Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nanaimo Bars and "Are Food Bloggers Faking it?"

There's an interesting discussion underway in the food blogging community today. Are food bloggers "faking it"? Is the surge of hundreds of thousands, actually more likely millions, of food blogs out there "dumbing down" the culinary industry?

You're reading this blog, and probably several others, so I'm going to guess you probably don't agree with either sentiment.

However, a food journalist put forth an opinion piece, "Faking It", on the IACP web site this week, that puts those ideas out there.

The premise is basically this: Major companies in the food industry are paying food bloggers to create recipes with their products, however, there are some food bloggers that do not test the recipes over and over, so therefore, the recipe/creation they put out to the world is an inferior product.

The writer also refers to many food bloggers as "hobbyists" or "stay-at-home-moms" with too much time on their hands.

Umm, do any of you actually know a stay-at-home-parent (because honestly people, there are stay-at-home-dads too, so get over your sexist stereotypes) that actually has "too much time on their hands"?

Also, isn't cooking about experimentation? It's about messing around with a recipe until it's where you want it to be? Does it have to be tested seven which ways to make it "publish-worthy" on the internet?

I don't think so.

Without food bloggers, you wouldn't have that perfect yellow cake recipe that came from someone's grandmother, instead of the dry, complex one that may have come out of the pages and test kitchens of some high-gloss food publications.

Food is NOT reserved for hoity-toity publications, that's where the culinary industry has gone wrong.

There is a place for high cuisine. I truly believe it's an art form and it's beautiful, and it should be left to the people who know how to make it happen with grace and style.

Most of the food bloggers I know or read, aren't aspiring to high-gloss covers, or high-cuisine. They're focusing on bringing good food back to the tables of whatever country they may be in. They're sharing time-tested family recipes, creations that worked in their kitchens, and information that has made cooking accessible again in their households.

Food blogging is not "dumbing down" the culinary industry. Instead, this movement is making cooking "real", "down-to-earth", and bringing people back into the fold of things like from-scratch baking, canning, and preserving.

You all know, I don't write this blog for money. I do get compensated from time to time for certain posts. This isn't my career, it's a love I have for food and sharing it with others. In the end, that's how almost all food blogs begin, with a love for cooking or baking.

Let's all celebrate that cooking and baking is making a comeback among the masses again, instead of tearing down the people that are working so hard to get it there.

Discuss amongst yourselves, while I offer up some nanaimo bars while you chat. Yes, they've been all over the internet already. No, they're not my own creation, but a mish-mash of other people's creations.

Honestly, I never even knew what they were until I first visited the man who would become my husband in Vancouver. His family had made them for years, and it was love at first bite. I now make them whenever possible. Enjoy.

Nanaimo Bars
Sources: City of Nanaimo and the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook

Note - traditionally you add a 1/2 cup of chopped almonds or nuts to the bottom layer, I do not, feel free to add, however.


Bottom Layer:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about one sleeve of full graham crackers)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut

Second Layer:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons milk or cream (whatever you have is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard or pudding powder (custard is traditional, but can be hard to find)
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Third layer:
  • 4 (1-oz) squares semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Take an 8x8 square baking pan, line with parchment (or wax) paper, leaving plenty of overhang so you can lift the bars out of the pan later.

Bottom Layer:
Melt 1/2 cup butter, sugar, and cocoa in a double boiler.
Add egg and stir until mixture thickens (also making sure the egg doesn't cook either), then add vanilla extract.
Remove from heat and fold in crumbs, coconut (and nuts if using, see header above).
Press into your lined baking pan and place in fridge to cool while you make the second layer.

Second Layer:
Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, cream together 1/2 cup of butter, your milk, pudding powder, and icing sugar until light and fluffy.
Spread over the bottom layer of the bars and place back in the fridge.

Third Layer:
Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler until melted together.
Allow to cool a touch, but when it's still liquid, pour over other layers, and then place in the fridge to chill until the top layer is hardened.

