Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers)

January 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm 134 comments

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Lately, I’ve been in a writing rut.

I’ve been in food ruts where I made the same types of desserts over and over, and I’ve had weeks where inspiration simply escaped me. I’ve had photography ruts, too, where every post would somehow have the same style of photographs. I think every food blogger has those moments where you long to shoot images of vintage cars, textured bark or copper kettles, anything but another cookie.

These days, I haven’t had any recent baking disasters and my photography can only improve. But I’ve never experienced a writing rut before, and even stringing those two words together makes my heart ache like a bruised peach. I can’t describe how stifling and disheartening it feels to have nothing to say. I have never felt speechless before, and it makes me feel cloudless and empty.

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I tried to pinpoint where it started, and I think I know. Last month the blog received more attention than usual and got some national exposure. I was out of town the week that it happened, and when I came home, I was startled by the sudden spike in subscriptions and Facebook friend requests. All my numbers had gone up, thirty times my usual number of hits, and more comments than I could read in an hour.

At first, I was exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to post again, and I was so touched that 17 and Baking meant something to so many new people. But as I started sifting through the comments, I encountered something I’d never expected to read on my site – wisps of negativity that deflated any of my short-lived joy.

I’ve never received disparaging comments before. I mean, it’s one thing when a recipe doesn’t work out for somebody or when I’ve made a silly mistake on my post. But amongst the flood of new comments were little pebbles of cruelty, a silt of snide comments and offhand criticisms. I knew those people shouldn’t matter. I knew nobody with a dream or a zest for life would write “Who cares?” on a 17 year old’s blog.

But honestly? I’m not kidding anyone, especially not myself. Those comments did matter to me.

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I remember for the first time, dreading my next post. Although only a tiny percentage of comments from the recent exposure had been discouraging, the damage was done. I considered writing about my hesitations and reservations, or about how I found the strength to move on. But nothing I wrote rang true, and ultimately, I didn’t want to display my disappointment and tarnished confidence to the world. That isn’t the kind of person I am.

I wrote a lighthearted post instead, and kept my feelings to myself for once. And somehow, inexplicably, I lost my voice for a few weeks. I was unsatisfied with everything I wrote, and I finally had the last straw when I rewrote last week’s post four times before posting, and still was unhappy with the result. I wanted to find my passion again.

Passion, not flour or sugar, is the life of this blog. I refuse to let it wilt, because this blog has truly had a tangible impact on my life. I can feel it stirring in the back of my mind when I’m home alone, making hot chocolate and trying to find matching socks. I feel it pulsing through my veins when I walk to class, wet leaves still clinging to my boots. And I feel it most of all in my heart when I read your comments and emails, because nothing makes me as happy and enriches my life as much as your words.

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Last week I discovered that I was nominated in the category of “Best Weblog By a Teen” in the 10th annual Weblog Awards, and it lifted my spirits in an unbelievable way. I felt like I was made out of thin air, or quite possibly liquid sunshine. I’m so honored and thrilled to be part of this year’s nominations!

Browsing this year’s nominees has also shown me plenty of great sites I wouldn’t have found on my own. None of the other teen nominees are specifically food bloggers, but their interests range from current issues to fashion to daily ponderings. I definitely encourage you to check out this year’s weblogs and maybe even vote for 17 and Baking! [2/28/10 Update: You might like to know that I won. :) ]

I finally feel like I have found my voice again with this post. The words came out easily once more, like the dusk I’ve been swept in has finally dissipated. When I finished writing this post and read it over in a final edit, I felt a deep satisfaction that I’d nearly forgotten.

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I don’t know if it’s the nomination, the passing of time, or the fact that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was pleasantly easy. All I know is that I am bursting with metaphors and adjectives, I have so much that I want to say and so much I want to learn. I’m so lucky to know where my passions are and to have the means to pursue them with everything I have, and I can’t help but look forward to February with a considerably lighter heart.

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 http://www.nanaimo.ca.

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Here in Washington state we don’t get nanaimo bars, or at least I’ve never seen one. I’ve seen them on Tastespotting and thought they looked good, so I was excited to see that they were this month’s challenge. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I liked them. I have a sweet tooth, but even without the maple flavoring, these were tooth achingly sweet. They were also much too rich in the way that an overly buttery buttercream is too rich.

