Butter + Good Karma: Nainamo Bars

January 27, 2010

Back in December, I found myself buckling down and searching the web for all that I could learn about the elusive “Daring Bakers” that I keep hearing about on all of my favorite foodie/baking blogs. I found them in all of their glory and joined immediately.

If I told you all about the organization, I would have to kill all of you. Their secrets are safe with me. But I can tell you that every month members are put to a challenge (of all baking proportions – alternative and not;) an invitation to explore my pantry, call upon my education, and creativity that I completely invite. This month I was invited to join the expedition: a gluten-free version of British Columbia’s Nainamo Bars, in honor of the upcoming Olympic Games (and the notion that the body must store high calorie treats to survive the winter as humans have for centuries, I am certain!)

These delicious bars are part cookie, part custard, complete indulgence and they were readily received by both my hubby and I (training for the ultra-marathon on February 20th has left us with an understandable hankering for calories.) But the nuts and bolts (or should I say hazelnuts + butter) of this challenge left me pondering a bit.

I do love love love a good alternative baked good. Pastries that are as delicious as they are nutritious are my complete kryptonite, buckling me practically to my knees with drool and love. And this particular challenge called for an experiment in super-nutritious gluten-free grahams, and BUTTER. Lots of butter. I do completely recognize the place that butter has in the pantry, the mouth, in the cast of deliciousness as we know it. But, I also know that many fats can be more healthful. The yogini in me thought this to be a “thing that makes you go HMMMM.”

Just last night, the New York Times’ Julia Moskin published an article entitled “When Chocolate and Chakras Collide,” a piece that I found to be as timely as it was dead-on about the intricate relationship of yoga + food in the West. The food counterculture and yogic movements in America were born in the 1970‘s. The increasing popularity of yoga has continues to make many more conscious of how specific foods effect their bodies, more aware of their surroundings, and therefore of the tastes, cultures, and foods in their lives. Foodies are born. Likewise, the foodie interested in the intricacies and subtleties of food are curious with yogic inquiry. A nice little marriage of eat + pray + love both food and yoga. Foodies and yogis both appreciate practices where nourishing the body and soul from within is the goal.

If only this little relationship were so easy. No. The yoga community can be austere at times, disapproving of an open-minded eater; specifically one that will consume animal products. The Yoga Sutras state that “AHIMSA” or non-harming, is the first yogic lesson. The “whom is being harmed” is the part that many confounds many yogi-foodies – is it violent to give up butter, milk, and bacon? Or does the cow, or pig feel more pain. The answer might be plain as day, but the sacrifice is not for more than a few.

Yogis and foodies can examine the issue from another side as well. The Upanishads, an ancient yogic text, tell us that the appreciation of a worldly things is completely acceptable and necessary to achieve true understanding, taking the phrase “don’t knock it till you try it” a little further. Enlightenment cannot be reached until we peruse the dark. Until we know butter, its flavor, its use, its beauty, its crime, we cannot begin to understand it.

While this little yogini is still on the fence about issues surrounding animal products; I always believe that local, humane, and natural are best. I stay away from meats more because of preference and physical feeling than I do a strict belief in “ahimsa.” Butter, churned from happy, grass fed cows is something I can deal with. This time, appreciating, and LEARNING butter in all its glory seemed fitting. And so, we have a decadent, delicious treat to be enjoyed, and, without the guilt many might associate with hedonistic pursuit of dessert.

The graham recipe here is one of the tastiest I have seen, and while I was quite certain that the butter didn’t have time to warm up enough to spread out, the wafers didn’t hold their shape so well as they were baking. No worries, they were being turned into crust! I added Freddy Guys Hazelnuts from Monmouth, Oregon instead of the traditional almonds, but payed homage to this Vancouver treat in earnest otherwise.

D says these might be more loved than any of the other gluten-free treats he has been “subjected” to over the years, and a new request in years to come. Thank you Daring Bakers, yogic history, and ultra-training for making this treat truly one to be remembered, modeled after, and sought out!

Gluten-Free Nainamo Bars

A delicious trifecta of grahamy/nutty/chocolatey goodness, creamy vanilla, and dark chocolate, inspirational enough to roll in the snow. Naked. Maybe. Or just to share with others.
(sourced from 101cookbooks.com, and The City of Nainamo)

**I have written these instructions as I completed them, based off the guidelines of the challenge. A couple of modifications.
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. You can also do this by hand simply by whisking together the dry ingredients and then using a pastry blender or fork to combine. No chunks of butter should be visible, however.
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.
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.
Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. (If you allow the dough to sit out, and the butter to warm, it will begin to separate and mis-shape your grahams! Keep cool!) 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 and scraps.
Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. (Or, smash them into tiny pieces within a ziploc bag.)
Nanaimo Bars
For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) succanat
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) hazelnuts, toasted and 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) good quality vanilla extract
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Theo Dark 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, vanilla, 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. Eat at once!!

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