Daring Baker’s Challenge: Graham Crackers and Nanaimo Bars

Update: I also made a white chocolate version.

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.

Part 1: Graham Crackers:
graham crackers

I’ve been promising myself that I would take better notes while baking every month so I could remember how it went.  And this month I did . . . at least better than I usually do.  I’ve also been promising to make graham crackers for quite a while, ever since I saw the Good Eats episode a couple of years ago.  So I was excited that the challenge this month was going to force me to make good on that promise.  After all, I saw an awesome cracker cutter on that episode that I had to have.  It’s been sitting in my drawer ever since.  And it turns out it works even better than I thought it would.  But more on that later.

An option to the challenge was to make them gluten free.  But I really just wanted to make regular graham crackers.  I used graham and all-purpose flour.

When I looked at what other bakers were saying and compared the recipe provided with other graham cracker recipes it seemed like a really sticky dough.  I’ve been trying to listen to my instincts lately when it comes to cooking and baking and I decided to modify the recipe a bit, and used less sugar and milk.

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I flattened the dough a bit while it was still in the plastic bag, but finished rolling and cutting on a piece of parchment paper that could then be slid onto a baking sheet.

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Didn’t I tell you this was some cool cracker cutter! I baked the ragged edges too and used those to make the crumbs for the Nanaimo bars.

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The first batch I baked turned out a little thick.  I rolled the second half of the dough a little thinner and chilled them before baking, something that worked well when I made the gingerbread last month.

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In the end, I didn’t like my graham crackers as much as Trader Joe’s cinnamon grahams. The graham flour gave mine a coarser texture and wheatier taste. But they were pretty easy to throw together and I’ll do some tweaking and try again.

Graham Crackers (my version)

8 1/2 oz. graham flour
1 7/8 oz. all purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup honey
3 Tbsp. whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon 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 the dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Mix with the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be slightly sticky.

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

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto parchment paper and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into squares or rectangles. Using a fork poke holes all over the top of the dough. Slide the parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Chill for about 20 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough. (If you bake the ragged edges at the same time you can use those for graham cracker crumbs).

Adjust the rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bake one sheet at a time for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and run the cutter through the scored lines again, if you need to. Slide parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool completely and break along the score lines. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Part 2: Nanaimo Bars
Nanaimo bars

When I was about 12 years old, Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, BC, was the starting point of an inland waterway cruise up to Prince Rupert.  I saw killer whales and seals.  I discovered the joy of crawling into a top berth, closing the curtain, turning on the little night light, and reading to my heart’s content in a cozy little nest.  It still stands out as one of my most memorable travel adventures.

Years later I heard about Nanaimo bars.  Could they be related?  Yes indeed.  Unfortunately, my first experience with a Nanaimo bar, from a Minneapolis bakery, was not good.  I think the filling was made with shortening and granulated sugar.  It was unpleasantly greasy and gritty.  Yuck.  I knew they could be better than that!

As with all things, if you use great ingredients, you’ll be rewarded wth great results. If you make the Nanaimo bars, I dare you not to eat every crumb yourself, even if you don’t make your own graham crackers.

Nanaimo Bars
Adapted from the City of Nanaimo Web Site

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and whisk to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Second Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder (such as Bird’s)
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Add more cream if necessary to achieve a light fluffy filling.  Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour and spread over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

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9 Responses to “Daring Baker’s Challenge: Graham Crackers and Nanaimo Bars”

  1. shelley Says:

    You did a great job with these! I had never heard of them before this. I am so glad that yours turned out better than you’d remembered them!
    Can’t wait to see what the next challenge brings us. :)

  2. Laura Says:

    Awesome looking grahams and nanaimo bars! But where did you get that super fabulous cutter?!

  3. January 28 Recipe Roundup « The Heavy Table – Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog Says:

    [...] pear slaw, graham crackers and Nanaimo bars, blood orange ahi tuna, brandied apricot and almond shortbread bars (WOW do they look good), [...]

  4. Mimi Says:

    Great job on the challenge. I have graham cuter envy, now I need one too.
    Mimi

  5. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella Says:

    Wow you did an amazing job there! I love how you used a pasta cutter for the Graham crackers! :D

  6. Parita Says:

    Wow i love your cracker cutter, its fantastic!! Nanaimo bars are sinfully good!

  7. Lauren Says:

    Amazing job on my challenge! That cracker cutter is just so cool =D. Everything looks delicious!

  8. White Chocolate Cinnamon Nanaimo Bars « ah-ha! Cooking with Gas and Glass Says:

    [...] previous post on Nanaimo Bars was for the original version. They’re so delicious I wanted to make them [...]

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