The Canadian Baker

I like to think of myself as an honorary Canadian.  Often people ask me “What part of Canada are you from?” and I have to say “I’m actually from America”, though I might be able to get away with saying “Chicago”, and New Zealanders wouldn’t even know?  Anyway, considering the amount of time I lived in Canada, and the fact that I am practically married to a sweet boy from Ontario, I don’t think I had ever actually eaten Nanaimo bars until this week.  I surely remember them being made by my housemates in Montreal, though I don’t recall every having gotten a taste.  I just knew for sure – it’s a Canadian dessert that doesn’t exist in America.  Apparently something quite similar does exist in New Zealand; “Nainoma Bars”.  Somewhere along the way the Kiwis misspelled the name of Nanaimo, a town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

I basically copied the recipe straight from the Nanaimo City Council website, with one important addition; I made my own graham crackers from scratch.

Here in New Zealand, they don’t sell graham crackers in the supermarket.  There are similar types of cookies, such as malted biscuits or “digestives”, but I decided to go for it and make my own.  I followed the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, (which says to use 2 tablespoons vanilla… a typo?) which was pretty straight forward.  The recipe itself is easy enough, but the crackers are time & labour intensive – all the rolling out the dough, cutting it, pricking it with little holes, and baking them took a loooong time.  However, I’d like to say that the end product is worth it.

Graham Cracker Recipe

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Yield: 10 large crackers

From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)

This recipe made more like 20 crackers for me, about 4inches x 2 inches, all of which went into the crust for either Nanaimo Bars, or Key Lime Pie (recipe to follow!)

The Nanaimo Bar Recipe, in all its glorious sugary sweetness, follows:

Nanaimo Bar Recipe

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Second Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

layer one
layer two
layer three

I ran into a few problems with the recipe.  First of all, the 2nd layer was way too thick and difficult to spread.  I probably had to add another 2 – 3 tbs of milk to make it possible to spread evenly.  Also, I didn’t have any semi-sweet chocolate. Instead I mixed about 4 tbs of butter, 2 tbs of milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/4 cup of cocoa in a double boiler until the sugar was dissolved.  make sure you let this cool a little – but not too much or it will be too hard to spread!  If it’s too hot, it will melt the icing layer underneath.

Anyway, good luck and enjoy the sugary goodness.

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