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I was in a bit of a pickle the other day. I had a dinner party to go to, I had promised to bring a dessert and I had just used up the last of my sugar making these chocolate meringues that turned out to be a bust.
With no time or energy to run out and buy sugar, I nearly gave up. I almost called in sick to a party.
Then I remembered.
In the magical land of desserts, there is something called a seven layer bar, otherwise known as a magic bar. Some apparently call it a dream bar.
The bar of many names is sticky, insanely sweet and completely irresistible. I first learned of them in college, when I was working at a cafe on campus and still familiarizing myself with all things American. Our pastry case was filled with chocolate chip cookies, brownies, blondies and magic bars.
I won’t lie - I helped myself to my share of sweets, though I believe the ration was one pastry per shift. Sometimes, during my transfer of desserts from the storage rack to the pastry case, a cookie or bar would accidentally break, and I would have to serve the damaged goods up as samples by the cash register. During my shifts, magic bars suffered the most accidents. I know not why.
What I didn’t realize then was how easy these seven layer bars are to make. You can whip these up in a heartbeat, in just one 9x13 pan. You don’t need sugar. You don’t even need a bowl. You barely need a measuring cup.
It’s so simple that I felt almost guilty bringing it to a fancy dinner party. So I used my fancy coconut flakes, the unsweetened kind by Bob’s Red Mill. The wide, wispy flakes can dress up any dessert. Toasted atop layers of buttered graham cracker crumbs, chocolate, butterscotch and nuts - and held together by condensed milk that just begins to caramelize in the oven - these coconut flakes become the accent piece.
I think I’ve answered your burning question as to what to make for your next summer picnic. You’re welcome.
Seven layer bars
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup pecans or walnuts or almonds
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups coconut flakes (I used Bob’s Red Mill flaked coconut, unsweetened)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In the oven, melt butter in a 9x13 inch pan. Swirl to coat the bottom and sides evenly.
Remove pan from oven. Add graham cracker crumbs and mix into the melted butter with a spoon. Pat firmly with the back of the spoon to create an even layer of graham cracker crust at the bottom.
Sprinkle chocolate chips over the graham cracker crust in a single layer, followed by the butterscotch chips and nuts. Pour condensed milk evenly over the mixture, then sprinkle coconut flakes on top.
Bake until edges are golden brown and coconut flakes are toasted but not burned, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.
Like Pavlov’s dog, the start of fall triggers an unhinged desire to buy more apples than one person can responsibly eat, and drink gallons of apple cider, and wrap myself in cozy sweaters and read by pumpkin-scented candles.