I remember the first time my mother made magic cookie bars, that iconic ’60s cookie that appeared on the Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk can. That initial bite was like a corny television moment where a choir of angels sings as the clouds part and a heavenly light shines down upon the world. Nirvana! For all of her divine scratch-made baked goods from rugelach to fruit pies to birthday cakes that required careful measuring, mixing, and baking, it was the simple-to-assemble magic cookie bars that I came to adore most. Super sweet, crunchy, and chewy with a toothsome bite, they were more candy bars than cookies. And I loved that as a kid!
Here’s how I came to recreate a classic.
I’d been thinking of remaking that recipe with vegan products for quite a while when I decided to put thought to commitment. I checked my pantry for supplies. I already had a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk, a bag of sweetened shredded coconut, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a package of vegan butter in my fridge. OK. I would need graham crackers and walnuts so off to Whole Foods I went.
Unfortunately, I was dismayed to find that the only graham crackers available contained honey as an ingredient. I no longer use honey in my cooking and baking. Knowing that honey-free grahams were available at other markets, I contemplated postponing this long-awaited bake. No. I was determined to finally make a batch.
So… I switched gears and got creative with the recipe, which is a great tool to have in your cooking toolbox. Creativity! I needed to find a good substitute for graham crackers. A simple cookie that was dry, not too sweet and that would easily break down into crumbs to be mixed with the butter. I perused the limited cookie assortment and came upon a brand that I’d enjoyed for many years, Rock n’ Roll Cookies; a somewhat dry, not-too-sweet boulder of a biscuit that comes in assorted flavors. I decided that almond would be the best choice. Hmmm, but what about mixing that with walnuts? It might be odd. And then that light bulb moment. Aha! I’ll put my own spin on this classic dessert.
Off to the nut aisle to buy a bag of whole raw almonds to transform magic cookies into a treat that closely replicated my favorite childhood candy, Almond Joy. And that’s how I came to recreate the classic Magic Cookie Bars into Almond Joyful Magic Cookie Bars, which bestowed a heavenly moment upon my own family’s taste buds later that night. Nirvana!
- Use a food processor to break down the cookies. You’ll get a more even crumb.
- Make sure to press the buttered crumbs evenly flat and into the corners of the pan.
- Break the almonds down into smaller chunks to make them easier to cut and eat. I used my now obsolete meat mallet.
- Try as best you can to scatter the layers of toppings evenly. Use more of each ingredient, if necessary, so have extra on hand.
- SLOWLY drizzle the sweetened condensed coconut milk, first in a horizontal pattern and then in a vertical pattern to cover as much of the nuts as possible. It’s all about even coverage with these cookie bars. Don’t use a spoon to spread the gooey condensed milk. It will make a clumpy mess. Just be patient and drizzle slowly in steady thin lines across the bars.
- My mom baked them in a glass pan. I did that as well. Baking in glass requires a longer bake at a lower oven temperature. If baking in a metal pan raise the temperature 25 degrees to 350 and bake for 5-8 minutes less. Of note, I did not need to use parchment paper in the glass pan.
- Let them cool completely before cutting. I let them cool on the counter and then refrigerated for a few hours. I was able to get relatively even edges. These can be a bit challenging to cut. Use a very sharp knife.
- You can store them at room temperature in a covered container. They are also delicious cold from the fridge and even frozen. Yes, I tried them every way!
Almond Joyful Magic Cookie Bars
There are many versions of what order to layer the ingredients in these bars. This is my mom’s version and it makes a divine bite as the nuts get caramelized.
1 1/2 cups almond cookie crumbs from Almond Rock ‘n Rolls brand cookies
1/2 cup vegan butter, melted
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 Heaping cup of raw almonds, broken down into chunks
1 11.25 oz can sweetened condensed coconut milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees if using a glass baking dish or 350 degrees if using a metal baking dish.
Grease the baking pan, especially in the corners. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the cookie crumbs with the melted butter until well combined and all crumbs coated. Press the crumb mixture into the prepared baking pan, pressing down evenly and into the corners.
Evenly scatter the chocolate chips on top of the crumbs.
Evenly scatter the coconut on top of the chips.
Evenly scatter the almonds on top of the coconut.
Very slowly, in a thin stream, drizzle the sweetened condensed coconut milk over the nuts in a horizontal, then a vertical pattern. The goal is to evenly coat all of the nuts. Don’t try to spread the coconut milk. It will clump up.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes, less if using a metal pan, rotating the pan halfway through until the bottom is a bit bubbly and the top a bit browned. All ovens are different, so you will have to test it out in your oven. Be careful not to overbake.
Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares of desired size with a sharp knife. Refrigerating makes it even easier to cut the bars. Store in a covered container. Freeze after a few days for the freshest results.