Tag Archives: almonds

homemade graham crackers & nanaimo bars (daring bakers)

It’s been a little quiet around ye olde simmer down kitchen for the past month or so, but things are finally starting to kick back into gear.  Two weekends ago I finally made that yuca shepherd’s pie I’ve been wanting to make, and this past weekend I went nuts and made about 5 different Indian dishes.  To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on participating in this month’s Daring Bakers because I  didn’t think I’d have the time, but I found an eleventh-hour burst of energy and decided to go for it, especially seeing as how I missed last month’s gingerbread house challenge.

The challenge was two-fold: to make gluten-free graham crackers, and to use those graham crackers to make a Canadian treat called Nanaimo bars.  Because I was doing the challenge super last-minute (like, um, the day before it was due) I was not able to go hunt down the special GF flours the recipe called for, but luckily the challenge hostess was gracious enough to allow for regular flour, which was cool because I happened to have a bag of graham flour left over from this challenge that I wanted to use up.  Rather than try to convert the GF recipe, I just used the graham cracker recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook (see below).  It was easy but the crackers came out VERY rich and buttery, more like shortbread than what I think of as a graham cracker.  Since the Nanaimo bars only required 1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs, I reserved half the dough for future use as a pie or tart shell.

I have mixed feelings about the Nanaimo bars- any of my regular readers probably know I don’t have much of a sweet tooth; I prefer desserts with more complex flavors or a note of sour or bitter to balance the sweet.   The base of the bars, made of butter, cocoa, egg, almonds, coconut and crushed graham crackers, was right up my alley.  I used Green & Black’s organic cocoa powder and the flavor was wonderful.  Where this recipe lost me was on the middle layer.  I originally thought it was a sort of custard, but it’s actually an insanely sweet buttercream.  I tried to do this layer really thin because I knew I wouldn’t like it, but it still ended up too thick for my taste.  I even flavored it with some instant espresso powder to try to counteract how sweet it was, but it didn’t make much difference.  The top layer was just melted chocolate with a little butter to make it spreadable, so no objections there.

It was fun to make the homemade graham crackers, but I will probably be giving away the bulk of the Nanaimo bars- the icing layer just made them too sickly sweet for me.  Or perhaps I’ll end up disassembling some and eating the bottom layer by itself… coconut, chocolate, graham, almonds, yum!

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.


Martha Stewart’s Graham Crackers
printer-friendly version

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups graham flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs honey

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Put the flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; stir to combine.

Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  If it’s still on the cold side, you can cut it in chunks and mix it by itself for a minute or two to make it more malleable.  Add the brown sugar and honey and mix until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Put the mixer on low speed and add the flour mixture about ¼ cup at a time until fully combined.  You may want to scrape the sides down once or twice during the process.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Note: Martha doesn’t instruct you to rest the dough, but if it’s at all difficult to work with, 10-20 minutes in the fridge won’t hurt.  Roll out each piece between 2 layers of wax or parchment paper into a 6″x9″ rectangle (I use my bench scraper to coax the dough into the right shape and to even up the sides).  Cut the dough into whatever size crackers you want.  I used a zigzag cutter that came with my pasta maker and cut each rectangle into 12 crackers.   Transfer the dough to a sheet pan (keeping the parchment underneath) and chill in the freezer until firm, 10-15 minutes.  Prick the dough with a fork in a decorative pattern.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan(s) halfway through.  These can quickly go from a nice toasty brown to burnt, so keep an eye on them!  Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

bakewell tart (daring bakers)

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.
tart slice side view

As usual, I left this month’s Daring Bakers challenge until the last possible minute!  Fortunately, it was a pretty easy one to throw together.  We made a Bakewell Tart, which I am to understand is a classic British dessert (or “pudding”, as they say across the pond).  It’s basically a pastry crust with a layer of jam spread on top, filled with a batter of eggs, butter & ground almonds (aka frangipane).  Thanks to the help of my food processor and stand mixer, I was able to put this together Thursday after work and before band practice.  (I went up north Friday, so had to have it done before we left.)  Fortunately, the intense heat of the past couple days subsided just in time for me to heat up my kitchen with a 400-degree oven!

frangipane tart shell

The results of my tart were somewhat mixed.  It’s hard to say if it was successful since I’ve never tried or seen one of these with the exception of looking at other DBers’ photos, but the first thing I noticed was that my frangipane didn’t puff up whatsoever; it was fairly dense.  Also, the quantity of pastry crust called for seemed much more suitable to a 10 or 10.5″ tart pan rather than a 9″ (I used the whole quantity as specified, and ended up with a pretty thick crust that didn’t fully cook through).

Bakewell tart finished

Perhaps I would have had a better result if I had cooked the tart 5 minutes or so longer, but the top looked slightly browned and felt firm so I thought it was done.  However, my crust ended up pretty pale.  I don’t want to call the result a “fail”, but it just wasn’t to my taste.  I’m not a fan of baked goods that seem so moist that you feel you’re almost eating raw batter (I can’t stand doughy cookies or overly “fudgy” brownies), and this tart was verging on that texture. I was, however, quite pleased with the flavor combination I chose.  I used apricot-orange preserves from Trader Joe’s for the jam, and the flavors of the fruit paired brilliantly with the almonds.

tart slice 1

Verdict: If you’re a fan of almonds, and are looking for a fairly easy dessert recipe to put together, I would give this a go.  You may just want to bake it a little longer, or possibly add another tbs of flour if you prefer a less damp texture.  Also, the ground almonds I used were not skinned, so perhaps that’s why my tart had a denser texture (although the recipe did not specify skinned ground almonds).  I think skinned almonds would have lent a more refined appearance and possibly allowed the frangipane to puff up more.

6/29 Update: I went away for the weekend and stuck the remainder of my tart in the fridge; I had a piece today, cold, and liked it much better!  The texture was more like a firm bar cookie rather than a squidgy undercooked tart.