1 3/4 cups (honey or cinnamon*) graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers’ worth)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 inch baking pan. Set aside.
Melt butter in a small pan. Remove from heat and stir in graham cracker crumbs until thoroughly combined. Press, using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup into the bottom of the buttered pan taking care to reach all corners.
Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, then the butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, coconut, and peanut over the graham cracker layer. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top, and spread with the back of a spoon or spatula until the mixture is evenly coated.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown and the bars look “set”.
Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. This seems to take forever but resist the urge to cut them when they are even remotely still warm. You can refrigerate them before slicing if you are a clean lines fanatic. Store in the refrigerator or on a cool counter in an air-tight container. Freeze leftovers up to 6 months if desired.
*I like honey best but either work.
Bars like these have a lot of different names. 7-Layer Bars (for those, the butter is normally melted in the baking pan while preheating and then sprinkled with the graham cracker crumbs to form the first and second layers), Magic Bars (I guess because it is a bunch of layered stuff that “magically” makes a bar cookie?) and oddly, Hello Dolly Bars after the Broadway play. I also heard “dream bars” from a reader commenting on my Instagram story when I was making them, upon googling they look like perhaps a precursor to the 7-layer bar because they require you to actually make a shortbread cookie vs. using graham crackers which also sounds really good. The recipes are all pretty similar although can vary in what kind of chips to use and when to put in the sweetened condensed milk. A lot of recipes call for it on the graham cracker layer then everything else is plopped on top but I opted to put it on last with the hope it would help the coconut brown while still holding everything together and “protecting” the chips from direct heat.
I did not grow up eating these, I think they are much more of a midwest thing, the parties I went to all had black bottoms, drop cookies and brownies (and birthday cake if applicable) not bar cookies but I’ve read about them so many times I felt like I’ve had them. I can see why they are popular, they are very simple and can be made with ingredients that most people probably have on hand or at the very least pick up easily at any store. They would be so quick to make for a last minute occasion or weeknight treat.
I took my inspiration from the classic back of the can recipe but really made it my own–a bit more graham cracker crumbs so the pan is easier to coat, a mix of butterscotch and peanut butter chips, using bittersweet chocolate chips instead of milk, honey roasted peanuts instead of walnuts and I think the most genius switch up: using unsweetened shredded coconut instead of sweetened flaked coconut. The bars are so sweet thanks to all the chips and the sweetened condensed milk, the coconut really doesn’t need to be sweetened too! I’m happy too that unsweetened coconut is so much easier to find now (Harris Teater actually had a store brand version!), I remember back when I started Coconut & Lime I had to track it down at health food stores and South Asian groceries. Coconut is naturally sweet and a lot of recipes that call for sweetened are so sweet already, they don’t really need extra sugar.
The result is a bar that is a solid nod to the classic but that is much more appealing to a more “adult” tastes than the super sweet ooey-gooey original. Personally, I prefer desserts that aren’t described as “tooth-achingly sweet”; a descriptor I saw more than once in conjunction to the original bars but to each there own! It might be fun to take a batch of these and a batch of the originals to a party and do a taste test. These are still sweet of course but with a deeper, darker flavor than the usual.