Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Original Magic Bar Recipe - 7 Layer Bars with Variations

No matter how you layer them, these classic Magic Cookie Bars are addictive. Most often they are layered with a graham cracker crust, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and sometimes butterscotch, or even a combination of them, coconut and nuts.
No matter how you layer them, these classic Magic Cookie Bars are addictive. Most often they are layered with a graham cracker crust, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and sometimes butterscotch, or even a combination of them, coconut and nuts.

Original Magic Bar

If you Google looking for 7 Layer Bar recipes, most of what you will find are bars listing these five basic layers - though many do also add another layer of butterscotch chips - yet they all seem to count the graham crackers and butter as individual layers.  Some recipes do melt the butter, and then simply pour the graham crackers on top, rather than mixing and pressing them in, so I guess that's one way to consider them separate layers. Others layer the bars differently, adding the coconut right on top of the graham crackers, some chips and then the coconut, and pouring the sweetened condensed cream on the very top. I really don't think that the order of the layers much matters to be honest.

At any rate, this recipe is the one that I believe to be the original Magic Bar recipe, of which that 7 Layer Bar recipe was apparently birthed. Far as I know, the bars made their debut as Magic Bars on the Eagle brand condensed milk label sometime in the early 1960s, so it is another retro recipe that has been around for many years and has definitely become a holiday tradition, with a multitude of variations.

No matter how you layer them, a graham cracker and butter crust makes the first layer, topped with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, or a mixture of butterscotch and chocolate chips, a layer of coconut, finished off with pecans, and then baked. Truly, anything after that is just lagniappe for a bar that is already just dreamy.

I found that a lot of people know these Hello Dollies, a name that appears to have come from a 1965 magazine called "The Week" that featured a recipe submitted by young 11-year old Alecia Leigh Couch of Dallas, Texas, called Hello Dolly Cake, that contained these same basic five ingredients. Alecia said that the recipe was from her grandma, though it appears that an Oklahoma newspaper had earlier that same year, already published Hello dolly Cookies, with similar ingredients.1

The recipe is also known by a number of other names beside 7-Layer Bars, including 7-Layer Cookies, Chewy Delights, Chocolate Graham Squares, Graham Chips Squares, Washington Cookies, and of course, Magic Bars, and carries a multitude of variations now. Make the white chocolate variation with dried cranberries for Christmas and drizzle the top with raspberry jam.

I have tried a variety of other people's ways of making these, including using foil (it stuck), pouring the condensed milk over the top of everything instead of the crust (crust didn't set, completely changed the texture of the bars as they were too messy and gooey) and I just find that the way I originally made them to be the best way. They are rich, so serve in smaller cuts!

What variations do you love?

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Recipe: Original Magic Bars - 7 Layer Bars

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 25 min

Total time: 35 min
Yield: About 24 squares

  • 1-1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs (about 8 planks)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, melted
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1-1/3 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and butter; mix well. Press crumb mixture firmly on bottom of 13×9-inch baking pan.

Pour condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with remaining ingredients; press down firmly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Run a knife around the edge of the pan while still warm to loosen. Cool on a wire rack. Chill if desired to speed up firming. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Hello Dollies Variation: What makes these 7-Layer Bars and I "think" what sets apart Hello Dollies from regular Magic Bars, is the addition of 1 cup of butterscotch chips along with the 1 cup of chocolate chips. All other ingredients are the same, though in some recipes, I have noticed that the graham cracker crumbs and the coconut are reduced. Peanut butter flavored chips or white chocolate chips may also be substituted for butterscotch flavored chips.

Variations: Substitute 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips for butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, or a mixture; add 1 cup dried cranberries; substitute 2 cups chocolate covered peanuts for the chocolate chips and chopped nuts; substitute 2 cups plain M&Ms for the semisweet chocolate chips.

Great holiday idea! Use only white chocolate chips (NO semi-sweet ones), add in some dried cranberries, and drizzle the top with some thinned raspberry jam after baking.


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©Deep South Dish
1Source: The Big Apple
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  1. We also called these 7 Layer Bars but we poured the condensed milk over all the layers and baked. Interesting there are so many variations. I love the idea of the white chocolate and the cranberries. Might have to make those for a special New Year's Eve treat. They do sound really good.

