Magic Cookie Bars

November 17, 2022
15 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Makes 1 (13x9-inch) pan
Author Notes

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.

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. —Posie (Harwood) Brien

Test Kitchen Notes

Magic Cookie Bars—aka 7-Layer Bars—are just that: pure magic. The old-fashioned, kid-friendly dessert never, ever disappoints, in part because they’re so easy to make, but also because they’re just so dang delicious. The basic premise of the timeless treat is this: a graham cracker crust topped with a layer of sweetened condensed milk, followed by a sprinkling of chocolate chips, nuts, and sweetened shredded coconut. (Emphasis on the sweet, here. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, this dessert probably won’t thrill you, and that’s okay—more for me!)

Another thing that’s magical about these bars aside from just their name? They’re a one-pan recipe, with the exception–please don’t get mad–of melting the butter in a separate bowl. Rather than mixing the butter and graham cracker crumbs in one large bowl, then adding them to the baking pan, you’ll actually mix the two ingredients together directly in the pan until they create a soft, sand-like texture. Add the toppings one at a time, then bake for just 25 minutes. And though you’ll be eager to dig in, these are best served at room temperature, so try to exercise patience.

This is the most traditional recipe, but you can switch out honey graham crackers for chocolate graham crackers or crushed cookies. (Oreos or gingersnaps would be delicious here.) If you want, use white-chocolate chips instead of dark-chocolate chips. Oh, and go ahead and use any kind of nuts you please, though we recommend pecans or walnuts. As for using sweetened condensed milk and shredded coconut, that’s non-negotiable.

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Magic Cookie Bars
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped toasted nuts
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Into a 13x9-inch baking pan, pour the butter, swirling to cover the pan evenly. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the butter in an even layer. Pour the milk over the graham crackers in an even layer.
  2. Sprinkle the chocolate chips in an even layer over the milk. Add the nuts (in an even layer), then the shredded coconut and coconut flakes. Press down with a fork.
  3. Bake the bars for about 25 minutes, then let cool before slicing and serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Steven Williamson
    Steven Williamson
  • Pamela Tiberius
    Pamela Tiberius
  • Dishlicious
  • Karen Leibowitz
    Karen Leibowitz
  • Rebecca Taylor Gay
    Rebecca Taylor Gay

35 Reviews

Steven W. November 18, 2022
And only seventy-five hundred calories per square! Oh, back in the day these were a go to bar and not cut small, either 2 x 2-inch squares or better! Yikes, so good yet bad.
Pamela T. February 8, 2022
My mom made these all the time when I was going up. They still are just as good today. I add cinnamon to the crust and sometime chia seeds
coletteangele February 6, 2022
These were so delicious! I always thought these bars must be so time-consuming to make because of all the layers, but they came together in less than five minutes. I made a gluten-free version for the celiacs in my family - I subbed in almond flour for the Graham crumbs, and I used gf old-fashioned oats in place of the nuts for my picky kids. I took the advice of other commenters and poured the condensed milk on top last and the bars held together perfectly. Next time, to make these both gf and school-safe (completely nut free), I will use ground gf cookies in the base. So so so yummy - everyone loves them!
Dishlicious January 23, 2022
Have made these forever, my Mom’s recipe she called Hello Dollies. Her recipe does call to press the butter crumb mixture as a crust. No unsweetened coconut. But the big difference is the condensed milk is poured on last. I think that keeps the bars together.
Kate January 23, 2022
I made these with my grandmother decades ago, and the recipe was the same — butter-graham cracker crust and sweetened condensed milk poured over last on the other ingredients. Hello Dolly bars.
Lisa L. October 21, 2021
Been making these since the early 70's with the traditional recipe: 1 stick of melted butter, 1C of graham cracker crumbs, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1C each of semisweet chocolate chips & butterscotch chips & chopped walnuts & shredded unsweetened coconut. They were called 7 Layer Bars.
soukie October 25, 2021
Lisa, I use the same recipe and we love them.
Tish F. January 31, 2021
These are so good, but agree that they fall apart as they did for others. I’m either going to add more graham crackers or will bake the crust a bit to let it set and then layer and fully cook.
Smaug January 31, 2021
I have some question about the proportion of butter to crumbs, but it might serve to simply mix the butter and crumbs and pat them into the pan like a standard crumb crust.
Que January 26, 2021
Any recommended/tried substitutes for shredded coconut? Not a big shredded coconut fan but would like to try this, the caramelized condensed milk sounds yummy! Thanks!
Jami G. January 24, 2022
Maybe mini marshmallows or pretzels?
Aditi September 25, 2020
My bars didn’t hold together at all. I first let them cool, then even chilled them for a while, but they didn’t come out cleanly. If I make them again, will probably try mixing a crust and pressing it in first, and baking a little longer than 25 minutes.
Karen L. June 30, 2020
If, by chance (unlikely, right?!), there are leftovers, they are great crumbled on top of ice cream!!!!
Rebecca T. June 28, 2020
I've been making these forever—apparently longer than many of you have been alive! :) Interesting to read all the hacks but I've always done pretty much exactly what's described in this recipe. But here are some of my learned efficiencies:

1) I melt the stick of butter, cut into chunks, right in the prepared (with foil) baking pan while the oven preheats. One less greasy dish and no wasted butter!

