Daring Bakers Challenge: 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.

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 http://thedaringkitchen.com/

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.

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