Nanaimo bars have three layers – chocolate on top, a middle buttercream layer, and a cocoa-coconut bottom layer made with graham crackers. For the chocolate layer, I used some unsweetened chocolate to tWe were encouraged to make gluten-free graham crackers for the challenge, but I didn’t have the ingredients on hand and made the original recipe instead. It just so happens I’ve made this exact graham cracker recipe before for my Autumn S’mores, so I’ll give the gluten-free version below.

Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
Adapted from 101.cookbooks
Makes about 10 large graham crackers (more than that for me)

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) Cold Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

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.

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. 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. [To make things easier on myself, since the bars just need crumbs, I used a cookie cutter to quickly cut out stars.] 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.

Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).  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. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

Bake for 25 minutes [more like 12], 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.

To make crumbs: 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.

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Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars
Makes an 8×8 Pan

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
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Walnuts (Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded)

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.

Maple “Buttercream” 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, or Vanilla pudding mix)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing (Powdered) Sugar
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Maple Syrup
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Dash of cinnamon

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, icing sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and cinnamon together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

Chocolate Top Layer

3 ounces (87 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
1 ounce (29 g) Unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Let cool to room temperature. When cooled, but still liquid, spread over the top of the bars.

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134 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stephanie  |  February 2, 2010 at 9:46 am

    My daughter and I have been watching every day to see your next post. I had a feeling something was going on. I want you to encourage you that you are working that stuff through in a very healthy way. We can’t deny that hurtful comments hurt us, but what we do after we recognize that is key. Do we let those statements define us? Push us off track? Steal our passion? Or do we move on, doing what we love and encouraging others to do the same? No, you aren’t perfect—(I know I’m not!), but you are sharing your passion with us and it has inspired my 11 year old to try and start her own blog. So keep your chin up and keep those great recipes and pics and words coming!

    Reply
  • 2. MacKenzie  |  February 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I think you’re quite amazing. It’s hard when the self-deprecating part of us is louder than the confident one. Despite the overflow of kudos and “well dones,” it’s always those few doubting remarks that make us crumble. If anything, look at it as a skin-thickening exercise because in this anonymous and cowardly day and age sitting vulnerably in the public eye sadly requires it. Keep doing what you’re doing :)

    http://whereisthehombrellah.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • 3. SeattleDee  |  February 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Your posts continue to interest, to delight, to inspire many readers who, like me, lurk rather than comment. Today I felt my spirit lift as I read through the comments above, full of affirmation and support. Thank you for sharing this experience, and congratulations on moving through it with grace and maturity.

    Reply
  • 4. Jessica  |  February 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I wonder if you truly know how it is that you inspire people. It bothered me to learn that there are people who were hurtful towards you or your talents. I look forward to watching you grow as a person, as more and more of your life experiences will enhance your blog even more. Thank you for inspiring me. Your blog is sometimes the pick-me-up that I need to get through my hectic days. You are a true gem. :) Your mom and dad must be so proud. :) I don’t even know you, yet you make ME proud. Keep up the good work–there are many people who love your talents and love that you share them with others.

    Reply
  • 5. amber  |  February 5, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Just found your blog via the weblog awards and I’m addicted. Opening your page is like entering a spa…so relaxing and inviting. Looking forward to what you do next.
    Best,
    Amber

    p.s. how on Earth did you manage to slice those bars so perfectly?!

    Reply
    • 6. Elissa  |  February 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      Amber – I chilled the bars, so they would hold up a little better. I ran hot water over the knife, dried it off, and used the warm knife to cut the bars. Between cuts, I wiped the knife off with a paper towel. If I’d really wanted them to look perfect, I would have chilled the cut bars and then carefully pressed them into perfect squares once they were cold again. :)

  • 7. Lynne Frappier  |  February 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Elissa… you’re blog is by far one of the most fun, visually beautiful, recipe tempting, and most importantly joyful blogs around. keep up the awesome work… i read your posts, see your pictures and it makes me want to roll my sleeves up, pull out my kitchenaid mixer and get started on something new. i even blogged about you on my blog this week (your tiny peanut butter chocolate chip buttons were the subject of conversation)… thanks for being fun and yourself. keep doing what you are doing and ignore the nay-sayers.

    Reply
  • 8. amber  |  February 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Hi E,
    Thanks for the reply and for the “chef’s secret” on slicing perfection. Not only am I lovin’ your blog but now my daughters (13 &10) are hooked. Keep up the fantastic work, YOU ROCK (as my 10 yr old would say)!

