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02/11/2014

~ Hello Dolly! The 5-6-7- Layer 'Magic' Cookie Bar! ~

IMG_3468With Valentine's Day right around the corner, I've decided to share a few retro sweet treat recipes of my youth this week.  If you are in your 50's or 60's, you know the ones:  those quick and easy to make "back-of--the-box" recipes our moms made for us.  It's always fun to take a trip back to kinder, gentler times and you can find my recipes for ~ 'Impossible' Coconut Custard Pie ~ and ~ Pucker Up for:  Triple-Lemon Lemon Squares ~ by clicking on the Related Article links below.   I was about 9, circa 1964, when my mom started making these Magic Cookie Bars, a recipe still found on the label of Eagle Brand condensed milk today.  By the time I was 10 or 11, mom had put me in complete charge of the making of these yummy cookies!

IMG_3352A bit about "bar cookies" and magic cookie bars:  These all-American ooey, gooey, chocolate and coconut laced cookies are classified as a "bar cookie".  Bar cookies are made by pouring, pressing and/or layering ingredients into a single baking pan.  In the case of this cookie, the original recipe is made by layering condensed milk, chopped nuts, semi-sweet chocolate chips and sweetened coconut on top of a tender, buttery, graham cracker crust (5 layers).  I refer to this recipe as "5-6-7- layer" because I don't want to stifle your creativity.  I've seen recipes that mix in toffee bits and/or other flavors of 'chocolate' chips (butterscotch, cinnamon, and/or white chips)!

IMG_3472Once baked and cooled, they are cut into bar shapes or squares.  Bar cookies are richer and moister than cookies, even moist cookies, so, if you think you can turn any cookie recipe into a bar cookie by simply baking it in one pan, unless a recipe says you can, that is indeed a risky experiment.  Speaking of the baking pan:  always use the same size pan as specified in the recipe. A smaller pan will result in the mixture being thicker and require a longer baking time, and vice versa for a larger pan.

ImagesThese 'magic' cookies have a 'rich' history too.  While they are credited to Eagle Brand milk, they were the brain-child of Gail Borden.  Sweetened condensed milk was invented in France by Nicolas Appert in 1820.  In 1853, Gail Borden, Jr. was the first to market condensed milk in the USA as a baby formula, because it needed no refrigeraton and traveled well.  In 1856, Gail begain selling a cookie creation of his, from his streetcart, in NYC for extra money.  Shortly thereafter, during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the government began ordering huge quantities of Borden's condensed milk.  Each 14-ounce can packed 1,300 calories and they were handed out as field rations to the soldiers.  The soldiers spread the word about how tasty it was and condensed milk became a major product in the American marketplace, and a home kitchen pantry staple.  After World War I, refrigeration became commonplace in America and condensed milk needed to be rebranded in order to keep it selling.  Borden started offering money for recipes using his sweet concoction in desserts.  It worked.  Condensed milk remained a pantry staple into, during, and after the WWII era, and into present day.  It's believed a recipe called "Hello Dolly's", combined with Gail's original recipe, became and was marketed as the "Magic Cookie Bar", which was put on the label by Eagle Brand in the 1960's!

IMG_2790 IMG_2785A note about the baking pan:  You'll need a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan or dish, and, any kind will work just fine, except:  if you want all of your cookie bars or squares to be legitimately square, choose an aluminum one with square corners. This is a Wilton professional cake pan.

Note:  If using a glass baking dish, preheat  oven to 325 degrees.  If using an aluminum baking pan, preheat it to 350 degrees.

Recipe for success: Follow the guidelines & ignore brand names!

IMG_3576This is not a rocket science recipe.  You need graham cracker crumbs -- period.  No one cares if you smash graham crackers or purchase a box of crumbs for convenience.  No one will call the food police if you don't purchase Eagle Brand condensed milk or expensive chocolate chips. You buy your nuts in bulk and you found coconut on sale this week?  Great!  Here's my version:

IMG_32062  cups graham cracker crumbs

12  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 1/2 sticks)

21  ounces sweetened condensed milk (1 1/2 cans, each can is 14 ounces)

2 1/2  cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, your favorite brand (16 ounces), or:  1 1/4  cups  semi-sweet chocolate chips + 1 1/4  cups of butterscotch or peanut butter chips

1  1/2  cups sweetened, flaked coconut

1  1/2  cups chopped pecans or walnuts (Note:  Mom used walnuts -- I use walnuts!)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking pan

IMG_3221 IMG_3213~ Step 1. Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan with no-stick cooking spray.  

In a medium bowl, melt butter in the microwave.  Add the graham cracker crumbs to the melted butter, and, using a large spoon toss until the crumbs are coated in butter and a mealy mixture has formed.  Do not overmix this mixture -- keep it loose!

IMG_3229 IMG_3227~ Step 2. Dump, yes dump, the graham cracker mixture into prepared baking pan. Give the  pan a few back and forth shakes across the counterop to distribute the crumb mixture.  Using the back of the spoon, pat and press the mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Using your fingertips, pat and press the edges and corners down.

IMG_3240 IMG_3241 IMG_3253~ Steps 3, 4, 5 & 6.  Pour the condensed milk over the crust layer.  Lift and tilt the pan to evenly coat the IMG_3270crust in the milk.  Sprinkle 2 1/2 cups of chocolate chips or a 2 1/2-cup combination of chips over the milk.  Sprinkle the coconut evenly over all, followed by the chopped nuts.

~ Step 7.  Using the heal of your hand and your fingertips, gently but firmly press the entire mixture down into the milk and the crust.

~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated oven 20-25 minutes, or, until nuts and coconut are lightly IMG_3292browned and mixture is bubbly around the edges.

Remove from oven and place on cooling rack to cool completely, about 2-3 hours before slicing and serving at room temperature.

Note:  Yes, you can risk it and cut these while they are slightly warm, but, you'll probably need a fork to eat them.  No harm, no foul!

IMG_3317 IMG_3342I cut mine at room temperature (there is no need to refrigerate these bar cookies to get clean cuts or after storing them in an airtight container). 

IMG_3357I also like to cut mine into 30 squares.  

That's how mom did it!

IMG_3516Hello Dolly!  The 5-6-7- Layer 'Magic' Cookie Bar:  Recipe yields 30 square cookies.

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 2" baking pan;  large spoon; cooling rack; knife

Evaporated Milk & Condensed Milk #1Cook's Note:  To learn more about condensed milk and how it differs from evaporated milk (another WWII era pantry staple), read my post ~ Baking Basic:  Evaporated Milk & Condensed Milk ~.  You can find it in Categories 6, 7 or 15!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

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