Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
This small batch magic cookie bars post is sponsored by Nonni’s. I received product and compensation, but all opinions are my own.
These magic cookie bars made with Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti are a small batch version of a classic, old-fashioned favorite: 7 layer bars! Layers of biscotti cookie crumbs, chocolate chips, toasted coconut, and pecans make up every bite of the cookie bar. The best part? This recipe uses sweetened condensed milk to bind all these different ingredients and layers together. And when baked in the oven, sweetened condensed milk turns golden and toasty—its flavor and texture becomes very similar to dulce de leche caramel. So think of these cookie bars as dulce de leche caramel bars loaded with cookie crumbs, chocolate, coconut, and nuts!
What Are Magic Cookie Bars?
But hold the phone—what are magic cookie bars, anyway? Why are they called “magic”? Where did they come from?
Bakers make magic cookie bars from different layers of cookie crumbs, butter, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, flaked coconut, and nuts (typically pecans or walnuts). The recipe first came into prominence in the 1960s, right around when the musical Hello, Dolly! became popular on Broadway. Back then, several food magazines published recipes for this very same cookie bar and dubbed them as “Hello Dolly Bars”. They explained that the bars’ quirky name was inspired by the hit Broadway show.
However, a famous sweetened condensed milk company soon took notice of the popular recipe and began publishing the recipe on their product labels. But the company called the recipe by a different name: “Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars.” The seven layers represents the different layers of ingredients required to make the bars themselves.
On the other hand, “magic” refers to how the bars are made. Why? These cookie bars are pretty effortless! The recipe does not require you to cream butter, sugar, and eggs to make a dough or batter like other cookie bars traditionally do (in fact, the recipe doesn’t even call for sugar or eggs). Instead, all you need to do are layer the ingredients together—that’s it! Pretty magical, right?
What’s The Difference Between Magic Cookie Bars versus 7 Layer Bars And Hello Dolly Bars?
Absolutely nothing. I wrote above that the original name for these bars was actually “Hello Dolly Bars”. However, as the years went on, they became more well known by the name that was given to them by the sweetened condensed milk company: “Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars”. But because that name is a pretty big mouthful, most people either say “Magic Cookie Bars” or “7 Layer Bars” instead. They’re all the same thing, though!
What Do Magic Cookie Bars Taste Like?
I like to think of magic cookie bars as caramel bars with a cookie crumb base that have been studded with chocolate chips, flaked coconuts, and nuts. When baked in the oven, the sweetened condensed milk caramelizes, binding all the layers together and taking on a flavor similar to that of dulce de leche caramel. Their texture is pretty similar to that of caramel, too—the bars are gooey and soft in the middle, but slightly firmer and caramelized in the edges from baking.
Why You Should Make These Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
In addition to being extremely delicious, here are other good reasons to make this recipe:
This magic cookie bar recipe is small batch.
With plenty of us still cooped up at home, many of you are still requesting small batch recipes fit for small households. So far, I’ve delivered small batch banana nut muffins, small batch blueberry scones, small batch copycat Levain Bakery blueberry muffins, small batch brownies, and this very small batch yellow sheet cake. I’m incredibly excited to add these magic cookie bars to the list too!
Most magic cookie bar recipes instruct you to bake them in a 9 x 13-inch cake pan, yielding 20 bars. However, this recipe tells you to bake them in a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. It turns out that a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan is actually a quarter of the size of a 9 x 13-inch cake pan, making it perfect for small batch baking. What does that mean exactly? This recipe makes 8 petite bars, or 2 to 3 large servings. It’s the perfect amount for a small household!
These small batch magic cookie bars comes together quickly and easily.
I kid you not—this magic cookie bar recipe is currently one of the fastest and easiest cookie recipes on my blog. Most recipes instruct you to pull out a stand mixer and cream together butter, sugar, and eggs. But not this baby, nope. All you need to do is layer the ingredients together to build the bars. The whole thing takes less than 5 minutes!
These small batch magic cookie bars are egg-free.
In the past few weeks, I received many requests for egg-free baking recipes through my Instagram account. Many of you have egg allergies or sensitivities, or belong in households with members that do. Good news—these small batch magic cookie bars are 100% egg-free!
These small batch magic cookie bars are made with ingredients that can easily be substituted with what you already have on hand.