    Reply
  • 9. Tay  |  February 11, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Some people are not happy unless they’re putting somebody else down. Sometimes there’s some truth in a comment and you can take something from it, learn from and grow from it. Sometimes you just have to look past it and move on. This is my first time on this blog and I have to say it’s very well put together. You also take pictures that make the food look worth trying. Keep working toward your goals. Remember that there will always be people there to discourage you, but you’re strong enough to push past them and continue onward.

    Reply
  • 10. Kevin  |  February 11, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Great looking nanaimo bars! I like the use of the maple in them.

    Reply
  • 11. Kodi  |  February 19, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Remember this post, and how you felt when you wrote it. Not everyone will always love what you have to say, but you are a bright 17 year old with maturity beyond your years. You’re great at what you do and humble enough to know you can be better, and that humility makes you honorable.

    Reply
  • 12. meili  |  February 20, 2010 at 10:49 am

    You go girl! you have definitely not lost ur way in writing! i am stunned at how great you are with your words! i just stumbled across your blog after clicking on ur pic and read this post and it literally made me angry that these people would say something like that to you! i dont even know you but i am proud that you are still a blogging genius! keep your head up ur so talented especially for how young u are :)

    Reply
  • 13. thecookieshop  |  February 21, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I’ve recently received some anonimous hate comments on my blog, and the only thing I can say is: how can someone HATE a BAKING BLOG? Maybe this person is on a very hard diet, or is just jealous of your talent, or hates little kitties and knitting grandmas too, who knows?
    I don’t think you should care about it, because you have one of the most beautiful food blogs out there, and you are only 17!
    Big Hug
    Paula

    Reply
  • 14. Sue  |  February 22, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Unfortunately in this world the bad comes along with the good, but doesn’t that just make the good (comments) that much sweeter? :)

    Don’t take the negativity personal because they don’t even KNOW you!

    BTW, I do have a sweet tooth, but this was even too sweet for me:) LOVED making/eating the graham crackers though!!!

    Reply
  • 15. TaraTakesTheCake  |  February 27, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    i have sporadically followed your blog over the past few months and have greatly enjoyed your posts — you are clearly an incredibly creative person with a lot of talent.

    your detractors…or anyone who would ask “who cares” about your blog.. are jaded and wish to pass on the lack of support end encouragement that they must have received in pursuing their passions and dreams. lots of people care.

    it isnt just about delicious food and beautiful pictures, although you are well covered in both those departments. it is about taking a risk, sharing a piece of yourself and your creativity — your art — with the world. lots of people love to cook and bake and do it because they enjoy it, including myself, but you have true talent.

    this is a good lesson to learn early: at every stage of your life there will be people there ready and willing to take you down a notch, to take the wind out of your sails and to rain on your parade. there will be people who tell you you cant succeed, shouldn’t pursue your passions, that nobody cares, etc. they are wrong. prove it to them.

    Reply
  • 16. Kamille  |  March 9, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Your blog is on Smitten Kitchen’s read list. I’m impressed with you at your age doing this. It is hard to not let people’s words get to us, but they do. And I’m glad you were able to persevere and become the better for it. This post is lovely, because it doesn’t degrade the people you felt belittled by; rather, there is an eloquence about your struggles. That’s what makes a good writer.

    P.S. I’m surprised that you’ve never had a nanaimo bar in WA. The origin is from British Columbia on Vancouver Island. But I agree with you about being too sweet–not big of a fan either.

    Reply
  • 17. Nicole  |  March 20, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Do the Gram waffer crumbs need to be gluten free??

    Reply
  • 19. amy harris  |  April 5, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    You are an amazingly talented young woman! Never doubt your abilities due to some random comment from left field. YOU ROCK!

    Reply
  • 20. Helen  |  July 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Is this whole recipe gluten-free? If so I gotta make this sometime when I’m not feeling lazy hehe

    Reply
  • 21. Leslie  |  November 5, 2010 at 7:13 am

    I like your blog. Love your writing..” pebbles of cruelty and silt of snide”! perfectly phrased!

