Sweet Beginnings To The DB New Year – Nanaimo Bars! Daring Baker Challenge January, 2010

I was quite happy to find out this month's challenge was to make Nanaimo bars from scratch, including the crackers that make the base of this Canadian confection. For the first time since I joined the Daring Bakers 2 years ago, the challenge is to make something that I've made before.

A Nanaimo bar is a 3-layered bar where the bottom layer is made of graham crackers/ digestive biscuits, the middle layer is basically a buttercream with custard powder and the top layer is chocolate.

Sweet Beginnings To The DB New Year – Nanaimo Bars! Daring Baker Challenge January, 2010

This January 2010, the 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 <http://www.nanaimo.ca/

As it turned out, Lauren chose the same recipe that I had used back then, though she made some changes. YOu can find the challenge recipe at the Daring Bakers site.

Lauren cooks and bakes gluten-free and she gave us to the option to make gluten-free crackers which would be used for the lower layer of the Nanaimo bar. Much as I would have loved to make gluten-free crackers, I used regular all purpose flour as the gluten-free flours are not available here.

Though I’m not new to Nanaimo bars, I had never made the crackers for the base before. I understand that Graham crackers are found in the U.S. and the closest that Britain and its ex-colonies (I live in one) come to these crackers are “digestive biscuits”.

Sweet Beginnings To The DB New Year – Nanaimo Bars! Daring Baker Challenge January, 2010

We don’t really like digestive biscuits, though they make an excellent base for cheesecakes and the like. However if I had to eat a digestive biscuit that I came close to liking, this one would be it. They are good. The secret to crisp digestive biscuits is to roll the dough quite thin.

As for the Nanaimos bars, making them was quite easy. Of course, having made them before I knew what to expect; and that was that Nanaimo bars can be really sweet. When I say sweet, I mean tooth tingling sweet!

So I cut down the sugar in the second layer by half a cup. This still meant that the bar was quite sweet but the semisweet chocolate layer balanced it out a bit.

I usually mention (or should I say complain?) that for a lot of the challenges, some ingredients are not available here and am usually driving myself nuts figuring out workable substitutes.

Sweet Beginnings To The DB New Year – Nanaimo Bars! Daring Baker Challenge January, 2010

For once I was happy not to be in that position. One of the ingredients required for the second layer is custard powder, which I understand is difficult to find in many countries.

Well, India is probably one of the few countries where you can find custard powder easily. Even the local “Mom and Pop” stores have them and you can also find it any number of flavours other than vanilla. The store I usually shop at had it in strawberry, raspberry, mango and orange flavours!

I used the very Indian flavour I had on hand which was “kesar pista”. Kesar is saffron and pista is pistachio, and this explains the rather orange colour of the middle layer in my Nanaimo bar!

I also substituted the egg with 1 tbsp of powdered flax seed mixed with 3 tbsp warm water, for an eggless Nanaimo bar.

A few things to keep in mind while making Nanaimo bars:

If you line your tin with plastic wrap/ cling film, leaving some overhang, and then press in the layers, you can use the overhang to unmould your Nanaimo easily and neatly.

It is important to ensure that each layer is refrigerated long enough to set properly. This way you will have neat layers to your bars.

Since the melted chocolate layer is being poured on a refrigerated cracker/ biscuit and custard layer, it will set rather quickly. So one needs to work fast to ensure a smooth top layer.

For neat squares, dip your knife in hot water and wipe it dry. Then cut through, sharply, into squares.

The last time I made Nanaimo bars (a few years back), my daughter refused to touch them for some reason of her own. This time around, her complaint was they didn’t last long enough!

A bit sweeter than what we are used to, but that didn’t seem to prevent everyone from asking for seconds and thirds (in installments, naturally!). The general consensus was that it was worth making again.

To see the most interesting flavour variations one can use in Nanaimo bars, please hop over to my fellow Daring Baker blogs. You won’t be disappointed.