Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inaugural Adventure

This wasn't a significant inauguration, like becoming president, but it was my introduction to gluten-free baking.

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 feel a bond with Lauren, who always comments on my blog entries. I've never met her, but she appears to be an amazing young woman who is dealing successfully with celiac disease. This is my first foray into gluten-free baking and it was an adventure! While there are many more options for people avoiding gluten than there used to be, finding the alternative flours and grains can be challenging. And since some people with celiac or gluten tolerance issues can endure really crippling pain with only the littlest bit of gluten, cross-contamination is also an issue. My Nanaimo Bars were not destined to be eaten by anyone with dietary issues, so that wasn't a big concern for me, but if I were baking for someone who was seriously affected, I would be extra-scrupulous about using any bowl, utensil or product that could have been in contact with regular flour.

I made the graham crackers, which were not things of beauty. The first batch I made were seriously disfigured, due to the very soft dough. Since I was going to be turning them into crumbs, this wasn't a big issue. Subsequent batches, to which I added much more rice flour as I was rolling them out, turned out a little more presentable. They still look nothing like Nabisco honey graham crackers, but they were good with a little peanut butter!

The Nanaimo bars are very rich. The bottom crust is the graham crackers combined with butter, sugar, cocoa, an egg, and almonds and coconut. The middle layer is a sweet custardy-frosting filling made with butter, cream, custard powder, and lots of powdered sugar. And the top layer is semi-sweet chocolate with butter. There may be no wheat flour but there is lots of chocolate, butter and sugar in these little dessert bars.

The bars have interesting contrasts of textures: the crunchy base, the silky center and the smooth, less sweet chocolate topping.

I live in the Pacific Northwest and there are Nanaimo bars in many bakeries around here, just as there are in British Columbia, home to Nanaimo. These are a once-in-a-while indulgence, not for mindless nibbling. And with the Olympics coming up, what better way to celebrate Canada than with a Canadian dessert!