Lift parchment out of baking pan, and cut into small squares and enjoy!

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Michelle Collins said...

I love this post. I started out a food journalist, and saw from the get-go that there's a big difference between food bloggers and culinary industry folk. I've never been able to understand why food bloggers were all of a sudden given the obligation to be chefs, food journalists, and the like. I, personally, use my blog as an informal way to share my easy recipes that I've made once, twice or ten times - 
I'm honest about it - I don't pretend to have tested a recipe multiple times before posting it.  It's my blog, so I'll write about whatever the heck I want. ;) 

Melissa@EyesBigger said...

I think there's two different things going on.  I personally feel that if you have been paid to develop a recipe with a product, you have an obligation to test it several times before publishing it.  Having said that, if major companies want food bloggers to create recipe for them, they should be compensated appropriately... not a handful of free coupons or product - but money to cover off the purchase of ingredients for multiple tests as well as money to cover the blogger's time.  Few do that.
But food blogging as a general whole is absolutely about experimentation, sharing, preserving family recipes, talking about meals eaten in restaurants and a host of other things.  And it is fantastic that more and more people are getting in touch with where there food comes from and are excited to get in the kitchen and try their own hand at it - that should be encouraged on so many levels.  Great post Kim (ps... I originate from a tiny little town right outside of Nanaimo - Nanaimo bars practically flow through my bloodstream.  Love them!)

Realneonlady said...

I was thinking I needed an excuse to make Nanaimo bars....  something must be in the air.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Agreed. If you're being contracted by a company to develop, you should be practicing due diligence in testing and re-testing the recipe. Compensation is definitely key here as well. You can't expect the time and energy to go into recipe development if the compensation isn't there.

As for the nanaimo bars, I have a love affair with the "custard" layer. So happy to have such a connection to them. :-)

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 There's always an excuse to make them in my book!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 I think too often, food bloggers also expect so much of themselves. Very few will turn this into a full-time profession, and I think that's perfectly fine. We are all providing a service to just get people into cooking in the first place, we need to embrace that!

Kate said...

I've loved those bars since I was a little kid. We always made them at Christmas.

I've gotten a very sour taste in my mouth over the fact that published recipes in both print magazines and in cookbook's rarely come out as 'perfect' (whatever the hell that means) despite following the instructions to a 'T'. I even have had an exchange on a discussion board with one cookbook author over this, and was told that I must be messing it up somehow because there was no way the results I was getting could be possible. I'm a trained culinary professional, and this assumption was ridiculous. And maddening.

Cookbook authors are not gods, even ones that create book after book. Everything is fallible, and even when a recipe is tested a dozen times it can still produce poor results. 

Plate Fodder said...

I've only been asked once by a major food company "What is your development process", mainly because recipe and menu development is really my "job" and I'm paid well for it. But menu developing for a specific product - and developing something for the website are two completely different things in my eyes.  With the site ( as I'm sure with many of you) I'm not looking at target markets or shopping budgets. I'm either reworking someone else's or a family recipe that I particularly like or I'm goofing in the test kitchen playing around with ingredients. I don't post everything I cook - that's just madness - not everything is worthy of someone else eating it. It behooves us on our part as a community to write about and share what moves and inspires us - not simply fill up our pages with substandard recipes just to have something to share.

Jessie Kaufman said...

I read this this morning, and as a professional food photojournalist I'd like to say that this is not the opinion of all of us in the industry. I have a food blog that I sometimes don't even take the time to take good photos for because I am busy. I get it. It's a hobby and it's ok to treat it like one.
I do, however, always test at least three times. That is my personal choice, just like it is another bloggers choice not to. It's a blog, not Cooks Illustrated, and from coming from someone that is on food shoots at least twice a month I can tell you that sometimes recipes are tweaked onsite- which clearly hasn't gone through rigorous testing.  

People who visit your blog make the choice to make your recipes. I think as long as your qualifications are clearly stated on your blog somewhere you can test/not test/charge for posts at your leisure. 

