Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Magic Cookie Bars


I bake relatively often, usually once or twice a week. My baking is fairly predictable: cookies, quick breads, tea loaves, Bisquick-based creations such as cheddar-garlic biscuits. I like to bake completely from scratch whenever possible, but I don't think there's anything wrong with taking help where you can get it. Years ago, when I still worked and there was more money to throw around, we had cable television and I fell in love with Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking on the Food Network. Now there was a cooking style I enjoyed emulating. I liked the way she used just a few prepared foods in a dish but still made it her own.

I don't cook this way often today (fresh, natural foods are cheaper and healthier), but once in awhile, a recipe like those will sneak in. There's a reason people like them: they taste good and they might have nostalgic connections, from a time when people cooked this way more often. I used to have a great cookbook which I found on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, called The Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars. It was published in the early 1980's, and it contained hundreds of those recipes, many of which we would all find familiar. One of them was for Magic Cookie Bars, which appeared for years on the label of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk. I remember these from my childhood; they were the kind of thing that might be contributed to a school bake sale, or brought to share at a Girl Scout meeting. They're simple, made with just a few ingredients. What I remembered best about them was that they were very sweet, but not exactly cloying - there was just a bit of saltiness cutting through the sugar, which had a browned flavor. They were chewy but crispy at the edges. They were best eaten cold, because they fell apart easily. I tried the recipe as soon as I saw it in the book and it was just as I remembered.

I don't have the book anymore; a couple of years ago, I finally let it go after weeding through my burgeoning cookbook collection. You get to a point where you have more cooking resources than you can ever use regularly enough to justify keeping every single one. Or at least I do, and it happens every few years. I have to let go of the ones I'm not using often. And since I'm trying not to rely on canned or boxed foods for my family's diet, this book was a natural choice for dismissal. I've been able to find most of the key recipes online anyway, including Magic Cookie Bars. They're still tied to Eagle Brand milk, though any brand will work fine. I used Great Value brand - shhh, don't tell Elsie.

Magic Cookie Bars

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts 

Heat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees for glass dish). Coat 13x9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray. 

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly with a fork.

Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature.


I like to melt the butter in my mixing bowl, in the microwave, adding the graham cracker crumbs to the melted butter. I think this tastes best with salted butter, personally. That's where the salty flavor I remembered came from, I think. The graham cracker crumbs have a slightly sweet flavor and I love the way this mixture tastes. I have to control myself or I'll eat it just like this.


After patting the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan, pour the condensed milk directly into your mouth over the crumbs. Do you love this stuff as much as I do? Oh my goodness. You know who else loves sweetened condensed milk? Martha Stewart. I'm serious. She said so herself on a recent episode of Martha Bakes, when she was baking a cheesecake. She said she likes to use the whole can if possible, otherwise she has to put the leftovers away in the fridge and she can't help herself from eating a spoonful whenever she walks by. I feel vindicated knowing this.


I decided to use unsalted peanuts this time. I have made these bars with walnuts and pecans but I didn't have enough of either on hand and thought the combination might be a bit too rich. But I had plenty of unsalted peanuts in the pantry. Oh, you know what I just thought of? Honey-roasted peanuts. Can you imagine? That would be terrific.


After baking, the whole thing is brown and the edges are darker and very crispy. Cooling firms things up very nicely. I personally like to put the whole pan in the fridge after it has cooled almost to room-temperature. This makes it easier to slice and they will hold together better for serving too. These bars get their name from the way the ingredients seem to "magically" work together as they bake: the sweetened condensed milk and chocolate bake together into a thick, chewy-but-creamy, nougat-like layer, while the coconut becomes a crisp topping. The nuts toast a bit, and become mired in the sticky milky-chocolate layer. The peanuts worked really well here; the baking brought out their flavor and it was a bit like having an extra layer of peanut butter (which would be awesome, I think...scribbles note to self).


After slicing into bars, I stack them in layers in a tin, with waxed paper between each layer to prevent them from sticking. I like to keep the tin in the refrigerator, to help the bars hold together. They can be a bit fragile when they get warm. They taste great either way, so you might need to experiment with your own batch to see what works.

Is there a recipe, or a food, which brings you sharply back to a certain place or time? I'd really enjoy hearing about it. These cookies do that to me. Suddenly, I'm nine years old. I'm wearing my Brownie uniform with glow-in-the-dark Keds, doodling unicorns in my catechism notebook and nursing a devoted crush on George Michael - as sure as if it were all happening today.

Linking in with Cosmos and Cotton's Weekly Bake.

