You know how sometimes you haven’t seen close friends in months, but when you see them again, it’s like no time at all has passed? This year is emphatically not one of those times. I’ve been absent from this blog for too many months, and in the meantime, the entire world has gone bananas.
2020 is not the best year I’ve had. How about you?
I’m laughing now – it’s the only way to unpack this degree of crazy. I already feel better being back with you, here.
In this bewilderingly punishing year, these classic cookies are a guaranteed win – mindlessly easy, foolproof, and more delectable than their seven simple ingredients would seem to warrant. The recipe doesn’t require flour, or yeast, or any of this pandemic’s mysteriously scarce baking ingredients. You don’t need a mixing bowl, or more than 10 minutes. Just spread ingredients in a baking dish and slide it in the oven. The hardest part about the process is waiting for the pan to cool. The bars are tidier if you cool completely before slicing, but chances are you’ll dig out a gooey piece while it’s warm.
Seven layer cookies are dense like a brownie, but the taste is a delectable blend of salted butter and sweet chocolate, with a bit of crunch and a toothsome chew. The recipe is endlessly customizable. Nuts add a satisfying snappiness, but you can substitute Rice Krispies if you are nut allergic/averse. Mix in butterscotch and/or white chocolate chips if you have them, or go all in with regular chocolate chips if you don’t. If your baking dish is a little big, your bars will be flatter; if your pan is small, they’ll be thicker. It doesn’t matter. These rich bars are decadently good, no matter what.
I jotted down this recipe and photographed it last December, after my friend Alexis asked if I would share it with her. A normal person would have just emailed it to her, but I thought I’d just whip up little blog post. More challenging months followed with my dang health, and just as I was beginning to emerge from the tunnel, the insanity of 2020 crashed in. Then I stayed stuck.
I get silly nervous to come back after I’ve neglected the blog for too long. Voices in my head cry, “No one cares!” and “Blogs are dead!” and “Everything has been said!” And half of me dolefully agrees and begs to hide out forever. Why try?
But I have another voice, little but insistent, that pushes me to come back. It tells me I’ve been here for 10 years for a reason. I didn’t start writing to go viral, or create a platform, or become a brand. I’m here because it makes me happy to share what I’ve learned through the compulsive experimentation of my cooking life. I’m here to catalog the best recipes I discover, for my kids, my friends, and my own unreliable memory. I’m here because sharing with you makes me a better cook, a better writer, and a better human.
This has been an isolating year. I miss hugging friends and family, but as an introvert, I sink easily into the comfort of solitude. My persistent little voice tells me this is the wrong lesson. Human connection is why we are on this planet together. With a kind word, a flash of a smile, a shared laugh, a door held open – we exchange goodwill, we ease someone’s day, we give a friend or a stranger the free and simple gift of being seen.
I see you guys, and I miss you. Maybe blogs are dead, maybe no one cares, and undoubtedly anyone can find this recipe around the internet or tucked away in an old recipe box. Today I’m putting away the critical voices in my head, the tumult of this upside-down year, the uneasy feeling in the world. It’s all too much.
I have one sure thing I can do today that will be appreciated by one person – one small, good thing. And that’s plenty.
Here’s that recipe, Alexis. Finally.
A stick of butter, plus six pantry ingredients: graham crackers, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts, coconut and sweetened condensed milk. It’s fun to swap out ingredients, but you might want to try the classic to start.
There’s hardly any cleanup with this cookie prep. Butter goes into a baking dish to melt while the oven preheats.
In the meantime, crush the graham crackers into crumbs (Digestives biscuits, shown here, make an excellent substitute). I pulse a few crackers at a time a little food processor, but you can also put the crackers/biscuits in a ziplock bag (leave a little opening for air to escape) and gently crush them into crumbs with a rolling pin.
While I’m using the chopper, I briefly pulse the walnuts. I love the crunchy, slightly bitter counterpoint of walnuts in the candy-intense sweetness of this cookie. Pecans, peanuts or almonds are all great too. You can use the same ziplock bag and rolling pin to crush the nuts.
Pull the baking pan out of the oven and pour in the graham cracker crumbs. Be sure to add salt if you are using unsalted butter – as with a pie crust, the salt in the crumb base is an important flavor counterbalance to the intense sweetness of other ingredients.
Press down into an even base layer.
Aside from the buttery crumb base and the sweetened condensed milk on top, you can layer the middle ingredients however you like. Just sprinkle one layer at a time. Here I did nuts first.
Then chocolate and butterscotch chips (all chocolate is good too, if you don’t have butterscotch).
Coconut on top gets nicely browned, but you could also top with nuts for toastiness. Either way, the final step is always sweetened condensed milk drizzled as evenly as possible over it all.
Bake until lightly golden on top. The edges of overbaked cookies can get a bit hard, so don’t overdo it. The only risk to underbaking is the crust may be a bit crumbly. Still, without any eggs or rise in these cookies, baking time is reasonably relaxed.
These sturdy bars store well, but they don’t last long. For a group event – when we can have group events again – a little nut flag on a toothpick is a nice alert.
There’s no prescription for 2020, but I recommend you give these treats a try – if a sugar pill can produce a placebo effect, I’m willing to bet that a batch of seven layer cookies will give you happy lift, with some extra to share.
Seven layer cookies (aka Hello Dolly bars, aka Magic cookies)
These classic cookies are a guaranteed win – easy, foolproof, and more delectable than their seven simple ingredients would seem to warrant. You don’t even need a mixing bowl, or a spoon. Just spread ingredients in a baking dish and slide it in the oven. Originally developed during the 1960s, during the popularity of “Hello Dolly” on Broadway.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter (add 1/4 teaspoon salt if using unsalted butter)
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 8 full crackers)
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or Rice Krispies if you don’t like nuts)
- 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut (unsweetened or sweetened, either works fine)
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F for glass dish). Put the stick of butter in an 8″x8″ baking pan (a 13″x9″ baking pan works too; bars will be less thick) and set it in the heating oven to melt.
- Crush the crackers into crumbs. You can use a food processor, or put the crackers in a ziplock bag (leave a little opening for air to escape) and roll a rolling pin over it to crush the crackers into crumbs.
- Remove pan from oven when butter has melted (add salt if using unsalted butter). Add the graham cracker crumbs to the pan and mix the crumbs well with the butter. Spread the crumbs evenly and press down to form a crust on the bottom of the pan.
- Sprinkle over, one ingredient at a time: nuts, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and coconut. As evenly as you can, pour the sweetened condensed milk over it all.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. The edges of overbaked cookies can get a bit hard, so don’t overdo it. The only risk to underbaking is the crust may be a bit crumbly. Cool before cutting. Store covered at room temperature.
- This is a flexible recipe – you can substitute for what you like and have on hand.
- For a nut-free version, simply leave out the nuts or substitute with 1 cup Rice Krispies.
- If you don’t have butterscotch chips, you could use white chocolate chips or just another cup of chocolate chips.
- Even if you don’t typically like coconut, give it a try here – the coconut gives the bar a nice chew and helps hold it together.
- Digestive biscuits make a great substitute for graham crackers.
- Some recipes use 1/2 a can of sweetened condensed milk, which works also. The bars don’t hold together as well, but the bar will be less sweet.
Here’s the link to a printable version.