Archive for January, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Nanaimo Bars

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

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

My family never baked anything called “Nanimo Bars”, but my mother did make something that was really similar called Chocolate Coconut Squares.   ( I prefer my mother’s version and I’ll explain why in the next paragraph, followed by her recipe.) She only made them at Christmas, and we loved them and looked forward every year to a batch of these little lovlies being in her secret stash that she hid from us six hungry children until company came. When I was working on this challenge, I called Mum in PEI and asked her where the recipe had come from.  We also lived in the US when I was young, but mum said the recipe had come from her mother she thinks.  She was sure it was not one of her American recipes because she recalls she had to bring Bird’s Custard Powder from Canada to make these when we lived in Chicago and Detroit.

The Daring Bakers gluten free recipe for graham crackers was something I looked forward trying.   I altered the Daring Baker’s recipe to substitute a combination of garfava flour and buckwheat flour rather than rice flour.  The crackers came out great, you could hardly tell they weren’t the real thing except for the ugly duckling form. As the recipe says, the dough is really sticky, but if you follow the instructions it all works.  The January Challenge recipe is at Daring Bakers

I basically deconstructed the squares a little.  I made the base, cooled it overnight, then cut out circles with a cake cutter.  After that I played around with the custard part in an icing bag, and eventually figured out a couple designs that I liked.  Because the squares are Canadian, I made chocolate maple leaves out of unsweetened chocolate.  The bars tasted fantastic, you would not know they are gluten free unless someone told you (and usually I can tell!)

How is my mother’s recipe different?  It has a little less sugar,  more graham crackers, no butter in the custard, and unsweetened chocolate on top.  I like them better; they are a little less rich and not quite as sweet. The part I especially liked in the squares was that she drizzled unsweetened chocolate on the top, and the contrast of bitter chocolate and sweet custard was sublime.  Because there is no butter in the custard it does not behave like icing, so I couldn’t have made the decorations as well.  These are so decadent that let’s face it they are not health food, so I will make the butter version custard again if I am crazy enough to do these decorations again.

Here is the recipe, and I asked my mother’s permission to post it.

Chocolate Coconut Squares




  • ½ cup butter
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 Tbl cocoa
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ¼ tsp salt (optional)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
Lightly grease a 8×8 pan, then line with parchment or wax paper.  (This makes it much easier to get the squares out, since cutting is easier when done out of the pan.)

Melt butter, then add vanilla and mix this with other dry ingredients. Beat egg well, then use a double boiler to warm to just before becoming scrambled eggs.  ( The original recipe just had a raw egg, but it is probably safer to do this warming step.)

Refrigerate until firm.

Custard Layer:

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 2 tsp custard powder
  • Enough milk to moisten (approximately a  couple tablespoons, but add slowly because it gets too liquid fast.)
Mix all together with a whisk or mixer.  The original recipe has no milk quantity.

If you want to decorate and make these really rich, then add 1/2 cup butter like the daring bakers recipe.

Chocolate Topping:

1 square melted unsweetened chocolate (1 oz)

Melt chocolate in double boiler, then drizzle on the cold squares in a swirly pattern.  Depending on taste, you may want to add another square of chocolate.
Refrigerate the squares overnight if possible, then remove from pan and cut into squares with a sharp knife.  You can also “deconstruct” these and cut the squares with a circle cutter (this sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it!), and add chocolate cut outs.

Here are a few more pics of the process.

I spread the chocolate mixed with a little butter, let it harden, then cut out with little leaf cookie cutter.

The top is a variation of the regular square.  The bottom shows the circles in progress.

Fun with Fondant on a Poppy Seed Cake, and a Recipe

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

We had a small dinner party at the end of the holidays and I needed a little something for dessert.  I also had the decorating urge, and some fondant from Golda’s Kitchen ( ) that I wanted to try.  Although you can easily make fondant, it is a lot quicker to just open the container, peel back the plastic, and start decorating.  If you haven’t used fondant before, it is really easy, tastes reasonably good,  and can produce smooth sheets that are a joy to decorate with if you don’t feel like dragging out the piping bags and making a mess.  Since I had other things to fuss with for the dinner, the fondant solution was perfect.

I used a  scalloped circle cutter for the base, then rolled balls of coloured fondant to make the leaves and holly berries. A toothpick indentation in the berries gave a touch of reality, and these were done toute suite.

The cake is my favoutite cake when I am just craving something good but simple, and not too sweet.  This recipe is adapted from A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti, a great dessert cookbook.  Make sure you use buttermilk and unsalted butter for the best taste.  This cake keeps very well frozen and is a great thing to have ready in the freezer when you need a quick little shortcake or ice cream accompaniment.  I love this cake.

I have made a gluten free version of this cake and it is also very good, but needs a lot of tweaking, so I will post it when I test the recipe again as quite frankly I dont remember exactly what I did.  TRhis cake is also excellent as a short cake or as a white cake with swiss buttercream frosting.

Buttermilk Poppy Seed Cake

This recipe is adapted from a recipe in A Passion for Desserts by Emily Luchetti.



Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray grease or butter pans.

Mix dry ingredients and set aside in a separate bowl.

Wet  Ingredients:

4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

½ cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream butter until light.  Add in the sugar and beat again, then add the eggs.  Add buttermilk and wet ingredients in 2 batches.
Add at the end:

  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Stir in the poppy seeds.  (Note: Poppy seeds spoil easily and taste rancid.  Try to get fresh seeds from a health food or bulk store, and store the seeds in the fridge.)
Bake in muffin or small cake pans.  Time – it depends on the pan, usually about 15 to 20 minutes, but keep watch on them.  They are done when the edges are slightly brown and the middle has risen and often has a center crack.