I'd also like to point out that both Saveur and the New York Times loves food bloggers. I'd rank them both much higher in the food world than the assholes at IACP. 

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Agreed, my post count isn't high, because I don't believe in blogging everything I cook. Developing for a company is different than what I put together for the site. Site recipes get made a couple of times, but a development recipe will get tested more often. It's all in what your goal is.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

Thank you for weighing in. I think personal choice plays a big role here. It's different for those who treat blogging as a profession to those who do it on the side simply to share a passion (and maybe make a few dollars here and there). I think there's room for everyone in all of this... and as long as people contribute thoughtfully, I think everyone wins.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 So well said, and so true. Cooking isn't always an exact science. People's ingredients are different, their ovens, things don't measure just right, there are so many variables. It's all about creativity and community in the end.

Aly M said...

I agree. Bloggers are about sharing recipes that we have tried and love. If others are concerned about "well-tested" recipes, then we would go elsewhere.

Stephsbitebybite said...

I am right there with you!! But I guess it doesn't matter what they think, because food bloggers are taking over the world right?! LOL!! These bars looks insanely delish!

Doves and Figs said...

This is a thoughtful post and some great comments.  I know bloggers who spend more time chattering about how they are going to monitize and brand everything than actually cooking, testing, or writing.  There are others who are amazing with their sharing and teaching and they shrug it off as just for fun.   If you whipped up something crazy in your kitchen right now, I would like to read about it but don't present it as the carefully tested recipe. A recipe does not have to be tested as long as you indicate that it is your first time making it as well.  Those are the posts I use to gather ideas rather than expecting perfect results from the method or recipe.  They still have value as long as the writer is honest.

Isabelle @ Crumb said...

I think it's a sign of how stupid busy I've been that I totally missed this big kerfuffle... which is too bad, because I think it's actually a very worthwhile discussion.
I've developed recipes for a few different brands, and I'm definitely way more meticulous with my paid work than I would be on a regular blog posts.  Obviously, there are limits to what I can do with the time and resources I have available to me, but I always do a minimum of three test runs with paid recipes to make sure the first time wasn't just beginner's luck.
It would be nice if all of us could have the advantage of a proper test kitchen where we could have the recipe tested by multiple people using different types of pans/ovens/stoves and even
multiple brands of the same ingredient... but let's face it, that's not exactly an option for the 99% of us who do this as a part-time endeavor (and one that pays pretty poorly at that).
Besides, I think all of us have had the experience of running into a recipe that clearly hasn't been tested. I know I've had that happen with sources ranging from AllRecipes to Bon Appetit - obviously, even the big boys aren't immune to slapping something together for the sake of a deadline. :P

Samantha said...

Thank you!

Carolyn said...

Great post, Kimmy!  I confess, I rarely test my recipes over and over.  But as a low carb/gluten free food blogger, my whole MO is experimentation and part of my schtick, if you will, is to tell you the results, whether something worked or didn't work.  Most of the time, thankfully, it works! 
When I develop a recipe for a company, I am definitely more careful, writing down exact amounts, adjusting a bit here and a bit there.  But then, I am not "developing" recipes for print publication, just usually for a company's blog.  If I were to get paid for print publications or even proper online publications, you'd bet I'd be way careful about the process.   I am a co-author on a low carb cookbook and I am far more careful about those recipes.
It's part of what I love about blogging...I am my own editor.   And I don't have time to retest over and over.  I do have some major failures that don't make it anywhere near my blog...or I have some failures that I write about laughingly and then don't post a recipe.
PS - Nanaimo bars are my FAVE, but then I am a Canuck, born and bred.

Clrickey said...

Love food bloggers, I have learned so much and made healthy changes to my diet because of the information on food blogs.  Gardening to have fresh produce to include in my less refined living!  Continue on always!

Suzanne said...