This small batch magic cookie bar recipe is infinitely customizable. You can swap out many of its ingredients for whatever cookies, nuts, and chocolate you already have on hand. It’s perfect for folks who are still minimizing trips to the grocery store, or home cooks looking to step up their game by customizing the bars and creating their own, unique cookie flavor!
Small Batch Magic Cookie Bar Ingredients and Substitutions
Now that I’ve convinced you to make this small batch magic cookie bar recipe, let’s talk about some of the key ingredients:
These small batch magic cookie bars use ⅓ cup pecans in the recipe.
Do I have to use pecans? Can I use another type of nut instead?
Yes, absolutely! You can use whatever nuts you prefer or have on hand. I can see these magic cookie bars working really well with almonds, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Can I mix and match the pecans with other nuts?
Yep, absolutely! You can use whatever mix of nuts you want, as long as the total volume of the nuts combined equals ⅓ cup. But there’s also flexibility in this quantity. Some magic cookie bar recipes contain significantly more nuts, others contain much less (we’ll get to that in a second). If you’re a nut lover, you can increase the quantity of nuts in the recipe all the way up to 1 cup.
Can I replace the nuts with chocolate chips instead?
Technically, yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. These magic cookie bars have plenty of sugar and sweetness in them already thanks to the Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti crumb crust and chocolate chips. The nuts help balance out the flavors. If you eliminate them completely, you’ll likely find the magic cookie bars to be too sweet! Trust me on this one—as a chocolate lover, I tried an all chocolate chip variation. It was way too intense, even for an avid chocolate fan like myself.
These small batch magic cookie bars use ⅔ cup Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumbs (from about 4 biscotti cookies) in the recipe.
What is Nonni’s Biscotti?
Biscotti are Italian almond biscuits that are twice-baked. Doing so gives them a unique, crunchy texture perfect that’s perfect for dunking in coffee and other hot beverages. I also like to use biscotti crumbs in baking projects that instruct you to use graham cracker crumbs in crusts for cheesecakes, pies, and layer bars like these magic cookie bars. Why? The biscotti results in a far crunchier and tastier crust!
However, because biscotti is baked twice, they can be time-consuming to make from scratch at home! To save myself some time, I rely on Nonni’s Biscotti. Each box of Nonni’s Biscotti contains eight ready-made biscotti cookies. The biscotti are rich in flavor, crunchy texture and delicately sweet. Best of all? They’re made from real, wholesome ingredients, including eggs, butter and sugar!
What makes Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti special?
Nonni’s Biscotti comes in a variety of different flavors. My personal favorite is Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti. This biscotti is studded with caramel, as well as dipped and strung in milk chocolate and sea salt. On its own, it’s plenty delicious. But in these magic cookie bars? Ohhhhh, boy! The caramel, chocolate, and sea salt in the biscotti combine with the other ingredients in the magic cookie bars to add extra caramel flavor and crunch. Get ready.
Can I use other flavors of Nonni’s Biscotti for these small batch magic cookie bars?
Sweetened Condensed Milk
These small batch magic cookie bars use ⅔ cup sweetened condensed milk in the recipe.
What is sweetened condensed milk?
Sweetened condensed milk is milk that’s been cooked down to remove water from it. Doing so gives the milk a thick, sticky, and densely creamy texture. Almost all condensed milks are sweetened (non-sweetened condensed milk is instead referred to as “evaporated milk”). The sugar keeps the sweetened condensed milk shelf-stable for years, and gives the sweetened condensed milk a unique flavor. Sweetened condensed milk is often used in baking recipes where the final product is very creamy, but also firm. Think: key lime pie fillings, caramels, and these small batch magic cookie bars!
Can you make small batch magic cookie bars without sweetened condensed milk?
Sadly, no. Earlier, I wrote that these magic cookie bars were egg-free. In the oven, the sweetened condensed milk bakes and hardens into a dulce de leche-like caramel, binding all the ingredients together. Without eggs or sweetened condensed milk, the bars never set and will fall apart completely when sliced!
Sweetened condensed milk is hard to find where I’m from. Can I make it at home?
In theory, yes. But I haven’t done it myself, so I can’t personally vouch for it.
However, many recipes can teach you how to make sweetened condensed milk at home. This recipe by Bigger Bolder Baking and this one by Stella Parks at Serious Eats look the most legit to me. That being said, it’s a bit of a time-consuming process: both recipes instruct you to simmer the milk for a minimum of at least 35 minutes. So plan ahead if you’re planning on making your own sweetened condensed milk at home!