If using a layer pan this recipe makes one 9 inch layer.  This cake keeps very well, but the crust can get a little soggy, so I like to freeze whatever isn’t going to be eaten within a day.  The frozen cakes keep very well, and are a great way to have a small cake with a bowl of ice cream.

Buttermilk Buckwheat Gluten Free Pancakes

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Pancakes are one of the easiest and most successful gluten free treats, so I have been experimenting.  I tinkered with different recipes, and after several batches with various flour mixtures, I have settled on the recipe posted below as delicious, dependable, and a good keeper.

Since getting a nutrimill and making my own buckwheat flour, I have found it to be very versatile and it also behaves a lot like white wheat flour. This buckwheat flour has a very mild flavour and seems to bind well, making the addition of guar or xanthum gum unnecessary.  I have made the recipe with all buckwheat flour (so use 1 cup buckwheat flour and skip the garfava), and they worked vvery well.  In the version I am posting of the recipe I have used 1/4 garfava flour to increase the fiber and protein content.  These pancakes keep very well after making, and can be kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen.  Adding blueberries into the wet batter on top when they are on the griddle is my husband’s favourite way to eat these.

When recipes use buttermilk, (which is not necessarily in everyone’s regular pantry), I used to just use milk with vinegar in it, however what I have learned over the years is that buttermilk is really superior.  So now I do try to keep it as one of my standard fridge items.  Buttermilk seems to add a subtle flavour dimension, and also seems to produce baked goods that age a little better.

Gluten Free Buttermilk Pancakes Recipe

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients Method
Dry Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup garfava flour
  • ¾ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tlbs sugar
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl , preferably one with a spout.  I use a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup and make all the batter in it ready for pouring.

You can stop here and make this a mix to add the dry later. I bag them up with the wet ingredients noted on a label. I often make one batch to use, and one to save for later.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tlbs oil or melted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
Add the wet ingredients and blend all together with a whisk or spoon. The batter will be thicker than you are used to, but try one pancake and see if the batter spreads out enough to make a thick pancake.  You can add more buttermilk if you want, but only a little at a time. This makes very thick fluffy pancakes with the thick batter, and you can make thinner ones if you prefer that consistency.
Pour batter on to griddle. If you like fruit additions (frozen blueberries work very well) add them when the batter is just starting to firm up on the griddle.  This works better than adding the fruit to the batter, especially for blueberries.  These work best if you use a little lower heat than usual and a flat griddle.  I use a French crepe maker that is very flat.  Turn the pancakes when you see bubbles opening up on top and the sides look like they are cooked about 1/3 of the way up.

I have found these pancakes to cook very evenly, with no raw batter inside, which can be a pancake trouble spot. These are light, thick, and fluffy. Thin the batter if you prefer thinner pancakes, but trust me, try one thick, they are great.

Exploring Tarts

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Two of the cookbooks I have drooled over several times are Pastry by Michel Roux, and Sweet and Savory Tarts by Eric Kayser.  I finally broke down and bought the Michel Roux book.  I have another cookbook by Michel Roux (Michel Roux’s Finest Desserts), and it is very informative, in fact it can be used like a self taught course.

I love finding special purpose baking pans, and had a long rectangular tart pan, inspired by a picture in the Eric Kayer book,  in my baking cupboard that I had never used.  I decided to try a Michel Roux pastry recipe and also to do a gluten free version for Greg.

For the dough I used Michel’s tart pie dough, which he says is known as pâte a foncer (p. 23).  It has egg and a little sugar in it.  The dough works up beautifully and is very easy to work with after a short rest in the fridge.  For the gluten free version I used the same recipe, but my gluten free flour mix and fresh ground buckwheat flour.  I am finding that buckwheat flour behaves well, and has good binding qualities so not as much xanthum gum is needed.  I will post the gluten free version after I  make it one more time to test the recipe as I was just throwing in flour and had not measured very carefully.  In the taste department, the gluten free version worked out very well, and Greg was pleased that it was not so strong that chewing it felt like exercise like some of my other gluten free pastry attempts.

My French amie Martine makes very nice tarts, and what I have learned in watching her is that she puts a lot of vegetables in an artistic arrangement on the bottom, then fills it with the egg mixture.  She uses less liquid mix that what I have usually used, and sometimes some cheese such as chèvre.  In a sense, the egg is really just the binder that holds everything together rather than the main attraction.  I decided that Matine’s method is what I would try, so I cooked up some somewhat sad asparagus that had been forgotten during the holidays, and also caramelized some sweet onions.  The rectangular tart took a lot of pastry, and I had to fill it make the dough in two sections and patch it.  It was also so awkward to hold that I ended up filling it in with the egg mixture directly in the oven.  This worked well, and amazingly there were no spills added to the already splotchy oven floor (I know I know, I have a self clean oven, but it still doesn’t always get cleaned when it should).  The egg mixture is whatever you usually use for quiche, however one little trick I have been using is to add about 1 T of cornstarch for each cup of milk.  This makes the egg filling a little firmer, but make sure you mix it very well before filling the tarts since corn starch sinks fast.

The tarts were consumed on New Year’s morning, and were still delicious 2 days later as leftovers.  I think you will like the Michel Roux book, I plan to try some other recipes in it soon.  It is also just nice eye candy, and very informative in terms of the depth of why things are done in certain ways.

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