Love the recipe and very interesting post. I just started my blog a few months ago and like you I just love cooking and creating recipes. My Mother inspired me to cook and many of my recipes are from my Mom. I have always loved to cook but I really became passionate about it when I became involved with food52,  entering contests and interacting with other home cooks like myself. The blog came as a result of this and I am not in it for money, I don't get paid, I have a full time job and cooking is a creative outlet for me. I am participating with a food company reviewing products but I volunteered and am not getting paid, it's fun for me. Thank you for posting this.

Nechama Fiddle said...

I didn't read through all the comments because I agree with every single thing you said! SO true! The food blogging community is not for hoity toity foodies- just people who want GOOD food! Thank you for saying all that so clearly and correctly! And my favorite thing you said:

"Without food bloggers, you wouldn't have that perfect yellow cake recipe that came from someone's grandmother, instead of the dry, complex one that may have come out of the pages and test kitchens of some high-gloss food publications."Sums it up perfectly!!! Thank you!

Heather Smoke said...

This was a great post, and interesting to read all the opinions.  I started my food blog a year ago, simply because I love to cook.  And I sure don't have the time or money to make a recipe 3x or more before posting it, when I'm not getting paid for my work.  For sure, though, I only write about a fraction of the things we cook at home, because most weeknight dinners aren't all that exciting or photo-worthy.  And for the recipes I make with the intent of a blog post, if I don't like how something turned out, I don't post it, because I do want to share quality recipes that I think others will be able to make successfully, too. But something I've come to love about the food blog community is the sense of togetherness in learning techniques in the kitchen, sharing mishaps and tips, and knowing that most of us aren't professionals, but just food lovers who love to cook and want to share that passion or family legacy.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 That's how I feel. No, we're not passing tattered recipe cards around anymore, we're posting instead!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Thanks, cooking has been made to seem so inaccessible to people over the years. It's just "too hard", "too time consuming", I feel like blogs bring it back to the masses.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Honestly, there's a very small percentage of bloggers who can make their living from all of this. The rest of us are just people who love food, and want to get better at sharing it all. There's nothing wrong with that. Cooking is not an exact science that hours of testing can always improve.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 It's all about spreading knowledge! I learn something new every single day from a blog!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Carolyn, I think you discovered the line there. It's all about expectation. If a company sets out, "We need you to test or have a developmental plan", then you follow it, or you don't go into business with them. I feel like what people put out to the web vs. create for pay are two different sides of the coin. However, even when getting paid, many aren't getting paid enough to test more than a couple of times!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 You're welcome!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Izzy - as always, you put it all so perfectly. Even a perfect cookbook recipe can fail depending on the variants. Most of the bloggers I know, edit carefully, not posting a recipe until it's at least been made a few times to account for any variants. Also, there's pride involved, you don't want to put something out there that sucks.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Disclosure and honest are great policies. It depends what you put yourself out there as in the beginning. If you put yourself out there as an expert, you better back it up.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 *insert evil laugh here* I think there's room for the professional food writer and the blogger, everyone just needs to play nice.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 That's what cookbooks are for... I also would like to think that most people that are grabbing recipes from blogs, realize that most people are home cooks and it's not as much of a scientific process as from other sources.

Anon said...

I think the rise and rise of food blogging by people who are not industry professionals has been the best thing to happen to home cooking.
It's certainly created a movement of cooking for pleasure and cooking at home and I think that speaks volumes for its importance.
Food bloggers have made cooking more accessible to the masses. Many also 'speak' in a voice that their audience can relate to. I would rather read a food blog by a 'stay-at-home' mum than a a food review by an overpaid journalist on an expense account.

Charlie said...

Good Morning!

I hope the sun is shining on you.

I love Nanaimo bars.  Of course I do,  I'm Canadian.

There is one thing I have to disagree with Laura Secord.

Namaimo bars do not take pudding.

I have tasted them with the pudding mix and they taste Nothing like the real thing.

If you want the real thing,  then only use custard powder.

Mostly what is used is Bird's Custard Powder.

I'm not saying this to cause offense, but because I want you to experience the "real"  thing.

