Magic Bars

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Photography Credit: Irvin Lin

Please welcome my friend and master baker Irvin Lin of Eat the Love who shares his favorite Magic Bars! ~Elise

These bars go by a few different names, like 7-Layer Bars or Hello Dollies, but I’ve always known them as Magic Bars.

They are a pure Midwestern treat for me, often brought to potlucks to round out a shared meal. All the names for the same dessert might seem confusing, but luckily, there’s nothing confusing about making them.

The true magic of these rich, sweet Magic Bars is how easy they are to make. There’s no mixing, no creaming butter with sugar, no adding the eggs one at a time.

Magic Bars

Instead, Magic Bars are pretty much assembled from a pantry of stock ingredients, which are then sprinkled and layered one on top of the next. (Usually there are seven different ingredients, which explains at least one of the alternate names!)

Bake in the oven until toasty brown and the bars are done.

Magic BarsThe one essential ingredient in the whole recipe is sweetened condensed milk. This sticky, gooey, honey-thick condensed milk is what binds all the ingredients together. It also caramelizes in the oven, giving a sweet depth to each bite similar to dulce de leche.

Also, make sure you read the labels and buy sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk—the cans look very similar.

Magic Bars Recipe

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  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 24 bars

These bars are so rich and sweet, you can cut them into 24 small bars and still feel satisfied.

I like to add a sprinkle of flaky Maldon salt on top to add some crunch and help cut the sweet richness. The salt is totally non-traditional, though, so omit if you want that nostalgic, ultra-sweet Magic Bar experience.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (225 g) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (115 g / 1 stick) melted unsalted butter
  • 14 ounces (396 g / 1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup (185 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (185 g) butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup (115 g) chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (105 g) shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon), optional

Method

1 Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking oil then line it with parchment paper.

2 Make the graham cracker crust: Place the graham cracker crumbs and the melted butter in a bowl. Toss with a fork until the crumbs are moist and hold together when squeezed with your hand.

Dump the crumbs in the middle of the pan and then press them into an even layer with your fingers or the back of a flat-bottomed cup.

Magic Bars Magic Bars

3 Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the graham cracker crust. Spread to edges of the pan with a spatula.

Magic Bars

4 Layer on the rest of the toppings: In this order, sprinkle the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pecans, and then sweetened coconut over the top of the condensed milk.

Gently press the ingredients down with your palm so they stick to the condensed milk.

Magic Bars

5 Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Bake until the edges of the bars turn golden-brown and start to pull away slightly from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the sea salt (if using).

Magic Bars

6 Cool completely before lifting the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into 24 pieces and store in an airtight container with wax paper or parchment paper between layers. The flavor of the bars is even better the day after baking. Bars stored at room temperature will be fairly soft and are best eaten within 3 to 5 days. For firm and chewy bars, store in the fridge for up to a week.

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Irvin Lin

Irvin Lin is an IACP award-winning photographer, food writer and recipe developer, blue-ribbon baker, public speaker and occasional social media consultant. His blog is Eat the Loveand his first cookbook is Marbled, Swirled and Layered.

More from Irvin

Magic Bars

Showing 4 of 25 Comments

  • Rena

    I’ve never had these but will try a recipe for the grandchildren who are visiting for the summer. Sounds yummy.

  • Patricia

    I have made these for over 50 years, but was taught to mix it verything together, then stir in sweetened condensed milk and some vanilla (no butter). Then press the mixture into a parchment-lined sheet pan. This version eliminates the ooey gooey overly sweetness of the condensed milk, because it’s mixed in. Try it! Also prefer using walnuts. Cut bars while still warm and store when cool wrapped in foil. Make day ahead for best flavor.

  • Janice in Vermont

    I grew up eating these (in the 50s, in New England, where they were also called Magic Bars, at least by my mom. She used walnuts instead of pecans, though. So I suspect they are not a pure Midwestern treat as much as a pure American treat brought to us by the brave new world of advertising and convenience foods, and the longstanding tradition of church potlucks. But I still love them!

  • Sarita

    In my family’s recipe, we mix the graham cracker crumbs with the coconut for the crust, omit the butterscotch chips, and drizzle the SCM over the whole thing instead of making it a layer – though I want to try that to see how it comes out. They are a summer cookout treat, I actually can’t imagine eating them in winter even though there’s not necessarily anything seasonal about them!

  • Linda

    Instead of the chocolate and butterscotch chips, I use a 6 ounce bag of dried apricots, chopped up into teeny, tiny pieces and a 6 ounce bag of white chocolate chips. These don’t last long in the office, no matter how I make them!

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