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An old-fashioned holiday treat! These 7-Layer Magic Cookie Bars are a classic dessert that’s been loved for generations. With chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, nuts and sweetened condensed milk baked on top of a graham cracker crust, these easy bars are rich, flavorful and completely delicious!
7 Layer Magic Cookie Bars
Seven Layer Bars, Magic Cookie Bars, Hello Dolly Bars, Coconut Dream Bars…whatever you call them, these easy dessert bars are always a huge hit! Whether you set them out on a dessert buffet at your next holiday party, add them to your Christmas cookie trays for friends and neighbors, or bring them to a potluck picnic, the crowd-pleasing treats will disappear fast. After all, the sweet-salty-crunchy layers of graham cracker, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and chopped nuts are totally irresistible!
The History of Hello Dolly Bars
If you’ve ever been to a school bake sale, a church potluck, or a Christmas party, odds are good that you’ve indulged in one of these sweet cookie bars. They were a staple from my youth, and go back well before my time — at least to the 1950s and 60s when sweetened condensed milk became a staple in many home kitchens. The origin of the recipe is unknown, and it’s still unclear exactly where the name “Hello Dolly Bars” comes from.
Some say that the recipe became popular in the mid-1960s around the same time that Carol Channing was starring in the musical Hello Dolly! on Broadway. What the cookie bars have to do with the theatrical show, however, is anyone’s guess! Around the same time, Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk published a recipe for similar bars on its can, which the brand more appropriately called “Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars” — referring to the seven layers of flavor in each bite. No matter the story, and no matter the name, one thing is certain: these easy and delicious holiday treats have been a favorite for decades because they are undeniably tasty!
Ingredients for 7 Layer Bars
This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pan of magic cookie bars. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.
- Melted butter and graham cracker crumbs: combine to form the “crust” of the bars.
- Sweetened condensed milk: I use Eagle Brand.
- Chocolate chips: milk chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, or dark chocolate chips will all work, so pick your favorite.
- Butterscotch chips: this brand is my favorite.
- Sweetened flaked coconut: gives the bars great chewy texture and rich flavor.
- Chopped nuts: I use dry roasted salted peanuts, but almonds, pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts, or hazelnuts will also work. You can use unsalted nuts, but I think that the salted nuts balance the other sweet layers nicely.
How to Make Magic Cookie Bars
Grandma’s Hello Dollies are classic bar cookies that start with a layer of buttered graham cracker crumbs, which are topped with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, chopped nuts and sweetened condensed milk. Other examples of bar cookies include chocolate chip cookie bars, cranberry bliss bars, and pecan pie bars. These particular treats get their name because they include seven decadent ingredients layered in one pan.
- Prepare Graham Cracker Crust. In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter and the crushed graham crackers. Press the buttered crumbs in the bottom of a greased 9 x 13-inch pan.
- Add Sweetened Condensed Milk. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the crust.
- Layer Remaining Ingredients. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press down gently to “smoosh” everything together.
- Bake. Bake the bars in a 350°F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until slightly brown. Cool completely, then slice into squares.
how to cut magic cookie bars
Allow the bars to cool completely before slicing — otherwise they’ll turn into a gooey mess. Once they’re cool and firm, you can cut them into any shape or size that you prefer. Some folks like to make longer, thinner bars like strips. Others make large rectangles. I recommend cutting the bars into small squares, since these are incredibly decadent and rich — a little bit goes a long way. Keep them itty bitty…and always go back for seconds (or thirds), if necessary!
Prep and Storage
Let the bars cool completely before slicing and storing. Dolly Bars do not need to be refrigerated. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 3-4 days. To keep them longer, store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 2 months.
Magic Cookie Bar Variations
- Any chopped nuts will work. I like salted dry roasted peanuts, but you can use chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, macadamia nuts, or hazelnuts. The salted nuts are a nice contrast to the other sweet layers.
- Use your favorite chocolate chips. My family prefers milk chocolate chips, so that’s what I use. You might prefer semi-sweet chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, or even white chocolate chips.
- Substitute more chocolate chips or white chocolate chips for the butterscotch chips.
- Cranberry White Chocolate Magic Cookie Bars: The ultimate Christmas Magic Cookie Bars! Switch it up and use a festive combination of white chocolate chips (in lieu of regular chocolate and butterscotch), and use sweetened dried cranberries in the mix as well.
- Hello Dolly Bars with Vanilla Wafers: Instead of graham cracker crumbs, use vanilla wafer cookie crumbs for the crust.
- Peanut Butter Magic Cookie Bars: Whisk ½ cup of creamy peanut butter into the sweetened condensed milk before pouring over the bars. Instead of butterscotch chips, use peanut butter chips.
- Magic Cookie Bars with M&Ms: Substitute M&M candies for the chocolate chips.
- If you choose to make your bars without coconut or without nuts, just replace those ingredients with an equal amount of another ingredient. For instance, swap out the coconut and use an extra 1 ⅓ cups of nuts or chocolate chips.
Tips for the best magic cookie bar recipe
- For a simple shortcut, I purchase graham cracker crumbs already crushed. If you prefer, you can use whole sheets of graham crackers that you crush with a rolling pin or process in a food processor.
- Use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to gently press the buttered graham cracker crumbs in an even layer at the bottom of your dish.
- Allow the bars to cool completely before slicing into squares. They firm up as they cool, so if you cut into warm bars you’ll end up with a gooey mess.
Magic Cookie Bars
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 11.5 oz bag chocolate chips (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 1 ⅓ cups sweetened flaked coconut
- 1 cup chopped nuts (I use dry roasted salted peanuts, but almonds, pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts or hazelnuts will also work)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix together melted butter and graham cracker crumbs. Press the graham cracker mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. I like to use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumbs into a smooth, even layer.
- Pour condensed milk evenly over the crust. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and nuts. Press down gently.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until slightly brown. Cool completely, and then slice into squares.