Have a Joyful Day  :~D


Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Charlie, I actually 100% agree with you! Sadly, I find custard powder really hard to find in the Northeast part of the U.S.. Therefore, in order to get my nanaimo fix, I've had to sub out the custard. Funny note, the city of Nanaimo's website calls for custard, but Laura Secord actually doesn't call for custard or pudding in that layer, which I find very bizarre! Have a wonderful day!

Charlie said...

The recipe from Nanaimo is the original.

Here is the link for amazon,  the custard is here.

Hope this will help you!


Allison said...

Thank you for this wonderful and thoughtful post. I could not agree more that food-blogging, as is, has its value! Oh, and those bars look delicious! : )

Shonagh @ An Offal Experiment said...

My comment is more nanaimo bar specific.  I actually find the original recipe a bit sweet for my liking (sorry!) so I make a few changes: I cut out half the sugar in the middle layer, add orange zest, 1 cup chopped coconut, and salted butter.  For the top layer I use a really good quality dark chocolate.  I find that the orange really adds a nice extra flavour.

RavieNomNoms said...

I love this post, first off congrats on the Top 9, and second....I was shocked at that article. Chef Dennis posted it on Facebook a couple days ago and when I read it, frankly, I was mad.

I know I personally don't write on my blog to get money out of it and I don't plan too. I do it because of the community and the people you meet and the great recipes you find. God forbid some of us actually find enjoyment in cooking something and then writing about our experience!

Jennifer Cote said...

One thing I've noticed about the food blogging trend is that there are so very many choices of recipes to make, but not always a definitive answer on which are the best recipes. I have over 13,000 messages piled up in my Foodbuzz inbox, and I just KNOW I don't have time to wade through all that info! I do appreciate finding reliable recipes from reliable sources, even if it's still a lot of fun getting inspired by the many ideas out there. Even if I have to test 'em out on my own!

DB-The Foodie Stuntman said...

Congratulations on making the foodbuzz Top 9! These look delicious.

Secondly, I saw Ms. Reiley's post Wednesday morning too, and I found myself angry over the whole thing, which is unusual because cooking food and writing about it on my website.

I reacted to it by submitting the following comment:"I am the author of a small food blog but not professionally trained in culinary arts. I am that novice "stay-at-home father" that you write about so passionately.Ms. Reiley, I thin...k what might help your argument is to define the difference between "professionals" and "hobbyists" because if the corporations such as Folgers Coffee or Sara Lee pays a food blogger (with no formal culinary training) to develop recipes using their products, are they still amateurs? If I am Dannon Yogurt, I'm not going to hire any idiot that set up a free website last Saturday afternoon on a whim. I do agree that it’s utterly foolish not to test the recipes these home cooks produce, but each business must find what works best for them. Conversely, I've seen numerous challengers compete on Iron Chef America that have had no formal culinary training and went to "the school of hard knocks". Should we still call them professionals?The other issue you fail to discuss is the prospective each food blogger contributes. I clearly state on my website that I am not a professional, yet I attempt dishes with difficult preparation, uncommon cooking methods, or items that are taken for granted (and can easily be bought at any local supermarket) in an endeavor to learn something with my audience. If anything, I'm trying to prove the point that the crap pushed at consumers by corporations is prepared better at home and any schmuck can replicate it. Most bloggers share similar points of view and see it more as an educational experience. Are we "dumbing down" the culinary profession or are we making our audiences smarter by learning from our experiences? I’m not proficient enough to develop my own recipes yet, so if anything, I’m paying professional publishers to test their recipes for them by buying their cookbooks or watching their television shows. If I ever get to that point, I wouldn’t publish anything I wouldn’t be proud of or publish my mistakes with notes to my audience how to avoid my failures.Ultimately, and with all decisions at the corporate level in this day and age, it comes down to a business decision. Each professional chef has developed their own styles and preferences of preparing food so professional publications must appeal to the home cook because it’s a much wider audience. Recipes contained in Gourmet Magazine might sound daunting (in the name itself) to a mom who’s worked a full eight hour day and must feed 2 screaming kids and a hungry husband dinner. I’m not a fan of Rachel Ray’s food, but I can see the appeal because she’s relatable. Am I correct to assume that your concern lies solely with those corporations that outsource recipe development to people with no formal training and then fail to test the recipe production? Then please direct your concern towards food journalists and food manufacturers and leave us passionate home cooks and food bloggers alone."I think amateur bloggers that are paid for recipe development are the exception, not the rule. Am I wrong?

