Gluten-Free Nanaimo Bars

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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

Nanaimo Bars | healthy green kitchen

Let me first start by saying that while I don’t know Lauren in person, I’ve gotten to know her through her blog over the last few months. Lauren was one of the first people to start commenting regularly on my blog, in fact, and I think she’s a gem for that. But she’s also a gem for the great gluten-free food she shares at Celiac Teen, and I was extremely happy to see she was the DB host this month.

I’ve been to Vancouver Island (the location of the town Nanaimo) and I have heard of Nanaimo bars, but I have never tasted them before. I knew I’d love them the moment I saw the ingredients list and pulled up some pictures on the Web, though. A layered creation of crushed graham crackers, chocolate, coconut, almonds and then more chocolate with a custardy frosting-like middle? Hello? Clearly these are not waistline-friendly. But with Lauren at the helm of this challenge, I knew they’d be gluten-free and damn good.

I followed Lauren’s recipes with just a couple of substitutions (either because I couldn’t find something at the store or because I didn’t have the necessary ingredients at home) which you’ll see below. I kept everything gluten-free and found these to be incredibly delicious. Not an every day treat by any means; these definitely go into the decadent recipe category!

And now for the recipe.

First, you’ll need to make the graham crackers.

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers/Wafers


1 cup sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup tapioca starch/flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup honey, preferably a mild-flavored variety such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons 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. 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 350F.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and roll again. 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, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. It might take less time for them to cook, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones on the bottom will brown faster.

Cooled completely and place enough wafers in a blender or food processor to make 1 ¼ cups of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziploc bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Note: I had some trouble finding the gluten-free flours for the graham crackers at my local natural foods store. So I took a gamble and tried the recipe using 2 1/4 cup (the total amount of sweet rice, tapioca, and sorghum flour combined) of Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free Pancake and Baking Mix. The dough was a little crumbly when I rolled it out but I figured it didn’t matter since I’d be making graham cracker crumbs with it anyway. They’re not going to win a beauty contest, but the graham crackers actually ended up tasting great.

Nanaimo Bars | healthy green kitchen
Next, you proceed with the Nanaimo bars recipe. Any leftover graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter (I used organic coconut oil because I was low on butter)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups gluten-free graham wafer crumbs (see above)
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
1 cup coconut (I used 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded organic coconut; my kids don’t love it so I halved the amount)

Middle Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons heavy cream (I ran out of butter and used sour cream)
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder such as Bird’s; vanilla pudding mix may be substituted
2 cups icing (powdered sugar)

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) semi-sweet chocolate (I used organic, gluten-free semi-sweet chocolate chips by Sunspire)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (again, I used sour cream because I was out of butter)


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.

For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.

For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool and pour over middle layer. Chill before slicing.

These bars freeze very well.

Nanaimo Bars | healthy green kitchen

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