Gluten Free Nanaino Bars (Daring Bakers January)

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

When I first saw this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, I was really excited! I knew that making gluten free graham crackers probably wouldn’t be easy, but it was a challenge I was not about to miss out on. I have a few friends who cannot have any gluten, so I’m always happy to discover recipes that I can make for them to enjoy.  Plus, I have a huge (HUGE) amount of respect for all of the gluten free bakers out there, and I knew that making the gluten free graham crackers would help me to better understand the challenges of baking gluten free.

My first challenge was finding the ingredients for the graham crackers.  The gluten free flours in the recipe were sweet/glutinous rice flour, tapioca starch/flour, and sorghum flour. The only one I was able to find was the tapioca flour. For the sweet/glutinous rice flour, I ended up substituting some plain white rice flour.  For the sorghum flour, I substituted yellow corn meal.

The next challenge was that, as the recipe warns, my first attempt at the dough was extremely wet and sticky.  so much so that I couldn’t work with it and ended up throwing the whole batch into the trash.  I was a bit frustrated, and considered switching back to wheat flour. In the spirit of the challenge, though, I decided to try again. After all, my gluten-free friends don’t have the luxury of switching to wheat flours, so why should I?

On my second attempt at the dough, I was careful to stream the liquids into the food processor very slowly, and I ended up only using about half of the liquid that the recipe called for.  The dough was still fairly sticky, but manageable.  I ended up working in quite a bit of additional white rice flour just to pat the dough into a rectangle. As recommended, I refrigerated the dough for a few hours.

When I attempted to roll out the dough, it was still extremely sticky.  I was able to roll it out, but it kept sticking, and i was uanble to transfer it to my baking sheets.  So, I used my handy counter scraper and scraped up all of the dough, reshaped it into a rectangle, and froze it overnight.  The next morning, I rolled out the dough again, on parchment paper, with lots and lots of rice flour.  This time, it was a success! I didn’t have much luck with cutting the dough into large rectangles, but I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to make small heart-shaped graham crackers.

You’d think that by that point, I was in the clear. However, as I baked my graham crackers, I was also photographing another dish and not giving the graham crackers my full attention.  Although the recipe says to bake for 25 minutes, my graham crackers started to burn around 18 minutes… Oops!  Fortunately, I split the crackers onto three baking sheets, so there was one tray of crackers left to bake.  I only baked the third tray for 15 minutes, and they came out a lovely golden color! Success!

Even though baking the gluten free graham crackers was a bit of a roller coaster for me, it was all worth it in the end. Once again, I am glad that the Daring Bakers pushed me out of my baking comfort zone a bit!

Fortunately, once the graham crackers were done, the rest of the challenge was no problem at all.  I halved the recipe for the Nanaino bars and molded them in some heart shaped tins and ramekins instead of making one large pan of the bars.  I had trouble getting the bars out of the ramekins, but I didn’t let that discourage me.   The heart shaped bars popped right out of the tins and were a fun little dessert for two. The hubs and I both enjoyed them, although they were pretty rich!

I highly recommend you give these a try on your own sometime… Maybe even as a Valentine’s Day treat for your sweetie!  Here are the original recipes from the Daring Bakers Challenge…

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.

26 Responses to Gluten Free Nanaino Bars (Daring Bakers January)

  1. Beautifully done, and so ‘from the heart’. This is a GORGEOUS post Jen. Each frame is shot beautifully. Love the Nanaimo hearts! Going back to see if you lined the heart tins! L♥V THEM!!

  2. Great saves all around! I love how you kept the spirit of the challenge even though you ran into some obstacles! And the shapes are adorable!

  3. These Nanaimo bars hearts are soooo adorable!
    What a great version for the Canadian bars
    Love the presentation
    and the making of pictures are fabulous.
    Great job!
    (also a DB)

  4. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do the challenge this month…it looked like a challenge indeed! Your bars look amazing! Way to tackle the problems you had with the flours, too!

  5. The hearts are too adorable! I’m so glad you stuck to the gluten-free, and your results are sensational =D. I’m glad you enjoyed my challenge!

  6. I’m lovin’ the hearts! I thought of doing hearts, but I had a hard enough time cutting the bars without completely cracking the icing! I see that you are ingenious and used individual baking cups-perfect! The graham crackers and the bars are beautiful!!!

  7. O-M-G!! These are too freaking cute!! I’m proud of you for doing the gluten-free version. I took the easy way out by using regular flour. Great job on this challenge! Lovely, lovely photos.

  8. The shapes are so creative! Gotta love those challenges…it may be a roller coaster, but it makes the final product that much better! Your photos are beautiful, as always.

  9. These look very cute !
    And, oh, I hate the sticky-ness of gluten-free baking. But, well, that ‘s just the way it is… :-) Nice of you to stick it out !