Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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 www.nanaimo.ca.

Growing up with Nanaimo bars, it was only recently that I realized that not everyone is familiar with them. In fact, it seems that most people I encounter are not. Like the geoduck, I think perhaps it is a case where familiarity is based on locale (I'm not sure you can grow up in the Northwest without having dug after geoducks in the sand, though perhaps this was also in part due to my childhood home's proximity to the beach).

Let's start with a geography lesson. Nanaimo is a seaside town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia across the Straight of Georgia from the city of Vancouver, BC. I've been there once for an ill-timed camping trip (it rained all weekend). From Seattle, the trek involves a drive to outside of Vancouver, then a ferry to get to Vancouver Island and the town of Nanaimo.


Why the lesson on Nanaimo? As you can probably guess, it's the namesake of this month's Daring Bakers' challenge - the Nanaimo bar! They are apparently quite popular across Canada and have definitely made their way across the boarder into the bakeries of Washington state. It seems they haven't caught on too far south of that, however. I'm guessing this challenge will change that.

The Nanaimo bar is a layered dessert - bottom layer: graham crackers, nuts, coconut, chocolate; middle layer: custard; top layer: chocolate. Butter is one of the main ingredients of each of the layers, so it's destined to be tasty. There were two components of the Nanaimo bar instructions for this month's challenge to make it challenging: we were to make the graham crackers from scratch (!) with the optional additional challenge of making the graham crackers gluten-free.

Though I like playing with different types of flour, I didn't take on the gluten free challenge. I decided that the graham crackers and Nanaimo bars would be enough for me this time. Here's what I did:

Nanaimo Bars
Make 8x8 pan of delicious bars

Bottom layer:
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. granulated sugar
5 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (graham cracker recipe follows)
1/2 c. almonds, finely chopped
1 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut

Middle layer:
1/2 c. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder (or substitute instant pudding powder)
2 c. powdered sugar

Top layer:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate*
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
*I had bittersweet on hand, so substituted that, which I thought turned out to be a good call since the overall bar is so sweet, the bittersweet chocolate toned it down a bit.

To make bottom layer: Melt butter, sugar, and cocoa in the top of a double boiler (I constructed one out of a pan and heat-proof bowl, with a round of foil to keep the bowl elevated over the water). Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, nuts, and coconut. Press firmly into ungreased 8x8 pan.

Middle layer: Cream together all ingredients, beating until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.

Top layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Allow to cool, then pour over middle layer and chill.

Once chilled, cut into bars.


Graham Crackers
Makes 1 1/2 - 2 dozen

2 1/2c. + 2 Tbsp. flour
1 c. dark brown sugar, lightly packed*
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1" cubes and frozen
1/3 c. mild flavored honey, such as clover
5 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla
*I used dark muscavado, which gave the graham crackers a slightly gingerbread-like flavor that was super tasty.

Combine flour, sugar, soda, and salt in electric mixer with paddle attachment. Add butter and mix on low until it is the consistency of coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together honey, milk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mix. Mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. (Note: my dough wasn't coming together at this point - possibly due to my sloppy flour measurement - so I added a tiny bit more honey and milk, which solved the issue).

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into two and pat each into a 1" thick rectangle. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm (2 hours or overnight).

Flour work surface and roll first rectangle of dough out to 1/8" thick. Trim edges and cut dough into 3"x4" rectangles. Place crackers on parchment lined baking sheets. Chill until firm (about 30 minutes). Repeat with remaining dough.

With a butter knife, make a vertical line down the center of each cracker and another horizontally (taking care not to cut through). Use a toothpick to decorate further, if desired.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until browned and firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway to ensure even baking.

One year ago: pear gorgonzola pizza

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