These small batch magic cookie bars use ½ cup bittersweet or extra dark chocolate chips in the recipe.
Do I have to use bittersweet or extra dark chocolate chips?
No, not at all! You can use whatever kind of chocolate chips you like. I’ve seen magic cookie bar recipes made with butterscotch, milk chocolate, and white chocolate chips. They look delicious! However, I personally recommend using bittersweet or extra dark chocolate chips in my recipe. These magic cookie bars are plenty sweet with the Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumb crust and the sweetened condensed milk already. I find that the dark chocolate helps balance things out!
Do I have to use chocolate chips? Can I use chopped chocolate instead?
Yes, absolutely! In fact, in my cookbook, Weeknight Baking, I recommend skipping chocolate chips for most recipes. Instead, I instruct you to roughly chop up your favorite fancy chocolate bar and use that instead! Why? Cheap chocolate chips are loaded with preservatives and stabilizers like paraffin. These stabilizers enable the chips to keep their shape during baking, but can also give the chocolate a waxy, plastic flavor. You won’t have that same issue with most chocolate bars.
What else can I use besides chocolate chips and chopped chocolate bars?
When researching different magic cookie bar recipes for this post, I also saw recipes that instructed you to use chocolate-covered peanuts or candy-coated chocolate candies. The sky’s the limit!
These small batch magic cookie bars use ⅓ cup sweetened flaked coconut in the recipe.
What is sweetened flaked coconut?
Manufacturers make sweetened flaked coconut by boiling, grating, and drying coconut meat. After that, the coconut is then soaked in a liquid sugar solution and dried once more. This process results in coconut with a soft, chewy texture perfect for baking recipes like macaroons and these small batch magic cookie bars.
Is sweetened flaked coconut different from dried shredded coconut, desiccated coconut, or coconut flakes?
Yes! To make dried shredded coconut, manufacturers follow the exact same process I described above—except for the crucial step of soaking the coconut in the liquid sugar solution. As a result, dried shredded coconut tastes much less sweet and feels far less sticky than sweetened flaked coconut. This type of coconut also frequently goes by another name: dessicated coconut.
Coconut flakes, on the other hand, are also boiled and dried. However, unlike both sweetened flaked coconut and shredded coconut, manufacturers make the flakes by cutting the coconut meat into large, substantial flakes. Their larger size makes it harder to use the flakes in baking recipes. Instead, home cooks use coconut flakes as a topping or mix-in for savory foods and/or breakfast dishes. Although coconut flakes typically come unsweetened, you can also occasionally find sweetened varieties sold as snacks.
Can I use dried shredded coconut or coconut flakes for these small batch magic cookie bar recipe instead?
Yes, with reservations. According to this article in The Kitchn, you achieve best results if you use sweetened flaked coconut for baking recipes and dried shredded coconut for savory ones. However, Posie from Food52 recommends swapping out half the sweetened flaked coconut out with either dried shredded coconut or coconut flakes in her recipe for magic cookie bars. She writes that doing so makes the bars cuts down on the sweetness of the bars.
Can I mix and match the sweetened flaked coconut with another type of coconut instead?
Yes! Like I said above, mixing and matching the sweetened flaked coconut with an unsweetened variety of dried coconut cuts down on the sweetness of the bars. I would replace half the amount of sweetened flaked coconut in this recipe with another kind you prefer.
Can you make small batch magic cookie bars without coconut?
Yes, with reservations. You can technically substitute the coconut out with more nuts or chocolate chips. But the coconut helps keep the bars chewy—without it, their texture will be completely different!
How to Make Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
Here are the basic steps to make small batch magic cookie bars from scratch:
- First, toast the nuts. (Work Time: 10 minutes)
The small batch magic cookie bars are made with toasted nuts. Toasting the nuts releases oils that rejuvenates the nuts and makes them more flavorful—learn more in the Recipe FAQ section below! The easiest way to toast nuts is to spread them in a thin layer on a sheet pan and bake in the oven until fragrant and lightly toasted.
- Next, make the Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumb crust. (Work Time: 5 minutes)
To make the cookie crumb crust, pulse 4 Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti in a food processor until the biscotti turns into crumbs. Pour melted butter over the cookies and toss with a rubber spatula until the mixture looks like wet sand. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hands to press the crust evenly over the bottom of the pan.
- Now, layer the magic cookie bars. (Work Time: 5 minutes)
Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the cookie crumb crust and smooth it evenly over the crust. Then, alternate sprinkling the chocolate chips, pecans, and coconut over the sweetened condensed milk. That’s it!