Maggie_HealthyUrbanHearth said...

That article really does bother me. First of all, culinary tradition originated in the home. It's been a defining point for humanity since long before professional chefs and restaurateurs were making big bucks off it. I think the culinary industry has been just as hurt by food bloggers as the music industry has been hurt by sharing files, YouTube artists, etc. With the rise of food blogs, the culinary industry has lost money on traditional cookbooks, culinary school tuition, agents (who used to find the chefs that just promote themselves now), etc. But really, when it comes down to it, food and culinary traditions are about the cook and his or her relationship with the eater. Blogging helps us remember that it isn't all about fancy restaurants, culinary degrees, and big-budget cooking shows.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 I agree, it makes food "real" to people!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

Getting cooking back into the home is SOOO important. For so long, I feel like people are making it intimidating. Cooking is never all or nothing, there's a middle ground.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 Isn't that part of the fun? :-) Sometimes things turn out... sometimes they don't, it's part of the adventure.

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 The internet is a fabulous place to share ideas... do things that are different... share successes and failures. Food blogs are no different!

Kimmy @ Lighter and Local said...

 I'll have to try that at some point. Orange would be lovely. They are tooth-numbingly sweet, thus why I cut very small pieces!

Jennifer Cote said...

 It is fun!

Holly Ellerton said...

You can buy bird's custard in stop and shop and whole food markets in the north east. I have also found it in specialty shops that sell British foods.

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

This is a really interesting debate. I, too, see my blog as a hobby and something I'm really passionate about - when I'm not working on my day job. I do not claim to be a professional cook or recipe developer and believe it's fine to post recipes for others to try without it being vetted numerous times. In fact, freely available,  non-peer reviewed material abounds on the internet in all fields. My recipes come with no guarantees - but neither do recipes in a published, bounded cookbook. They do come with my personal stamp of approval and insights as to my personal experiences. And I think that's perfectly ok. 

Megan said...

Oh, Amen. I was actually just thinking yesterday about the difference between food blogs and cookbooks. And though I do love my cookbooks, I get a lot of recipes from blogs. Blogs are so personal, so friendly, so funny, so charming -- and everyone has their own voice, their own tales, and their own opinions on what makes food "good". Not to mention the community you get from food bloggers. You're right about the old family recipes -- those you can't often find in a cookbook, or at least you're missing the story behind it, which is half the fun. I like choosing to make the recipes from blogs that have both flavor and meaning. They always taste the best.

I too do not blog for compensation. And I most certainly do not have oodles of free time on my hands to do this. I want to be a part of this community, and I work hard to be here.

meg jones wall said...

i'm a bit biased since i too am a food blogger, but i truly believe that one of the best things about food is that it brings people together and instantly creates community, and food blogs help to do that. it's such a great way to carry on a dialogue about food. i love those gorgeous glossies, but they're definitely not the only way to enjoy food and share recipes.  

Ccoop said...

Methinks thou do protest too much. Defensiveness is neither tasty nor sustaining.

Jackie Hale said...

This is one of the best articles I've read in a quite a while. Thank you for sharing it. Jackie

cake whiz said...

i completely disagree with this guy's article. it's very sexist and based on assumptions. plus, not all food bloggers are the same. some food bloggers actually do put a lot of time and effort in their recipes and pictures and  instructions. 
but, thanks for sharing the article :)

as for your bars, what can i say except they will completely satisfy my chocolicious sweet tooth...heheh

-Abeer @