Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jan 27, 2010: Daring Bakers' Knockout Gluten

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

Mandatory for this challenge:
1/ Make graham wafers. And the optional challenge will be about learning the chemistry of gluten-free flours and seeing how sometimes a restriction can make the end-product even more exciting!

2/ The second mandatory facet to this challenge is that the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are coming! Being in Canada, I am very thrilled to see them (even just on TV!). In a way to welcome everyone to Canada, we will be making Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars.

[As usual, my comments are in red: One reason I joined the Daring Bakers was to learn new techniques and try out new flavors. For that reason, I'm trying something new and making the gluten-free version of this recipe.

Also, see Lauren's blog, Celiac Teen, for more gluten-free tips.]

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. I used to buy them at the grocery store before going gluten-free.

Recipe Source: Graham Wafers — 101 Cookbooks ( I adapted it to be gluten-free. The adapted recipe is below.

Nanaimo Bars — City of Nanaimo (

Notes for gluten-free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars:
• Glutinous rice flour does not contain any gluten, as it is made from a type of rice called glutinous (or sweet) rice.

• The graham wafer dough is very sticky. Make sure you are flouring (with sweet rice flour) well, or the dough will be difficult to remove from the surface you roll it out on. Also be sure to keep it cold. You do not want the butter to melt.

• I chose these flours because of their availability. Tapioca starch/flour and sweet rice flour can often be found in Asian grocery stores, or in the Asian section of you grocery store. Sorghum can be slightly more difficult to find, but it can be replaced with brown rice flour, millet flour or other alternatives.

• In the Nanaimo Bars, it is very important that the chocolate be cool but still a liquid, otherwise the custard layer will melt, and it will mix with the chocolate, being difficult to spread. Allow the chocolate mixture to come to room temperature but not solidify before spreading the top layer on.

• If making them gluten-free, no wheat, barley, rye, triticale, kamut, spelt, durum, semolina, or other gluten containing ingredients may be used. Removing those ingredients ensures it is safe for those with Celiac Disease and other health issues where gluten causes problems. If you do plan on serving this to someone on a gluten-free diet, also ensure no cross-contamination occurs.

[Here are the products that are unique to this challenge.
The sorghum flour was the most expensive at $3.50 a bag. I could have tried searching harder to find this product in bulk, but I didn't have the time. The glutinous rice flour and the tapioca starch are easily found in Asian markets, plus they are very inexpensive $0.89 and less, if you go to a large chain Asian market.]

[It's difficult to see, but in the upper left white powder is the tapioca starch - which was very much like corn starch being smooth, finely ground and silky. The upper right powder is the glutinous rice flour. The grind is similar to flour. One the bottom third of the image is the sorghum flour. The grind is similar to whole wheat flour.]

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
[I made a half recipe of Graham wafers which turned out to be enough to make the full Nanaimo recipe.]
1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour) [70 g]
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour [50 g]
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour [33 g]
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed [100g]
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda [1/2 t]
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt [1/4 t plain salt]
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen) [50 g]
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover. [2T and 2t]
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk [2 1/2 T]
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract [1T]


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.

[I followed the direction and did freeze the butter. However, in hindsight, I could have just used cold butter for easier processing.]

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.

[As described in step 2, the mixture is quite sticky and wet]

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.

[Surprisingly, by generously coating the dough with glutinous rice flour, helped immensely to prevent sticking to counter, but I had my bench scraper handy when needed.]

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.

[The dough was cut into 4" x 4" squares - approximately since they're more rectangular than square... lol.]

Also, note the neat new silicone baking mat I received for my b-day from my bro and sister in-law. Also, a handy-dandy bench scraper I received from S for X-mas. I'm ready for baking challenges in 2010! :-) ]

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.

[The recipe was spot on with the baking time, 25 minutes. I baked10 mins and rotated for another 10 minute baking. The dough was still a little soft so baked 5 more minutes. This did the trick. The cookie firmed up.]

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.

Making the 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 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.

[I found it easier and cleaner to use a Ziploc as a glove while pressing the bottom layer into the 8 by 8. The layer was chilled while I finished the middle and top layers.]

Middle Layer
- A buttercream frosting
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.) [I used Jell-O Instant Pudding which uses no wheat products so it's gluten-free.]
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

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

[The middle layer is just a buttercream frosting... which I spread across the bottom layer.]

Top Layer - a chocolate layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

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

[The final layer! Whoo-hooo!]

[After the final layer was applied, the Nanaimo was covered with cling wrap and refrigerated overnight.]

Finished Product:
After refrigerating overnight, the bars where cut and dished out.
The recipe called for an ungreased 8 x 8 so extracting the bars from the dish was tricky since the bottom layer is sticky.

The bars turned out nicely - a bit sweet for me, but I don't really like sweets. The bottom layer was chewy, but full of chocolate and coconut flavor. The middle was firm, but melted easily in my mouth. The top layer is chocolate. You can't go wrong with chocolate! :-)

The best thing is that you can't tell this is a gluten-free recipe. It has all the fat, flavor and sugar of a regular wheat flour recipe.

Thank you Lauren for providing us a gluten-free recipe.


Anna said...

Kudos for trying the gluten free version! I wasn't so brave (and didn't have funds to buy all those different flours...). Way to go with the plastic bag on your hand - I'm just blond and didn't think of that myself :P You nanaimo looks great! :)
Cheers! Anula.

Wic said...

lovely step by step pictures. it looks delicious. great work with this challenge.

Pontch said...

i love your bars
and the step by step pictures :))

Shawn said...

Beautiful bars! Very sweet tasting. Couldn't tell at all that they were gluten-free. Congrats on another job well-done!

Audax said...

John wonderful you did the gf version. And the final result are so delicious looking and the layers are so even and straight. Great photo series as always. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

Lauren said...

I'm so glad you gave the gluten-free recipe a shot! Your wafers and bars look sensational =D. Fantastic job on my challenge!

Angelica said...

Wow, i think you're the 1st DBer so far that i saw who found Sorghum flour, kudos to you! Your bars look amazing, i'm awed by anyone who could produce such nicely cut, un-smugded nanaimo bars!

Eat4Fun said...

Shawn: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the bars... Yes, they were sweet. I should have cut them into smaller squares.

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

Perfect bars. It was too sweet for me too so I cut down on the sugar in the middle layer. Yeah, you really cannot go wrong with chocolate!
Lucky you, your gifts came in handy here. :)

Lisa said...

Awww, John, you always make me feel better about my photos. However, if I could get photos like yours, especially the prep ones, I'd be happy as a pig in..well you know and would do more step by step entries instead of collaging the step by steps. Yours are so perfectly sharp and clear! Finally, your Namaimo's turned out amazing, textbook perfect, but I'm not surprised Mr. talented one :)