bread [by Marsha Mehran]

5) Tender at the Bone [by Ruth Reichl]

6) Comfort Me with Apples [by Ruth Reichl]

7) If You Can Stand the Heat [by Dawn Davis]

8) The Food of Italy [by Waverly Root] *This is a second read--I first read it in culinary school five years ago and I think it would be interesting to see what more I get out of it now.

9) Blue Trout and Black Truffles [by Joseph Wechsberg]

10) Roast Chicken and Other Stories [by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham]

I'd love to know what books you are looking forward to reading in 2010 and of course recommendations are ALWAYS welcome!