  2. I saw one the other day that used crushed oreos instead of graham crackers. Yum! Right up my ally
    :) ACtually on my list to make today

    -krystal @

  3. We call them Hello Dollies. :) Whatever they are, they are absolutely delicious!

  4. I love these! Have made them often!

  5. I don't know if I've ever had these. How can that be?

  6. We call those Hello Dolly bars, but no matter what the name, they are wonderful.

  7. We used to have these for our 'community lunch' in high school, 40 years ago! Three friends, and I, had choir class together after lunch period, so once a month we would bring things to share with each other. These yummy bars were often dessert. I can't seem to tolerate coconut well anymore, so I might be forced to substitute more chips and nuts for that particular ingredient. ;o)

  8. Thanks y'all - I love these little bars of goodness.

    Susan, that sounds like a good plan to me!! And that's so funny - back then I didn't care for coconut, now I love it!!

  9. Just made a half batch of this tonight since I had a half can of sweetened condensed milk I didn't know what to do with. I also had a handful of peanuts and a chocolate bar just hanging around, so this recipe fit the bill perfectly! Thanks for sharing!

  10. I just recently saw a recipe for "Magic Bars" but it did not have a graham cracker crust; it had flour and powdered sugar and butter as the crust; it also had Reese's Pieces, cranberries, etc.
    Does anyone have the complete recipe? It was in the Oct. 24th (?) issue of People magazine.

  11. I don't recall having seen that one, sorry I can't help!

  12. These are the best ever!!! I love the chocolate chips and butterscotch recipe, to die for! :)
    We make 'Magic Rainbow Bars' with this recipe (not the butterscotch) and use red and green M&Ms for Christmas

  13. I know Whitney! I think these are one of those oldies that will never go away. So good.

  14. Do these cookies freeze well?

  15. This is not the original one......the first one decades ago, used cocoa powder......

    1. Okay, well I'm just gonna have to agree to disagree on that! I researched this cookie pretty thoroughly, and I've gone through hundreds of vintage ads and cookbooks dating back way before I was born, and never once saw cocoa powder as an ingredient. If you can produce anything that states otherwise though, then I'll be happy to note it and give you credit for finding it. Course you'll have to let me know who you are for me to do that, rather than posting anonymously. :)

  16. When there is something this survives the test of time!! That's why it gets passed down for generations. This will be around forever!! Pinned it to my boards, Deep South Dish and Sweet Tooth!

  17. I'm wondering if I could use Grape Nuts cereal instead of graham crackers--suggestions?

    1. I have never done that cereal but I do know you can use it for a crust. You may need more or less butter to bind it together.

  18. Has anyone ever tried graham cracker crust first and than add all of the other ingredients pre-mixed? If some people pour the condensed milk on top at the end why not just mix it in with the nuts, coconut, and chips and than pour it on top of the crust?

    1. I'm sure that mixing all of the ingredients together and pouring over the crust would make a delicious cookie bar, but it won't be the classic layered bar that this recipe creates. Pouring the condensed milk over the top versus pouring it over the crust and gently pushing the layers into it, isn't the same as mixing everything together. The only thing that pouring the condensed milk over the top does is to gently coat the layers, but the layers are still intact, not mixed together.

  19. Ive seen many recipes that call for unsalted butter, is salted ok to use as well?

  20. Ive seen many recipes that call for unsalted butter, is salted ok to use as well?

  21. Ive seen many recipes that call for 2 sticks of u salted salted ok to use as well?

    1. Hi Ava! I actually use unsalted more often than salted because I prefer to control the salt myself and different brands contain different levels. Unsalted is what I have on hand all the time! Here, however, I did use regular salted butter. When I use unsalted I specifically say unsalted. That said, if you were to use unsalted here, I'd add a pinch of salt. Long story short lol... Yes, use salted here and do not add any salt.

  22. I began making a slight variation on this a couple of years ago. I still use chocolate chips, but instead of butterscotch chips I substitute the red & green ones to make them more festive. I've also used a few red & green M&M's and they work, too.

  23. My dad called theae Dolly Partons... because they were stacked. I didn't get that as a q0 year old...

  24. Paula Deen mixes all of the 5 layers together and then puts them over the crust. Also, she uses 1/2 cup more of chocolate chips.

  25. I use a stick and a half of real butter, and up the graham cracker crumbs to two cups. It makes a thicker crust. Then I add the condensed milk, the coconut, the semi-sweet chips, and whole pecans, and press it all down. I always use more than the recipe calls for for every item except the sweetened condensed milk I keep it as one can per pan. I've already made them three times just this holiday season. My family loves them.

  26. My family has been making theses since the mid-60s, but we have always called them Easy Bars. I think because the amounts are so easy to remember.


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