You might be familiar with Seven Layer Bars. They’re sometimes called Hello Dolly Bars, or Magic Bars, or maybe “those awesome things that are totally unhealthy but completely addicting and really delicious.” The basic concept is a bar cookie made from a graham cracker crust, topped with various goodies like chocolate or butterscotch chips, toffee, nuts, and/or coconut, and covered with a gooey layer of sweetened condensed milk.
Because they have so many different flavors, they’re really tasty, but sometimes achingly sweet and too cloying. Solution: Coconut-Ginger Seven Layer Bars.
This variation adds some much-needed tropical flavor, and some healthier additions, to the standard seven layer bar recipe. The base is made from gingersnaps, and then the layers include fruits like candied ginger, tangy dried cranberries,and coconut, nuts like pecans, and best of all, a soaking in coconut milk instead of super-sweet condensed milk. Put on your grass skirt and start practicing the hula, because you may never want to go back to regular seven layer bars again.
Coconut-Ginger Seven Layer Bars
Yield: one 9×13 pan
Prep time: 30 min
- 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
- 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 4 ounces (8 tablespoons, or 1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 cups (9 ounces) crushed ginger cookies like gingersnaps
- 1/4 cup candied ginger
- 2 cups toasted pecans
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1.5 cups chocolate chips
- 1.5 cups white chocolate chips
- 1.5 cups shredded coconut
One of the fundamental differences in this recipe is that it uses sweetened coconut milk instead of regular sweetened condensed milk. If you’re running low on time, you can substitute 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, but if possible I urge you to give the coconut milk a try! Combine the can of coconut milk with the brown sugar in a medium saucepan.
Whisk the coconut milk and the brown sugar together, and place the pan over medium heat. Bring the milk to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer it for about 10 minutes, until it becomes thick and syrupy–just like condensed milk! Stir it occasionally, but you can mostly let it bubble away while you prepare the rest of the recipe. If it’s done before the rest of the bars are assembled, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt the butter in the microwave, then pour it over the ginger cookie crumbs. Work the butter into the cookies with your hands (or a spoon, if you’re more hygienic than I am) until it has the texture of wet sand.
Line a 9×13 pan with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the crumbs on the bottom of the pan and press them into a thin, even layer with your hands.
Finely chop the candied ginger. It’s pretty potent, so you want it to be in small bits, evenly scattered throughout the bars, so that it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the flavors.
Next, coarsely chop the toasted pecans. If you don’t like pecans, you can use walnuts or almonds. Macadamia nuts would also be a good choice and would fit in with the tropical theme!
Now for the fun part: creating our seven layers! Layer 1, the crust, is already done. Scatter the following over the crust in an even layer:
Layer 2: chocolate chips
Layer 3: white chocolate chips
Layer 4: chopped candied ginger
Layer 5: chopped toasted pecans
Layer 6: dried cranberries
Layer 7: shredded coconut
Once the coconut milk is syrupy and the bars are assembled, pour the sweetened condensed coconut milk all over the top of the bars. Try to get it in an even layer, but don’t worry about covering every square inch-it will spread out as the bars bake. Some purists might say that this should constitute an eighth layer, but I don’t buy that theory since it seeps into the other layers and sort of disappears in the final product. But you can call them eight layer bars if you must.
Bake the bars in the 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until the coconut is mostly golden brown on top and they’re set and bubbling around the edges. They will smell fantastic, and you will be tempted to cut into them right away. Resist! They need time to chill and set, otherwise they will completely fall apart. Cool the bars at room temperature, then let them set in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes until firm enough to lift out and cut.
Cut the bars into small squares. Even with all of the fruit and nuts, they’re very rich and chocolatey, so a little goes a long way.
These bars keep very well. Store your Coconut-Ginger Seven Layer Bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for several months. Happy eating, and much aloha!
All text and images (c) Elizabeth LaBau