    Reply
  • 22. Twitter Finds of the Week // OGG Blog  |  December 31, 2010 at 11:35 am

    [...] Thanks to this post tweeted by Ready Made Magazine, I discovered 17 & Baking.  These nanaimo bars look fantastic!  I’ve only attempted nanaimos once and they were regular ones, but oh so heavenly!  Can’t wait to try her recipe for maple walnut ones here. [...]

    Reply
  • 23. Erin :)  |  January 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Livvie says for every negative comment you receive, it takes 10 compliments to undo it. Our bubbles are so easily bursted :(

    Also, there are nanaimo bars in Washington. I think they’re mostly in little cafes, the cute ones that aren’t chains or anything. These look delicious and I will surely make them sometime soon, even though they’re over the top in sugar :P Tania tries to convince me to half the sugar in recipes but I am a stubborn American and do not listen.

    I hope you’re enjoying college Elissa! =)

    Reply
  • 24. Maggie  |  January 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Hi,
    Just came across a link for your blog last night and fell in love with the flavour combinations for cupcakes, not to mention your deft icing skills & beautiful photography.
    I’m Canadian, and I have never seen a blog post about Nanaimo bars, let alone those awesome Christmas treats being mentioned outside of a Canadian Living magazine. As I’ve been living in the US for some time now, I do get hankerings for some of the deserts I grew up on, these being one of them. Thank you for sharing!
    Do you know about Butter Tarts? Another addictive Canadian delicacy;)
    Actually, you know what would be cool? But this is a completely unsolicited suggestion: deserts that have cultural significance in other countries. I was noticing that you have followers from all corners of the world, it might be nice to represent some of those followers through food. Food = Culture.
    Also, I see that you adapted the graham wafer biscuits from Heidi Swanson’s 101cookbooks blog- love her two. You and Heidi are definitely my favourites. Keep up the great work, and enjoy college!

    Reply
  • 25. pat  |  April 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    You always make me cry….Love the way you write and the love that you share with your family. I have a daughter living outside of Boston (Cambridge) and I love it when when she comes home and HATE it when she leaves. But you all need to grow on your own and make your own way. It seems that you are both doing just that, and in a very impressive way. Good Luck with all that you do.

    Reply
  • 26. bsinthekitchen  |  June 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    We made a cupcake version of the nanimo bar! Check it out here: http://bsinthekitchen.com/?p=177

    Reply
  • 27. Karen  |  September 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I’m still working my way through your blog chronologically and I know I’m way behind this wave. However, I haven’t been reading all of the comments – you get so many! But most have seemed encouraging that I have seen. I can’t imagine what anyone would find to criticize here – you seem like a talented, curious, joyful person who is sharing a big part of herself with the world. I know I appreciate that as do many, many other readers. I’m sure you’ve found a way to work through the negative comments by now….I just want to cheer you on as well! :-)

    Reply
  • 28. Lynne  |  May 9, 2012 at 1:44 am

    MEAN PEOPLE SUCK!
    You are so talented and anyone with a shred of sense can see that the minute they read a word of your writing or look at one of your photos (I still cant believe that you are only 19). I adore your blog and only wish you posted more often.

    Reply
  • 29. Heather  |  September 19, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Hi Elissa! I’m a relatively new blogger with a very small blog… I can’t believe that people actually had the gall to say cruel things – where do they get off? It’s also the biggest fear that I happen to have….

    But you know what – there are clearly more that love you than don’t. Don’t pet the sweaty things. Um – I mean don’t sweat the petty things. ;o)

    All the best,
    Heather

    Reply
  • 30. rhondawinters11  |  April 29, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Wow, these pictures look delicious! I have got to try these recipes this weekend. Thank you for posting this and making me hungry! =-)

    Reply
  • 31. Ally  |  July 30, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Hi E,

    I discovered your blog yesterday and I have to say yours is undoubtedly the most pleasant blog I have ever read. I know what you mean about losing your voice. Whenever I have something to say, something that’s really bugging me, but choose not to, the result is verbal constipation. I end up not saying anything I truly mean, until I can no longer contain myself and I finally speak up about the thing-that-should-not-be-mentioned, and all is well again.

    (Sorry is my writing style is nowhere near as poetic as yours. ;p, or if my comment is 3 years late! I just wanted to say, keep up the good work and keep your posts coming!)

    Cheers,
    Ally

    Reply
  • 32. cutiekiwi  |  March 19, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    I just want to say that I am an eleven year-old from New Zealand and I am TRULY OBSESSED with your blog.

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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