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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers and 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

I was quite excited about this challenge on a few fronts. Firstly, graham crackers are one of a handful of weaknesses of mine. It would be wonderful to learn to make them from scratch! I had seen the recipe from 101 Cookbooks and intended to try it eventually, at some point down the road.

The other reason my interest was piqued was that I've been hearing a lot about Nanaimo Bars (pronounced Nah-nye-Moh) recently--mostly from Cakespy, a huge fan of the three-tiered, Canadian treat. These bars are composed of a crumbly chocolate bottom layer, topped with a custard-flavored icing followed by a layer of ganache-y chocolate.

The bars have a bit of lore as to their origin. Legend has it that a housewife from Nanaimo, BC entered her no-bake chocolate bars in a magazine contest. By taking top prize with publication of the recipe in the magazine, it put both the bars and the city on the map.

The gluten-free portion of the challenge was optional, and I considered forgoing it in favor of the wheat-full version. Thankfully, no one in my immediate circle has a gluten intolerance. But more and more, in my wider circle of acquaintances, I'm disheartened by reports of late onset of problems with digesting wheat, so I decided to follow the gluten-free recommendation. I thought it would be interesting to experience first hand the "chemistry" of wheat-free baking and perhaps something to file away for future use. With using the alternative flours, the dough did seem on the sticky side, but I found ways around handling it--making it a good exercise in pastry technique as well. Gluten-Free Girl also recently posted a recipe for gluten-free graham crackers. It has different flour ratios than below, so if you are interested in pursuing gluten-free baking, I encourage you to take a peek.

I shared these bars with my co-workers of which includes a few Canadians and one person with Celiac. All gave the thumbs up approval.

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers
1 cup sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)

¾ cup tapioca starch/flour

½ cup sorghum flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp kosher salt

7 TBS unsalted butter (cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)

⅓ cup honey
5 TBS whole milk

2 TBS pure vanilla extract

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.

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.

3. Turn the dough onto a piece of parchment 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.

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.

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

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.

9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups 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.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer:
½ cup butter

¼ cup granulated sugar
5 TBS unsweetened cocoa

1 large egg, beaten

1¼ cups gluten free graham wafer crumbs
½ cup almonds (any type, finely chopped)

1 cup coconut (shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer:
½ cup unsalted butter

2 TBS plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream

2 TBS vanilla custard powder (such as Bird’s. vanilla pudding mix may be substituted, but Bird's gives the most authentic color and flavor.)

2 cups powdered sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 TBS unsalted butter

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 butter, 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.

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