2) Definitely line the pan completely with heavy-duty foil. Cool completely before cutting (put in fridge if needed); then lift the entire sheet out with the foil onto the cutting board. Makes for much easier cutting. (I usually peel the foil away from the chilled bars for ease of removal before slicing.)

3) Press down quite firmly before baking. (I use my impeccably clean hands :) I think this helps make them less crumbly.

4) When serving these at a buffet, I cut the bars into small squares—just over an inch—so they are potentially bite-sized. Way less crumbs, and lots more servings!
Julie December 3, 2019
These are always super-popular, no matter when or where. I have a few hacks. Sometimes I partially caramelize the condensed milk by boiling it in its still-sealed can (I know, everyone warns that this is a potential disaster but I've never had a problem), and then pour the warm blond stuff over all the layers. Other times if I'm in a hurry, I just bake the whole thing an extra fifteen minutes or so, just shy of burning (this is with the milk as the top layer, to seal everything together) and the coconut on top gets caramelized and brown. They are lusciously chewy this way. Another hack is using about 1 1/2 to 2x the amount of condensed milk, done as above so it's super-caramelized. Very plush that way. And my last one was an "almond joy bar" hack, where I used a chocolate crumb crust, coconut and dark chocolate chips, and the top layer was a thick one of toasted slivered almonds, again all drenched in the semi-caramelized milk before baking. That one is pretty amazing, although I really love the standard, too.
Lea A. March 24, 2018
The second time I made these, the crust didn’t hold together as much as it should. I measured everything carefully and followed the recipe to the letter. Next time should I mix the crumbs with the butter first and then press it into the pan?
Shanna P. July 13, 2017
How many bars does this recipe make?
susan G. September 4, 2017
It's a 9 x 13" pan, so how big do you want to cut the bars?
foofaraw January 6, 2017
I have caramelized sweet condensed milk. Would that be good; or does normal sweet condensed milk still better?
Leona S. January 5, 2017
We called them 7 layer cookies, first one thin layer of butter to prevent sticking (aluminum is toxic) grahams and butter, a bag of butterscotch chips, a bag of chocolate chips, chopped pecans, shredded coconut and last was the sweetened condensed milk.
Joan August 25, 2019
That is exactly what I thought they were when I read the recipe. Made these
Many years ago and really liked them. Might just have to make them again.
tia January 5, 2017
Oh, I love these! We called them "Hello, Dollies" growing up. Man, I haven't made these in years. Maybe I will soon.
Laura January 3, 2017
I always pour the condensed milk over the top of all the layers. It binds them all together better and makes a more cohesive bar. Super rich, but always a crowd pleaser!
Kris December 31, 2016
What pan would you use ? Baking tray or glass?
Posie (. December 31, 2016
Either would work, I used a ceramic pan actually but any 9" x 13" will be good! I prefer metal for bar cookies usually.
Kris January 2, 2017
Thanls, another question. Can I change the order of the layers ? Add the coconut on top of condensed milk and then add the chocolate chips ?
Posie (. January 2, 2017
Totally! I think that would work just fine, as long as you keep the first three layers (butter/graham crumbs/condensed milk) in order.
Kris January 3, 2017
Awesome thank you for the quick response
Smaug December 31, 2016
Really? That's more than twice the butter for an ordinary crumb crust.
Posie (. December 31, 2016
Oh yeah :) embrace the butter!
Smaug December 31, 2016
I probably won't- does it do anything functionally or is it just extra fat?
Posie (. December 31, 2016
It won't hold together as well -- any classic seven layer/magic bar recipe uses this ratio of graham cracker crumbs to butter. I think it'd be too crumbly to hold up all the heavy top layers otherwise.
Smaug December 31, 2016
Maybe- 3 oz butter to this amount of crumbs produces a crust solid enough to (based on recent experience) pick up half of a two+ inch deep black bottom pie and hand it to your brother, but you have to actually mix it with the crumbs, Maybe this has enough free butter to keep it from sticking.
ChefJune January 5, 2017
You could line the pan with parchment...
Smaug January 5, 2017
Huh what? I've heard a lot about people lining pans with parchment, or even using it for blind pie crusts- I suppose I'll try it some day, but it seems like foil holds a shape so much better. For the record, to keep a crumb crust from sticking- line pie plate with foil, make crust and bake it, freeze, remove from the pan and peel off the foil, replace crust in plate. Also, if you make the crust with margarine and butter the pan it won't stick- other way around doesn't work, though.