Cookie Bars That Practically Seem like Magic (Are They?)

December 31, 2016

I've lived nearly 30 years and never made Magic Cookie Bars before this. December remedied this serious oversight for me, and I'm grateful. Here's why: Magic Cookie Bars (also known as Hello Dolly Bars or 7-layer Bars) are some of the simplest, yet most decadent bar cookies you can bake.

You know those occasions when you need a slam dunk, crowd-pleasing dessert? Bake sales? Birthday celebrations at work? Potlucks? Picnics? A baby shower? This recipe is what you should make. Don't hesitate. They are very good: gooey and crunchy and buttery and delicious all at once. They're versatile, too. If you don't like coconut, or your friends dislike pecans, just swap in something else. You can also add extra layers of ingredients. I'm planning to try a Nutella version, and a cookie butter version, and one with cacao nibs and caramel (and and and...).

Making the bars is simple. You melt butter, pour it into your pan, and press a layer of graham cracker crumbs into the butter. Pour a can of condensed milk over the pan. Add a layer of chocolate chips, toasted nuts (any kind you like), and coconut and bake! I like to use a mix of unsweetened coconut flakes and sweetened shredded coconut for texture and to cut back slightly on the sweetness.

These bars are waiting for whatever layers you wish. Photo by Posie Harwood

Twenty-five minutes later, your bars are ready. If you find the recipe slightly too sweet, try a mix of semisweet and bittersweet chocolate. These bars freeze beautifully, and are a fantastically simple recipe for any baker to keep in their back pocket. Eat one warm from the oven, with a glass of cold milk, and revel in the magic of how a few simple ingredients can be transformed into something so wickedly delicious.

Tell us: Have you made Magic Cookie Bars (or however you call them!) before?

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Posie Harwood is a writer, photographer, and food stylist based in New York. You can read more of her writing here.


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  • Nicolas Grenier
    Nicolas Grenier
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  • deb oswald
    deb oswald
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Nicolas G. January 3, 2018
instead of graham, give it a spin with Corn Flakes... My aunt is gluten-allergic (for real) and we have that version in our family: it's actually prefered to the graham version !
Author Comment
Posie (. January 3, 2018
I love this idea! Thanks for suggesting it--would help to cut the sweetness a bit. Excited to try subbing corn flakes in more graham recipes.
Bev W. January 22, 2017
What could you use instead of all that coconut?
Steven W. January 7, 2017
In my 20's I was working at a very fancy Inn in Vermont, I made the rounds at different stations--prep cook, salad person, line cook and finally the bakery. These were one of the very fist things I learned there, but the full sized sheet pans were much bigger and heavier! (They were usually for the Saturday night buffet, and were cut huge---at least 2X2.) I have many fond memories of working there, and these bring them back every time I see them.
amysarah January 1, 2017
Growing up, these were called Congo Bars. These days, Congo Bars seems to refer to blondies with chocolate chips, but back then it meant these delectable things. What on earth either of them has to do with the Congo, I can’t imagine.
deb O. January 1, 2017
We called them Magic Cookie bars and I way prefer them without the butterscotch chips! I just made some a few weeks ago- so good!
Greenstuff January 1, 2017
We made these as kids in the '50s and '60s. Ours had a layer of butterscotch chips, and I can still taste how overly sweet they were. We weren't the only ones to like them--once I put a pan outside to cool, only to find a squirrel having quite the sugar-rush party.
Author Comment
Posie (. January 1, 2017
Yeah they really can be SO sweet. Cutting out the traditional butterscotch chips helps with that and it's always why I swapped out some of the sweetened shredded coconut in the original recipe for unsweetened flaked coconut. It adds more crunch and cuts the sweetness, so you can taste more semisweet chocolate/toasted nuts and less straight sugar!
Brannon B. December 31, 2016
I make these every Christmas and they are the best.. That chocolate just melts in your mouth combined with the coconut.. omg.. Great Article! I'll be watching for more..
Christina D. December 31, 2016
My mom made these all the time, too! Iowa, 1980s and 90s. Only difference: no nuts in her version. They are a hit whenever I bring them to work.
BerryBaby December 31, 2016
I love making these . Every time I make them someone will recall they had them growing up. our mom made these all the time (1950's!). Another favorite she'd make chocolate frosting and spread it on saltines. It was really tasty, the chocolate with the saltiness of the cracker.