magic bars

Call them what you will: magic bars, layer bars, 5-layer bars, 7-layer bars (if you can’t count), magic cookies, layer squares, or 7-layer cookie bars (if you can’t count or identify a cookie when you see one). I am always tempted by these messy-looking squares when I see them at parties and in bakeries. And I am always pleasantly surprised by their texture, crunch, and layers of sweetness that are revealed by each bite. So when I randomly craved one of these crumbly numbers the other day, it was time to find out what was actually in them and go about making them myself.

Seeing as how I didn’t know what traditionally composed a magic bar, I went in search of recipes. Each seemed to have it’s own take on the use of butterscotch chips vs. peanut butter chips. Some used pecans, some salted peanuts, some walnuts. Even chocolate (chocolate!) was absent in some versions. After much research and countless google searches, I settled on one from Paula Deen: Five Layer Bars. Paula’s take seemed the most classic to me, so I set forth to gather my ingredients.

These bars take all of five minutes to prepare, so be sure to preheat your oven while you’re assembling the layers. First, melt the butter and pour it over the graham cracker crumbs.

Mix together with a fork until the crumbs are thoroughly moistened.

Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased or sprayed 9″x13″ pan.

Next, sprinkle on your butterscotch chips…

…chocolate chips*…

*I’ve beaten this horse to death, but I swear by Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips. And no, they don’t pay me to say that. But if they want to throw me some free chips, I wouldn’t object!

…chopped nuts (I used walnuts)…

…and flaked coconut.

Now here comes the tricky part. First, get in a fight with your can opener over a can of sweetened condensed milk. Eventually let the can opener win. Go down to your tool bench and grab a hammer and a chisel. Tell that can who its daddy is. Go to store. Buy a new can opener.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the bars. I found a small pitcher made this easier, probably because the can was hacked to death.

Try to distribute the milk as evenly as possible.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting (I sped this process up by letting them cool slightly and then placing in the fridge. I’m antsy like that).

Marvel at the sweet, crunchy textures.

I love how the graham cracker base seems to meld with all of the other ingredients—the chocolate, butterscotch, nuts and coconut seem to sink in to form one unique flavor. Perhaps this is where the “magic” moniker stems from?

If you need a fast, easy dessert for a party or a bake sale, there is nothing faster or easier than these. And with their addictive sweet layers, they’ll fly off the plate like…dare I say it? Magic.


Paula Deen’s Five Layer Bars, from Food Network

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 14 graham crackers whirred in a food processor, if you don’t have the boxed crumbs)
  • 1 stick salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Press into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle pecans, chips and coconut on top. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the mixture and bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely and cut into bars.


  1. Ohhh Jenny. (Can I call you Jenny? I feel weird calling you RDG…)

    I’ve blogged about the power of the Magic Bar before. These are my ultimate could-eat-them-all-in-one-sitting kryptonite. My friend Laura is the one who introduced them to me, and she came to visit me after I moved away from Tampa….and because she knew how much I loved them, she got up extra early that morning and made some, and brought drove that pan of Magic Bars 8 hours with her, without eating any of them on the way. THAT is friendship!

  2. I am ashamed that I used to buy this in “kit” form at Costco. I’d always assumed that they considered the butter and two different types of chips separate layers, and that’s how they got the math to work out. A steaming crock, of course, but then the bars came out of the oven and I stopped caring. 🙂

    I have graham crackers in the cupboard…I wonder how many one would whirr about in the food processor to produce 1 1/2 cups of crumbs?

  3. Mmmmm….

    Random follower here. Love the blog. I think I’ve commented once before…anyway, I had to comment on this one. Those bars look DELICIOUS. I know I have eaten them before at Christmas gatherings, potlucks, family reunions…but never thought to actually make a batch on my own. I think I almost have all of these ingredients at home, minus the butterscotch, but I DO have white chocolate chips?

    Question: is there sweetened condensed milk and unsweetened? I will assume so, and I will assume the “normal” one is unsweetened. In which case, that is what I have. Is there a way to “sweeten” it?

    • @Becki: Please call me Jenny 🙂 What an amazing friend you have!

      @Chris: Totally agree. Butter and milk? Not layers at all. For the graham crackers, I’m guessing somewhere near 1 package (boxes usually come w/ 3 packages)? But this is a guesstimate.

      @Josh: Hmmm. Do you mean evaporated milk? In which case, I wouldn’t try to use it—it’s quite a different consistency than sweetened condensed. I’ve never heard of “unsweetened” condensed milk. White chocolate sounds good, though!

      @Amanda: thank you so much!

  4. I’ve always loved these cookies! Great photography@

  5. We just made these bars today. I agree that they are absolutely delicious : ) I love your pictures, by the way!! You always have great photography.

  6. Oh my gosh, this look delicious! And so beautiful!
    I’ve recently launched my own blog, I’d love for you to check it out and let me know what you think 🙂
    Thanks, and Happy Cooking!!!

  7. This is one of my favorite bars! Great pics showing the process. I think this is the perfect recipe to make with my daughter today! Thanks for doing the work-up on it.

  8. So, for reference:

    (First off, tip from the Betty Crocker mix: instead of mixing up the graham crumbs and butter in a bowl, melt your butter in the pan you’re gonna make the bars in (just cut the stick of butter into fourths and throw it in the pan, then throw the pan in the preheated oven for a minute or two), and pour the crumbs over the top of that, more or less evenly. Works fine, one less mixing bowl to clean.

    Also, using the Fred Meyer-brand square crackers: I whirred two dozen of them about in The Beast and got close-to-but-not-quite 1 3/4 cup of crumbs. Online wisdom seems to think it’s 14 crackers (so seven of the rectangular Honey Maid-type) to a cup, and I’m thinking this is probably about right.

  9. Thanks Jenny! I DID mean evaporated Milk. Clearly I am not an experienced baker!

    However, I took a trip to the store and got the condensed milk, made these last night, took them to work today, and they were a hit! They are soooo good. Since I had white chocolate chips, I subbed in half a cup for the dark chocolate chips. I also made a gluten free version for my girlfriend using Kinnikinnick Gluten Free graham cracker crumbs.

    Definitely a keeper! Thanks!

  10. I love these cookies….. however not so into coconut flakes. Like the flavor but not the texture, what can you substitute for this? Thanks so much I enjoyed the pics!

  11. Magic Bars that need a BFH. Love it. And ANYTHING that calls for sweetened condensed milk is worth it, BFH and all!


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