53 comments:

  1. They look delicious! :)
    I'm seriously short of time at the moment - so "proper" cooking isn't quite as it should be. I'm hoping normal service will be resumed very soon.
    x

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  2. Yum, they look gorgeous, and I love your idea of adding peanut butter. Not sure what graham crackers are though :) xx

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    1. Cheryl, In England you can crush digestive biscuits in a bag with your rolling pin and get the same result as graham crumbs.

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  3. I love these squares. I have heard them called all different names. My MIL's recipe, which I use calls them hello dollies and I use crushed pecans. As far as the food memories - I big one for me is "Eccles cakes". I am originally from England and I used to make these as a teenager and I bought some from an English shop here last week and when I bit into it, it was like being transported back in time!

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  4. They look seriously yummy. I will try them eponymous my return to the auk. I am so Julie helped with the English equivalent. I was thinking it might be Cream Crackers!
    And please don't get me started on Condensed milk. Spoon into tin... Spoon into mouth .

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  5. They look delicious. I like recipes with condensed milk included, but I couldn't eat it on its own, far too sweet.

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  6. I've not heard of these before. Like Jo, I'm a fan of condensed milk - yum!

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  7. This looks yummy, sort of sweet my hubby likes.Thanks for the recipe, will try a batch.your little bears are lucky to have a mummy who cooks so good x

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  8. Thanks for the recipe Jennifer,I'm really excited and want to try it. I think it could be a nice Christmas cookie, why not? You are so good in kitchen!

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  9. I will print up that recipe and see if I can get my DIL to make them for us. :-) The food that takes me back is chocolate pie from scratch, my mom was famous for it. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  10. My mother made a variation of these called 7 layer bars. They have walnuts and butterscotch chips though. These look yummy, I love anything with coconut :)

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  11. I see that tray and all I want is a knife and fork. I would not share. ;-} Chrissie x

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  12. That looks delicious. I have a tin of condensed milk in our cupboard but if I make them I may have to eat them myself as Tony is going to be unable to for a while until after his operation.

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  13. These look amazing! And easy-ish too. I might have to have a go at these and attempt "cup" baking, It can't be that hard, surely..? Yes. flapjacks take me right back to my childhood. My mum made them all the time and I make them to her recipe now. They are oats, sugar, syrup and butter baked together. They make excellent snack bars. I'll share the recipe someday. Hope you're having a great week, lovely. x

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  14. Hi Jennifer - my daughter loves to make these, and she loves to eat them, too! I found a bit tooooo sweet for me, but maybe I should try them again. One of my foods that "take me back" is made from scratch cheesecake with a cookie crust, and cherry filling for the top. It was a favorite of my family each Christmas, especially when we lived in Vermont. I can see us all there, having our Christmas Eve dinner, where each of had their own choice of part of the meal. It got to be beef fondue with several dipping sauces, baked potatoes,with all the toppings, and cheesecake for dessert. Those were the days! I also usually cook from scratch but I do like how Sandra Lee incorporates prepared foods into the recipes, to make it easier and quicker. Especially since I am older and can't stand on my feet as long. Keep on cookin and sharing with us. xxoo JO

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  15. They look great Jennifer. I like the idea of the honey roasted peanuts! xx

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  16. Love Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking. That's the way I like to do it :)
    I am pinning your recipe and hope to try it one day soon.

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  17. Yum, Yum! Those look so scrumptious.

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  18. Jennifer, Oh my these look delicious! I'd love to bake these, and talk my husband into trying it. He's not a big fan of coconut. I may still have to make this for the little one and I. =)
    Thanks for sharing this yummy recipe.

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  19. Mmm, they look absolutely delicious. What are graham crackers? Sweet or savoury? I'm thinking they might be like digestive biscuits. Digestives we have. Graham crackers, not so much. Martha Stewart has reached us though. I always have her chocolate chunk cookies in the fridge. Always. I am famous for it.

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    1. I notice someone else already asked about graham crackers above; I honestly thought they had them everywhere! They're a slightly sweet cracker which is sort of like a digestive biscuit. I believe they were invented in the nineteenth century to help people control their...um, adult urges. Now they're very popular with toddlers and people who want to crush them up to make crusts for pies, cookie bars and cheesecakes. :)

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  20. I make these quite often. I don't like coconut so I care for them, but Bob loves them. Perfect - he eats them and I stay away from them. :)

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  21. These look so yummy Jennifer, thank you, another (sweet and) lovely post! I also love condensed milk and the fridge is too inviting when there's an open tin of it in there - when we were kids we loved it spread on bread and butter but, straight from the spoon is the way to go!!! Have a lovely day dear, hugs, Joy xo

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  22. These look seriously yum ,a nd something my boys would love. I'm going to have a crack at them this weekend. I have to abstain sadly, as I am on a pre-Christmas purge.
    Leanne xx

