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

Thank you Lauren for a great first challenge!

The challenge had two parts, the first part of the challenge was to bake homemade graham crackers. We were encouraged to make them gluten-free, but were allowed to use an optional whole wheat version as well. I went with the whole wheat since that is what I had already on hand.

Graham Crackers

The second part of the challenge was an ode to Canada with a recipe for Nanaimo Bars (pronounced Nah-nye-Moh). Nanaimo Bars are a classic dessert in Canada and a great way to usher in the start of the winter games in Canada. We used the graham crackers from the first part of the challenge in the bottom layer of the Nanaimo Bars.

Nanaimo Bar

As you can see, the bars have 3 layers: the base (which contains graham crackers, cocoa, coconut and nuts), the middle custard layer, and a topping of chocolate. I opted to use the vegan version of the recipe with a few substitutions. Since I can’t eat chocolate I subbed carob in its place. The carob seemed to work fine except for when it came to making the top layer. The carob was very brittle after it hardened and cracked quite a bit when cutting the bars. I also am not particularly fond of coconut so I subbed an equal amount of oats in the bottom layer.

I have to admit when I first saw the challenge I was really intimidated at the thought of creating this multi-step, multi-layer bar, but it actually came together quite easily and I was really pleased with the end results. If you have never had the privilege of trying a Nanaimo Bar you should really give the recipe a shot – they are ridiculously rich and decadent, but oh-so very good. So good in fact that I wanted to try my hand at a second batch. This time though, I was looking for a bit of a healthier version of the Canadian treat.

Nanaimo Bar Take 2

It may not be much to look at, but overall I was very pleased with my results. They were not as sweet as the originals (which was ok by me), but still just as delicious – if not more so! The major changes in my second batch was to sub the margarine in the bottom layer with equal parts pureed raisins and create a banana custard for the middle layer based on the pastry cream recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking. Since the top layer alluded me the first try, I decided to play around with a carob “frosting” recipe, but it still didn’t have the consistency that I was hoping for. The recipes I used, with my notes, are after the jump. To read more about the challenge and see the other recipes available you can head over to The Daring Kitchen website.

Graham Crackers Recipe
from 101 Cookbooks

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour [I used whole wheat flour]
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt [I used 1/2 t since Earth Balance already contains salt]
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen [I used Earth Balance vegan margarine straight from the fridge]
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk [I used skim milk]
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the 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.

Yield: 10 large crackers

From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)

Vegan Nanaimo Bars Recipe

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder [I used carob powder]
2 tbsp ground flax seed
3 tbsp water
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped [I used almonds]
1 cup unsweetened coconut, flaked [I used oats]
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

Middle Layer
1/2 cup vegan margarine
2 tbsp vegan milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 cups powdered icing sugar

Top Layer

2 tbsp vegan margarine
4 1-oz (28g) squares unsweetened chocolate [I used 4 oz of carob chips]

To prepare the bottom layer: In a medium saucepan on low heat, melt the margarine and sugar, stirring to combine. Once liquefied, stir in the cocoa until smooth. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, stir together the flax seeds, water, walnuts, cocoanut and graham cracker crumbs. Add the chocolate sauce and stir well. Press mixture into an ungreased 8X8-in (20X20cm) pan. Set aside.

To prepare the top layer: In medium saucepan on low heat, melt the margarine. Add the chocolate and melt, stirring often to prevent burning. Remove from heat and set aside to pour over middle layer. You want sauce to be cooled but liquid to still spread easily.

To prepare middle layer and assemble bars: In a food processor or medium bowl, cream together the margarine, “milk”, starch, vanilla, turmeric, and icing sugar until well mixed. Spread evenly over bottom layer. Spoon chocolate sauce evenly over middle layer and set pan in fridge immediately. Let chill for 2+ hours before cutting and serving. Makes 9 squares. [I cut these into 16 squares because they were so sweet!]

Recipe adapted from Vegan A Go-Go, by Sarah Kramer, 2008, Arsenal Pulp Press