- Bake the magic cookie bars. (Bake Time: 22 minutes)
Bake the magic cookie bars for 22 to 24 minutes, or until the edges are set and bubbling but the center still wobbles slightly. At this point, both the sweetened condensed milk and coconut should have a beautiful, toasted golden color.
Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars Recipe Troubleshooting and FAQ
FAQ: Equipment to Make Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
Can I bake these small batch magic cookie bars in an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan instead of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan?
Yes! However, your bars will likely be taller and thicker than mine. You may need to add a minute or two to Bake Time as well.
FAQ: Small Batch Magic Cookie Bar Recipe Techniques
Why do I need to toast the pecans?
Honestly, you can skip this step to save time, but your magic cookie bars likely won’t be as good and flavorful as mine. Why? Toasting nuts brings out more flavorful oils within the nuts themselves, leading to deeper flavors. You also improve their texture by adding snap and crunchiness. If you skip this step, you’ll be sacrificing flavor and texture in your bars!
Many stores sell “roasted” nuts. These are technically nuts that have already been toasted. However, the longer they sit, the staler and less flavorful they become. So even if you have roasted nuts on hand, I suggest that you toast them anyway. You may want to toast for less time than what’s listed in the recipe below—I’d start checking for doneness at the 5 minute mark.
How do I make a regular sized batch of magic cookie bars instead?
First, upgrade your baking pan. You need a 9 x 13-inch cake pan instead of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
Next, increase your ingredients to the following:
- 1 cup (4.5 ounces or 128 grams) pecans
- 1 ½ cups (6.75 ounces or 191 grams) Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumbs
- 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces or 85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups (12 ounces or 340 grams) bittersweet or extra dark chocolate chips
- 1 ⅓ cups (4 ounces or 113 grams) sweetened flaked coconut
Follow the instructions for assembling the magic cookie bars below, and bake for 25 to 28 minutes.
How to Cut Magic Cookie Bars
To cut magic cookie bars cleanly, you need to wait until the bars are cooled completely in the baking pan on a wire rack. If you attempt to slice them while they’re still warm, they’ll fall apart. Furthermore, the bars will get stuck to the sides of your knife! They need to set.
Once the bars have cooled completely, fill a tall, heatproof glass with VERY hot water. I recommend using freshly boiled water. Place a serrated knife in the water, blade down, for about 20 seconds. Use a kitchen towel to dry the knife and immediately slice the bars. The warmth helps prevent the bars from sticking to the knife. When slicing the bars, continue dipping the knife in the hot water and drying it every so often, especially if the filling starts to stick to the blade.
FAQ: How to Store Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
Do magic cookie bars need to be refrigerated?
No! Refrigerating them makes the magic cookie bars soggy and causes them to loose their shape. Instead, store the baked bars in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.
Can I freeze the unbaked magic cookie bars?
Sadly, no. Sweetened condensed milk can separate slightly in the freezer. For best results, you need to whisk it vigorously to get it back to the right consistency. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do that if the sweetened condensed milk has been topped with all the other ingredients in these bars!
Can I freeze the baked magic cookie bars?
Yes! Baked magic cookie bars freeze well when baked. Follow the recipe’s instructions for cooling and slicing the bars, then wrap each bar individually in plastic wrap.
To serve, you can eat the bars straight from the freezer—the bars will remain chewy enough for you to eat without thawing! Alternatively, you can transfer the bars to the fridge to thaw overnight for a softer mouthfeel. However, note that, after being frozen and thawed, the bars will lose their crispy edges. Instead, they will be completely chewy throughout.
Best Small Batch Magic Cookie Bar Recipe Tips
Best Ingredient Tip
- To make Nonni’s Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumbs, use a digital scale to weigh out as many biscotti cookies as needed to match the weight listed in the recipe. I used around 4 biscotti. Use a food processor to pulse the biscotti cookies into fine crumbs.
Best Technique Tips
- When researching different magic cookie bar recipes, I saw some recipes that instructed you to spread the cookie crumbs over a pan, then pour butter over the crumbs, and layer the rest of the ingredients on top. Doing so makes these bars even MORE magical and eliminates the need to use a bowl—you can literally use your baking pan as a bowl! While this technique sounds great in theory, it never really worked in practice. The cookie crumb layer always fell apart when sliced. So for my recipe, I decided to just mix the biscotti crumbs and butter together in a separate bowl and press the resulting mixture into the pan.
