Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers' Challenge)

January 27, 2010

In order to celebrate the 2010 winter Olympics in Whistler Canada, The Daring Kitchen proudly presents these divinely rich Canadian dessert 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 absolutely loved these bars! Even the graham crackers themselves were amazing; ten times more flavourful than their cardboard, store-bought cousins. There is a certain sense of satisfaction and a feeling of full completion when you implement ingredients which you have made from scratch. Yet another reason to love the Daring Bakers. I never would have even spared a thought on making my own graham crackers. Graham crackers lived on a pre-made shelf in the back of my mind. But, now that know how flavourful and how fresh their crisp can be, I think I might start using this recipe for some key lime pie crusts.

For almost as long as I can remember, I have held a special place in my heart for the Pacific Northwest. Washington state and British Columbia in particular. Something about the lush greenery, the mist, the forests, the way the mountains and the ocean are in close proximity to each other. I can't quite pin point my reasoning, it's just a feeling that draws me in. But then again I'm a bit odd in the way I love the rain.

In college I became caught up in the series Twin Peaks. I was too young to enjoy during its height of popularity but someone had recorded the entire show on Bravo...Log Lady's eerie introductions included. I wanted to live there. I loved the idiosyncratic characters, the Double R Diner, and the location, which was a character itself. Looking forward to watching the episodes helped me pull through some boring classes and a few break-ups. So I was very happy to see that this month's challenge featured a dessert that can be found in Nanaimo Canada.

The graham crackers were surprisingly easy to make. I'm not sure what I expected, but it was a fun process. I had it in my mind that there would be some molasses involved, but they key ingredient was honey. Once the dough is made, it is chilled in the refrigerator before being rolled out and cut. This was the best part! You can make any shape or pattern you like. I attempted to make the Olympic rings but they disappeared while it was baking. Let me warn you that the dough is one of the best tasting doughs I have ever tried (and I've tried quite a lot). I think I may have consumed most of the scraps and justified it by thinking that graham crackers are not that unhealthy compared to other cookies. It didn't work. I felt guilty about for an hour.

The bars were also very easy to make and you don't even need to turn on the oven. The crust is made with the graham crackers (ground up), coconut, cocoa powder, and almonds. The middle is vanilla custard powder, confectioners sugar, heavy cream, and butter. Basically it is a rich buttercream frosting being used as a thick filling. The top layer is chocolate and more cream! Decadent? yes. Irresistible? absolutely. You know that you shouldn't have more but your hand doesn't seem to care as it reaches for yet another. The best way I can think of to explain these is to imagine a deluxe Almond Joy candy bar. Even though the coconut is confined to the crust, it still gives it that unmistakable creamy taste and flaky texture. There are endless variations for the filling. Some people add mint or chocolate, or espresso. Use your imagination. Personally I love the classics when it comes to certain desserts. These bars make the perfect companion to 'a 'damn fine cup of coffee' and close friends.
A huge Thank You to Lauren for hosting this month's challenge and to all the other Daring Bakers who are always helpful and supportive!
* printer friendly Recipe *
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.

Notes for gluten-free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars:

• Glutinous rice flour does not contain any gluten, as it is made from a type of rice called glutinous (or sweet) rice.
• The graham wafer dough is very sticky. Make sure you are flouring (with sweet rice flour) well, or the dough will be difficult to remove from the surface you roll it out on. Also be sure to keep it cold. You do not want the butter to melt.
• Tapioca starch/flour and sweet rice flour can often be found in Asian grocery stores, or in the Asian section of you grocery store. Sorghum can be slightly more difficult to find, but it can be replaced with brown rice flour, millet flour or other alternatives.
• In the Nanaimo Bars, it is very important that the chocolate be cool but still a liquid, otherwise the custard layer will melt, and it will mix with the chocolate, being difficult to spread. Allow the chocolate mixture to come to room temperature but not solidify before spreading the top layer on.


  1. Yes you are right "a good damn coffee" with these are perfection. Love you photos and yes these are great to make from home-made Graham wafers. Good work on this challenge. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. They look great with their thick coating of chocolate! I agree about the graham cracker dough, and I was quite surprised to have enough to bake. I didn't feel guilty at all, though!

  3. Great job
    your bars looks amazing
    just like you i felt in love with my graham wafers :)

  4. Your bars turned out beautifully. I love how thick that top layer looks!

  5. I love how your graham crackers came out! Well done.

  6. I really loved reading your post! It felt like chatting with a friend in the kitchen =D. Your bars and wafers are stunning! Fantastic job on my challenge!

  7. Well done on the grahams and the bars...

  8. Yumm! Your bars look amazing. I agree about the graham crackers -- SOO good and SOO much better than the store-bought stuff. Don't feel bad about eating the scraps! I ate way more than just the scraps! :)

  9. Great job, your Nanaimo bars look spectacular! :D Hehe fellow Twin Peaks fan here too! :D I agree the dough was delicious adn I couldn't wait for them to come out of the oven.

  10. Wow, your bars look fantastic! Beautiful photos and great post!


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♥ Valerie


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