Let’s talk about my favorite childhood dessert for a minute: Magic Cookie Bars. Also known as Seven Layer Bars or Hello Dolly Bars, these pieces of dessert art are truly delicious and are remembered with great fondness by all who have tried them. I really don’t know that I’ve ever had someone not love them. The combination of so many delicious things thrown on top of a buttery graham cracker crust and topped with sweetened condensed milk just really can’t end up as anything but insanely delicious.
My mom and I would make batches and batches of these for Christmas, and when I was little I would constantly be sneaking outside to grab a bar (or three) out of the freezer in our garage where my mom would attempt to hide them. The main problem with these decadent little morsels? They are sooo far from the realm of healthy, and though the holidays are a time for splurging and going calorie-crazy, that’s not necessarily what I want to be doing for the remainder of the year.
These bars are not low-calorie, and you still need to eat them in moderation, but in this version the calories come from more natural sources that aren’t loaded with preservatives and empty sugars. Please please please don’t let the word Paleo in the title freak you out. My dad, one of the Magic Cookie Bars biggest fans, couldn’t keep his hands off these, and we even toyed with the idea that these were even better than the original.
They do require a bit more effort, because you need to reduce down the coconut milk and coconut sugar, but that process don’t require a lot of thought, just a distant eye and the occasional stir to keep it from burning. If you ask me, that’s not a lot to do to cut out the major amounts of sugar that would’ve been in that can of sweetened condensed milk. Besides that, everything’s pretty much the same in terms of effort.
The crust here is made out of crushed nuts instead of the crushed graham crackers, and with a little bit of cinnamon stirred into the nut mixture, you won’t even notice the difference! The toppings are super similar, with the exception of butterscotch chips. I couldn’t think of a reasonable substitute, and the original chips weren’t too much of a loss for me. The bars are still plenty sweet and decadent without them!
I used unsweetened coconut flakes, and two kinds of nuts I had on hand (you can just use what you have!) to complement the melty dark chocolate, and oh my gosh you guys – I really do wish I had them to share with you guys! I’m totally in love with this recipe and truly impressed with how much they taste like the original. I’ll definitely be making these again and again, and I guarantee they won’t last too long around here! If you want Paleo in the most decadent way, whip a batch of these up. You won’t regret it! :)
- 1 15.5 ounce can coconut milk (full-fat)
- ½ cup coconut palm sugar
- 2 tablespoons coconut butter
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup ground almonds or almond meal
- ½ cup ground walnuts
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons coconut butter, melted
- ¾ cup dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped almonds
- ½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut
- In a heavy saucepan, heat the coconut milk and sugar over medium heat, stirring often, until coconut milk begins to boil. Lower heat to simmer and reduce by ⅓ to ½, stirring often to prevent the sugar from scorching. (If thicker, caramelized sugar begins to form on sides or bottom, use a whisk to reincorporate it.) When it reaches the desired consistency, in around 30 minutes, add 2 tablespoons coconut butter and vanilla. Stir well and remove from heat. You should end up with a little over a cup of caramel-colored, sweetened coconut milk.
- While the caramel is simmering (be sure to continue stirring every few minutes), mix together the ground almonds, ground walnuts, cinnamon, salt, and coconut butter. Sprinkle nut mixture into a parchment-lined 8x8 baking pan. Using your fingers or a spatula, press the mixture down in an even layer, covering the bottom of the baking dish.
- Sprinkle the chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and coconut flakes evenly over the crust. Pour the sweetened coconut milk over everything. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Let chill in the refrigerator for about an hour or until completely chilled and set. Cut, and serve!
Recipe adapted from She Cooks, She Cleans