Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars
Makes an 8×8 Pan
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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