Gluten-Free Nanaimo Bar Brownies
The Back Story!
On a recent morning, I picked up a Gluten-Free Nanaimo Bar at a local market.
... It wasn’t very good.
You could tell that they had just converted a regular nanaimo bar recipe without making adjustments for differences in how their dry ingredients absorb moisture.
In this case, I’m assuming they used a gluten-free graham cracker, though it’s hard to say. I had to develop my own Gluten-free Graham Cracker Recipe a while back (for Beyond Flour 2!), specifically because none of the commercially available gluten-free “graham crackers” tasted, looked, or felt anything like graham crackers!
As is the case in most gluten-free baking, a gluten-free graham cracker is likely to absorb moisture in a completely different way than a normal gluten-free graham cracker, because the flours used in them - and most GF flours, for that matter - tend to absorb water in wildly different ways than wheat flour.
It’s why I develop all of my gluten-free recipes from the ground up, rather than simply convert from a “normal” version. Ratios and techniques don’t always swap out evenly, after all!
Anyway, I digress. This was not a good Nanaimo Bar... even though I’d previously been convinced that “Not good Nanaimo Bars” were not possible.
This was a gooey, incoherent mess, and almost reminded me of an undercooked brownie.
The Inspiration and the Execution
I’d actually been craving a brownie for a few days before this, so it got me thinking of brownies. A gooey brownie with a good layer of chocolate frosting sounded really good right about then.
... but what if I topped a brownie with the top two layers of a Nanaimo Bar?
A proper brownie, a thick layer of the custard buttercream, and the chocolate ganache on top?
And what if I tweaked the brownie recipe itself to have some of the flavours of a Nanaimo Bar?
The idea intrigued me. It sounded SO wrong, but also... kinda right. It would be an unholy bastardization of tradition, but it would be a TASTY unholy bastardization of tradition.
... and that is how I - an intellectual - came to make a BAKED version of an unbaked bar, on one of the hottest days of the year. LOL.
While I wanted the brownies to be a NOD to the base of a proper Nanaimo Bar, I wanted them to be *brownies*, specifically. So, while there’s a bit of almond and some coconut in there, don’t expect them to be the same as a Nanaimo Bar base.
This was more about dressing up a brownie, than anything.
Note: I left out graham cracker anything on purpose - the store bought ones are gross, and frankly, for a brownie... it’s not worth the effort to make a batch of graham crackers, for the small amount I would have put in here.
But Wait... What Is A Nanaimo Bar?
If you’re something other than Canadian, you’re probably wondering what a Nanaimo Bar is, so let me back up a bit.
A Nanaimo bar is a traditional Canadian sweet. It’s a no-bake, 3 layer bar that is *quite* sweet... and immensely popular. They’ve been around since the 1950s, and originated in Nanaimo, BC.
The bottom later is chocolate, almonds, and graham crackers, the middle layer is a buttercream that’s been thickened with custard powder*, and then the whole thing is topped off with a thick chocolate ganache, that sets up like a frosting.
The middle layer CAN be flavoured - I’ve got a few recipes or variations up! - but usually isn’t, when purchased. The vast majority of Nanaimo Bars that you’ll see out in the wild have the standard yellowish center.
... and these can be purchased almost anywhere, mind you. Gas stations, grocery stores, festivals, farmers markets, and more. You can even buy boxed mixes to make them.
* If you don’t have access to custard powder - Bird’s is the most popular brand - you can always use pudding powder. Just make sure to use the “cook and serve” type, not instant.
Nanaimo Bar Recipes
Here are a few of my Nanaimo Bar recipes, for those who don’t need gluten-free bars.
If you need gluten-free, crushing up gluten-free graham crackers made from my recipe actually work pretty well as a 1-1 substitute in any of these.
I guess the things I did to make them look, taste, and feel accurate made them behave like normal graham crackers, as well!
These turned out *fantastic*, and disappeared WAY too quickly for this being a household of 2 that is maintaining social distance from the rest of the world.
My husband - who’s not gluten-free - managed to completely forget that these were, in fact, Gluten-free Nanaimo Bar Brownies
Anyway, these satisfied the brownie craving, while also hitting the particular comfort food notes that only a Nanaimo bar can reach at times.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
Other Gluten-Free Canadian Goodies
If you’re not gluten-free yourself, you can simply add the top 2 layers to your favourite 8 x 8" pan of brownies to make regular Nanaimo Bar Brownies.
Fudgy dense brownies will work better than cakey brownies - I recommend my double chocolate walnut brownie / recipe, swapping out the walnuts for almonds.
Also, if you're interested in gluten-free cooking and baking, you should definitely check out my gluten-free cookbooks: Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten Free Cooking & Baking, and the sequel... Beyond Flour 2. You can order them right here on my website, through Amazon, or through any major bookseller.
Note: This site is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the site to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. While I’ll only ever link to items that I, personally, wholeheartedly recommend, I do need to put that disclosure out there!
Now, on to that recipe!
This recipe would be right at home with the many fantastic Canadian recipes in my cookbook, "More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods from my Home and Native Land”. "More than Poutine" is a Canadian cookbook like no other - written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional home cooking recipes, as well as accurate homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada! Order your copy here on this site, through Amazon, or through any major bookseller!