One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is that it gives us all an excuse to eat the things we love in the name of the people we love. I grew up in a house where plates loaded with treats were exchanged with friends and neighbors in the weeks before Christmas. My mom’s cream cheese fudge was legendary in our neighborhood, but my personal favorite was the divinity we received every year from her hair stylist, Mary Jo. (My mom tried to make her own divinity one year, apparently, and wound up with clumps of candy on the kitchen ceiling. “And that was the end of that,” she said.)
To my mind, Christmas is cookie season. And, since bars fall into the cookie category, I’m going to kick off cookie season with another of my Christmas favorites: Magic Bars. Also known as Seven Layer Bars, they’re incredibly easy, very rich and very sweet. They’re the perfect treat for once-a-year baking. There’s almost no way to ruin them—hence the name—because you’re basically just melting all the ingredients together and cutting that mixture into small portions. They’re chewy and crunchy and, be forewarned, completely addictive.
Before you get started baking, crush the graham crackers and toast the coconut. Crush the crackers by putting them in a plastic bag with a zippered top; run a rolling pin back and forth over the bag until you have fine crumbs. (Or you can use a food processor, if you’re a high-tech kitchenista.) Toast the coconut either in the oven or on the stovetop. If you’re using the oven, spread the coconut on a cookie sheet in a single layer; toast the coconut at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring once in a while until it’s evenly browned. To toast it on the stovetop, spread the coconut in the bottom of a skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring occasionally. The coconut with toast more evenly in the oven, although that process takes a little longer.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 8 whole graham crackers, crushed)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½ cups flaked coconut
1/3 cup toasted coconut
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter with a fork. Place the buttered crumbs in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and spread them out with your fingers to create a thin, even graham cracker base for the bars. Press down firmly and make sure the base goes all the way into the corners of the pan.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips over the graham crackers, making sure you get them all the way out to the edges and in the corners. Press down gently so the chips are slightly embedded in the graham cracker crumbs. Sprinkle the flaked coconut and pecans over the chips (again, getting them all the way out to the edges and in the corners.) Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over everything.
Bake for 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Sprinkle the toasted coconut over the hot bars. Let them cool completely before you try to cut them. In fact, refrigerating them for 20 minutes or so after they've cooled to room temperature will encourage the bars to hold together while you're cutting them and removing them from the pan. Let them return to room temperature before serving.