Yahoo!  January 27th is finally here!  That means I get to post my first Daring Bakers Challenge for you all.

What is this challenge and where did it come from? Well each month two challenges come out of a magical place called The Daring Kitchen, one for bakers and one for cooks.   Every member must follow the recipe challenge to a tee, no substitutions or alterations allowed unless they are either okayed by the author of the challenge ahead of time or it is necessary to maintain dietary restrictions.  Then, on the same day all across the blogosphere…Did you know blogosphere is a real word now?  True story, Merriam-Webster approved! So anyway…On the SAME day all across the blogosphere daring kitchen members post the results of their adventure. If you’re a daring baker, that day would be the 27th of each month.  Pretty cool right?  Or dorky, but whatever, I think it’s cool!

This month’s baking challenge was…drum roll please…

Keep rolling…

Keep rolling…

Keep rolling…

Nanaimo bars!   And Graham Crackers to go in the Nanaimo bars. That probably would have been more dramatic if it hadn’t been the title of the post.

Alright so nooow, you’re going to ask me what in the heck are Nanaimo bars?  That’ll be a mini-history lesson as well.  The legendary Nanaimo Bars come from the Canadian city Nanaimo (duh!).   You can read the real history here, but my belief is that a cold Canadian housewife decided to develop this most heart stoppingly rich desert just to keep her family warm!

As you can see, the Nanaimo Bar has three parts to it.  A bottom brownie-like layer of chocolate and graham cracker, a middle vanilla oh-so-rich custard layer, and thinner rich chocolate layer to top it off.  Probably the most difficult piece of this challenge, but the second most satisfying (comes after eating the finished Nanaimo bar of course) is making a graham cracker from scratch.

The original challenge called for these graham crackers to be made gluten-free, but author of the challenge understood that for poor starving medical students gluten-free ingredients just aren’t in the budget and provided a legal wheat alternative, which  I gratefully accepted.  The alternative recipe came from 101 Cookbooks.  You can find the gluten-free recipe here, but I’m only going to include the gluten-full version in my post because that is what I made.  I did include small adaptations to make it dairy-free, but otherwise both recipes are verbatim.

Graham Crackers:

2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

7 tablespoons unsalted margarine, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen

1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover

5 tablespoons lite coconut milk

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Topping:

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Note: I found they only needed about 12 minutes total, so keep an eye on them!

Save some to make Nanaimo bars, but definitely try a few dipped in coffee.  It’s a heavenly combination.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer

1/2 cup Unsalted Margarine

1/4 cup Granulated Sugar

5 tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa

1 Large Egg, Beaten

1 1/4 cups Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)

1/2 cup Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)

1 cup Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer

½ cup Unsalted Margarine

2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons lite coconut milk

2 tablespoons Vanilla Custard Powder – Jello brand vanilla pudding works just fine

2 cups Icing Sugar

Top Layer

4 ounces Semi-sweet chocolate

2 tablespoons Unsalted Margarine

Directions:

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 margarine, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in color. 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.

My notes and comments about the whole process:

For the graham crackers, I definitely suggest a pastry cloth for rolling out the dough.  I picked mine up at the grocery store for about $3 on a recommendation from one of my dearest aunts and it’s proved its worth 10 times over.  You can get away with adding very little flour to your dough and nothing sticks!  Also, I suggest getting good quality vanilla since this is one of the strongest flavors in the wafer.

As for the Nanaimo bars, they definitely need to be WELL chilled before you attempt to cut them.  Otherwise the top layer will tend to slide of the middle layer, which leads to custard everywhere, which leads to not pretty Nanaimo bars.  Next time I might even try freezing them a bit first.

Otherwise, no problems.  They are indeed extremely rich.  One big bite will keep you full for the next hour, but so good.  Fantastic challenge!

Successfully yours,

Katie

Acknowledgements:  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.

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