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  23. Oh Jennifer....I also make these....but...I add...butterscotch chips as well!!!
    Makes them even yummier...if that is possible!
    Enjoy your evening♥
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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  24. I know these bars and bake them at Christmas! My first introduction to them was when I was about 10 and we had recently moved to the country. Our next-door neighbour's wife (whose name was Alfie ... so sweet) delivered a box of them together with the recipe, but they were called "Hello Dollies". My entire family was hooked, and we made them often. Of course, we would always sing the song "Hello Dolly" to accompany the baking. It was quite the ritual. I don't think they would be the same for me with peanuts in there instead of walnuts, however :[ We also received another recipe for Nanaimo Bars around the same time (from our neighbour on the other side!). Great memories of those long ago days. Wendy x

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  25. These bars bring back such good memories! My grandma used to make them. I can close my eyes and see her standing in her farm kitchen with an apron tied around her waist.

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  26. OMG Jennifer...I remember these! I wish I could reach into the computer and grab one out of your tin! I'm going to have to make some now...and I love sweetened condensed mike too. That stuff is sooo yummy! xo

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  27. Holy cow do these look outstanding!!! Thank you so much for sharing this one lady! I will be giving them a go for sure! My recipe that brings me back is my mom's apple cake...the most amazing bit of heaven that would be waiting for me on cold autumn days when I walked home from school. I so hope I can create this magic for my beans! Happy day to you tomorrow friend!!!

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  28. I remember these bars from way back when and still see them (and sometimes indulge in them) at parties! They're a bit too sweet for my taste now, though I bet if I made them with unsweetened coconut, I'd eat the whole pan, lol.

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  29. Jennifer,
    I LOVE these! Would you believe back in my time(I can't believe that I am saying this;) we called these
    wonderful ooey, gooey treats Hello Dollies- I am thrilled to see them alive and well and you sharing them!
    Your newest follower-so happy to meet you:)
    xx-
    Jemma

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  30. It's funny that you mentioned Girl Scouts, because that is where I learned to make these. Years ago (like 1967), while earning a badge, my little sister and I made these. We used the recipe right off of the Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk label. Lots of fun and such sweet goodness. Thanks for reminding me of that memory.

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  31. I remember this recipe. I might have tried it once or twice. It's been a while though. Yours look so good.

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  32. Hi Jennifer, They look seriously yummy!!! I will have to try them!!! Have a happy week!!!
    Love
    AMarie

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  33. I like the sound of your biscuits, I'm bookmarking these.

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  34. These look lovely Jennifer, but what are Graham crackers? Not heard of these in the UK.

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  35. Jennifer these look scrumptious and I know my husband will appreciate the slightly salty, savoury/sweet combination. Perfect for a presenting in a seasonally decorated tin at Christmas!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Poppy

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  36. You are making me very hungry, they look delicious.
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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  37. These look so tempting, Jennifer, though I'm not sure what I would use in the UK to replace graham cracker crumbs. I enjoy baking too, though try not to do it very often with no hungry children to eat it all up. A recipe that always transports me back to childhood is my grandmother's gingerbread cake, made with oatmeal. Yummy.

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  38. I wish I could put my hand through the screen and grab one now. Thanks for the recipe. I'm sure that I'll be using that one very soon for the kids for after school snacks.
    Rosie

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  39. I still love this dessert after all these years, and make them too. Brought them to a recent party and they went fast! Yours look so yummy!

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  40. Yum!! I know I have had these before, but it's been a really long time. The look so yummy and the coconut really makes them just delicious… I could eat one right now! I need to make a batch for Christmas to give to friends and neighbors. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

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  41. Yay! Lovely Jennifer. Thank you so much. Ok I have actually managed to get a kind of word list/cloud on my blog. Now! How do I go back on EVERY post and add a label? Or should I just start them as a matter of course from now on?
    I have used some in the past but am not sure if you can add them using Blogsy. I will see next time I write a new post.
    You are a star.

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  42. Oh yum these look great! I am kind of a big condensed milk fan...being a sweet toothed Scot!
    Marianne x

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  43. These look delicious Jennifer.......it's a pity we have so many food allergies to contend with in our family otherwise I'd love to give your recipe a try.......maybe I can adapt it in some way.

    p.s. I had a crush on George Michael too.

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  44. Fab recipe - I'm dying to try it. I know exactly how Martha Stewart feels about what we always called 'sticky milk' I love it even more when the half can has stood in the fridge for a few days and it has thickened up even more!

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  45. These look delicious Jennifer!! Naughty but nice. You can link it in today if you like. xoxo

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  46. These look scrumptious. I think I've had something like them. They look like something I would try to make one day soon. Thanks for sharing!

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