Daring Bakers’ January Challenge: Gluten-Free 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 www.nanaimo.ca.

*I’d like to preface this post also by noting that the source listed above, 101 Cookbooks is the recipe journal of Heidi Swanson, author of the amazing cookbook, Super Natural Cooking– one of my favorite cookbooks. Okay, now onto the challenge!

I was pretty excited to see the challenge this month. I’ve always wanted to try gluten-free baking and I’ve always wanted to try nanaimo bars.

The nanaimo bars were easy to make- even the homemade grahams were moderately easy. I did have some sticking issues but I forewent the parchment paper and don’t own a Silpat so that was my fault.

They were soooooo rich! I could only eat a little at a time, but I really liked the flavor- especially the bottom layer. I made two versions. The first time I made them with a peanut butter filling and white chocolate topping. The second time I made a coffee custard filling spiced with cayenne. I also sprinkled some dried Thai hot pepper on top since I really enjoy the chocolate/spice flavor combination.

For the gluten-free grahams you do need some gluten-free alternatives. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. . . we are soooo lucky that my small town has a grocery store that doesn’t think twice about stocking “alternative” baking supplies, natural products, organic, etc. They are awesome! Thank you Cashwise! I found this brand for the rice flour:

We cut the grahams into squares

and scored them with a fork

Here they are all baked up:

And I have to admit, when I was pouring 2 tablespoons (half the bottle) of my expensive fair trade vanilla into the batter I was thinking, “This better be worth it!” And it was. The vanilla, milk and honey was so. . . YUMMY! My son commented, “Oooooohh These are good, mom!” Here he is after his first munch:

So, to sum it up- 2 thumbs up! A great recipe (2 recipes actually), with plenty of room for creativity. A little on the sweet side, but still good. I know my family enjoyed them.

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) 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 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.
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 (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.
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.

Nanaimo Bars

For 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 Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
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.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) 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 colour. 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.


  1. Posted January 27, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for posting about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on DK. I would not have done this challenge otherwise. You photos came out great.

  2. Posted January 27, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Thank you! Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of the custard filling. . . but the peanut butter filling is yummy!

  3. Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The PB and white chocolate version is picture perfect, and I’m sure it tasted just as good! Nice job.

  4. Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Great pictures. And I think, too, that the gluten-free Graham crackers were scrumptious!

  5. Jodi
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Your pictures are so awesome! The top one is my fav. Like magazine quality! Almost started nibbling on my monitor 🙂

  6. Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    ha, ha thanks! Not quite magazine quality . . . the bottom bar in the top photo is a little fuzzy. Still trying to master manual focus on this camera. Until then, auto-focus with some imperfections.

  7. Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m thrilled your whole family enjoyed both recipes! I love both of your variations! You did such a great job with my challenge =D.

  8. Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Love your take on the bars, and love the photos! Great job on the challenge! Your son is right -two thumbs up on the graham crackers; they were my favorite part of the challenge:)

  9. Posted January 27, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I love your final picture! It looks so professional. I’m also trying to get used to manual focus but I can already see the difference! The bars look delicious too, I love the swirled design.

  10. Bake in Paris
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Beautiful pattern on top layer…. good job!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  11. Posted January 28, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    alright. not only am I absolutely in love with your version of nanaimo bars, I’ve fallen for your fabulous blog! your layout, your pictures, your writing, it’s all completely fantastic! I’ll be back!

  12. Posted January 29, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Awwweeee, thanks Mallory!

  13. Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I love that picture of your son! It says it all.

  14. Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I always try and snap a pic after his first taste of something!

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