- I also saw recipes that instructed you to make the bars by pouring either all or half the amount of sweetened condensed milk on top of the different layers. Folks argued that doing so binds all the different layers together and gives the sweetened condensed milk even more toasted, delicious flavor. While I liked the results of this technique, it was hard to see the different ingredients in the bars—to me, that’s one of the most appealing things about this recipe! However, if you are a big fan of dulce de leche caramel, I definitely encourage you to pour the sweetened condensed milk in last.
Best Serving Tip
- I mentioned throughout the post that this small batch magic cookie bar recipe makes 8 petite bars. However, you can also slice them to make 2 larger bakery-style cookie bars. To make 8 petite bars, unmold the bars from the pan and slice them lengthwise. Hold the two long slices together, and slice them into quarters crosswise. This will create 8 petite magic cookie bar squares. For 2 large bakery-style bars, simply slice the unmolded cookie bars block into two halves crosswise.
Video Tutorial for Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
Use the video player below to watch my Instagram Story tutorial on how to make this small batch magic cookie bars recipe! The arrows to the left and right of the frame allow you to skip through the different recipe steps. You can also hit the “pause” or “enlarge” buttons on the upper right hand side of the frame to pause or enlarge the frames accordingly.
Alternatively, head to my Instagram profile to watch these Stories on mobile! The circles underneath my bio indicate saved Instagram Story highlights depicting various recipes. Clicking on one of the circles will play the videos you see above. You may need to scroll right to find this small batch magic cookie bars recipe.
More Layer Bar Recipes
- Brown Butter Sweet Potato Bars
- Hummingbird Bakery Lemon Bars
- Key Lime Bars
- Rhubarb and White Chocolate Bars
More Small Batch Baking Recipes
- Small Batch Banana Nut Muffins
- Small Batch Blueberry Muffin Recipe
- Small Batch Blueberry Scones
- Small Batch Brownies
- Very Small Batch Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars Recipe
For the Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
- ⅓ cup (1.5 ounces or 43 grams) pecans, roughly chopped into ¼- to ½-inch pieces
- ⅔ cup (3 ounces or 85 grams) Nonni's Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumbs
- 3 Tablespoons (1.5 ounces or 43 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- ⅔ cup (7 ounces or 198 grams) sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup (3 ounces or 85 grams) bittersweet or extra-dark chocolate chips
- ⅓ cup (1 ounce or 28 grams) sweetened flaked coconut
- flaky sea salt
For the Small Batch Magic Cookie Bars
- Prep your oven and pan. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the pan's two long sides. Spray the parchment, too.
- Toast the nuts. Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread the pecans in a single layer across the pan. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant and toasted brown. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to toss the nuts every 2 to 3 minutes to ensure even toasting. Once toasted, scrape the nuts onto a plate to prevent them from cooking further.
- Make the biscotti crust. In a medium bowl, combine the Nonni's Salted Caramel Biscotti cookie crumbs and melted butter. Use a rubber spatula to toss the mixture until it looks like wet sand. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hands to press it evenly over the bottom of the pan, all the way to the edges. (You can use the bottom of a coffee mug or heavy glass to pound the crumbs in place—you want to apply some pressure here so the crust holds its shape.)
- Assemble the bars. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the crust and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly over the crust and smooth the top. Sprinkle half the chocolate chips and coconut over the milk. Sprinkle all the nuts over the chocolate and coconut, then sprinkle the remaining chocolate and coconut halves over the nuts. Use your hands to gently press on top of the ingredients to bind them to the sweetened condensed milk.
- Bake the bars. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until the sides of the bar are set and bubbling but the center still wobbles slightly. Place the bars on a wire rack and garnish with flaky sea salt. Cool for 15 minutes, then run a butter knife or offset spatula along the edges of the pan. Continue cooling the bars completely.
- Serve and store. Once the bars are cool, use the overhanging parchment as handles to lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a hot knife (see FAQ) to slice and serve. The magic cookie bars can be stored in an airtight container on the counter for up to 3 days.
This post was last updated on 9/4/2020.
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Over the past several years of running Hummingbird High, I kept a crucial aspect of my life hidden from my readers: I had a full-time, extremely demanding job in the tech world. In my debut cookbook, Weeknight Baking, I finally reveal the secrets to baking delicious desserts on a tight schedule.