This multi-layered sweet treat is perfect for the holidays! Not only is it fast and easy, but it’s also relatively inexpensive too! Prepared with white chocolate, salted peanuts, coconut, and M&Ms, these Holiday Magic Squares are gooey and messy, and absolutely worth it!
I’ve heard of these called so many things over the years – Magic Cookie Bars or 7 Layer Squares being the most common. Essentially, Holiday Magic Squares are a layered dessert bar that is comprised of a graham crumb base topped with coconut, chocolate, nuts, candy, and sweetened condensed milk. Baked until the condensed milk bubbles up around the edges and turns a golden brown, these bars are just a little addictive.
When I sat at my desk to write up this recipe, I began to think of how many times my mom would make these when I was younger. I cannot tell you how many times she made these, but I can tell you this, it was nearly every weekend. She called them Magic Bars and she loved them, and making them in my own kitchen today, brought back so many memories of her and these bars. I don’t ever recall hers having M&Ms on top though.
Now, if you’re experienced with Magic Bars at all, you’ll no doubt know that they are a glorious mess! The base is meant to be crumbly, so there’s that. The middle is a gooey, chocolaty mess that’s just delicious to eat no matter how many crumbs fall in your lap or how many times you have to lick your fingers! I really don’t think there’s any way around it!
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DESPITE POPULAR BELIEF, EAGLE BRAND DID NOT START IT ALL!
If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll notice that with me, there are ingredient trends. I tend to find one particular ingredient that I become fixated with and every recipe that comes out of my kitchen tends to incorporate that one particular ingredient. For example, I was obsessed with lilac recipes this past summer. But, one ingredient that never changes for me is sweetened condensed milk. I love to incorporate that into my baking, especially into my Christmas baking!
As I said, Magic Bars go by many names. They are a baked sweet treat made of butter, graham crumbs, chocolate chips, coconut, nuts, and sweetened condensed milk. Magic Bars do have a history behind them. They were originally made in the 1960s. It was credited as an Eagle Brand recipe that many people loved, although it was not originally created by Eagle Brand.
The first of these bars was made in 1856, by a man named, Gail Borden. He invented a stable milk product for feeding babies which needed no refrigeration. He started to sell these cookies from a cart in New York City. During the Civil War, and both World Wars, this sweetened condensed milk, known as Eagle Brand, became famous as a needed source of milk and sugar.
After World War I, refrigeration was brought to America and destroyed the purpose of sweetened condensed milk. Eagle Brand condensed milk then became a popular ingredient for making desserts. Isn’t that interesting? You know what though, Dear Reader, however you slice them, or whatever you want to call them, Holiday Magic Squares are simply scrumptious!
LORD BYRON’S 12 BARS AND SQUARES OF CHRISTMAS
Holiday Magic Squares are the seventh holiday confection in my new series! Yes, that’s right, Dear Reader! I’m kicking off another holiday baking series, just like I have for the past few Christmases! Welcome to Lord Byron’s 12 Bars and Squares of Christmas!!!
If you have been reading my blog for while – well, at least anytime around Christmas for the past few years – you must have run into at least one of my Christmas baking countdowns. This particular countdown is all about bars and squares. For 12 consecutive days, I will share a holiday-based bar or square recipe with you. That means on Saturday and Sunday too! I usually publish new recipes three times a week, so I hope you’re up for this!
You really don’t want to miss one of these recipes, so if you have not yet subscribed to Lord Byron’s Kitchen, I encourage you to do so. That way, a new recipe will be emailed to you every day. You won’t have to bother to come looking for it! Like in previous holiday baking countdowns, I like to mix up the recipes in the series so that there is something for everyone. There will be bars and squares with chocolate, some with candy, and some with nuts too. Are you ready for day 7!!??
Looking For More Christmas Confections?
Lord Byron’s Kitchen has more than enough to satisfy your sweet tooth! Click on the links below to see a countdown series of holiday recipes from that category!
INGREDIENTS NEEDED TO PREPARE THIS RECIPE
The following is a list of the ingredients needed to prepare this recipe. For exact amounts and measurements, refer to the printable recipe card located near the bottom of this post.
For the Base:
- Graham Crumbs – I always try to find the crumbs rather than using the wafers. It just saves me from dirtying up my food processor. Don’t use a cheap, no-name brand. If you can afford the extra dollar, buy a good brand. Personally, I prefer Keebler brand, but they’re really hard to find in Canada, so my second choice is Honey Maid.
- Salted Butter – Make sure your butter is softened and at room temperature! I always use salted butter, unless stated otherwise. In this recipe, I think the salt helps to balance out the sweetness – if only just a little!
- Canned Sweetened Condensed Milk – This recipe has not been tested with low-fat condensed milk. Depending on where you live, the size of the can may differ. Be sure to use a full 14-ounce can!
- White Chocolate Chips – I use chocolate chips a lot in my recipes, and I change up the type depending on how I feel. The white chocolate chips can be substituted with milk, semi-sweet, or dark chips too.
- Coconut – Because sweetened condensed milk is so sweet, use unsweetened coconut.
- Salted Peanuts – I love the crunch of the salted peanut bits in contrast to the chewiness of the coconut layer. You can use other nuts like pecans or cashews too.
- Non-Stick Cooking Spray
CANDIES, CANDIES, AND MORE CANDIES!
I know I use M&Ms quite often in many of my baked goods, but there are other candy-coated chocolates out there that you can use. Here in Canada, we have something called Smarties. I think in the United States, smarties are those flat, pressed-powder-like candy that comes in a cellophane-wrapped roll. They’re often found in large bags for Halloween treats. In Canada, smarties are candy-coated chocolate much like the popular M&M.
You might also consider using Cadbury Mini Eggs – they are my all-time favourite! They release bags at Christmastime with a red and green candy coating. Actually, you can also use Eggies, which is Hershey’s version of the Cadbury Mini Egg. They are also red and green at Christmastime.
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THE TYPE OF COCONUT IS IMPORTANT
When it comes to coconut to bake with, there are two kinds – sweetened and unsweetened. Those two types can be found in different levels of fineness and coarseness. It’s important to use unsweetened coconut for this recipe. Otherwise, with the addition of both granulated and brown sugar, these Holiday Magic Squares may be too sweet to eat!
You’ll want to use unsweetened coconut. The size of the shredded coconut won’t make a difference to the taste, but it certainly will make a difference when you try to cut out the squares. The longer shreds of coconut might make for a messier cut or bite and you want your delicious squares to look just as amazing as they taste!
Depending on the brand, some coconut is shredded, grated, or desiccated. Shredded usually refers to larger pieces, while grated tends to be smaller. Desiccated has nothing to do with the size of the pieces but means the coconut is dried or the moisture has been removed. In most cases, you will find a fine or medium grade. Medium is my personal coconut of choice in most cases and it is what I used here.
WORKING WITH GRAHAM CRACKERS
If you already have graham crackers on hand, there’s no need to buy graham crumbs. Using your hands, break the crackers into smaller pieces, adding them to the bowl of a food processor as you go. Pulse the crackers a few times until the mixture resembles sand. You might be tempted to pour the melted butter in too, but do not do it!
Pulsing the crumb mixture with the butter will result in a very fine crumb, and your base will have very little texture. You run the risk of the mixture being too soft or runny to form into an even crumb crust.
GRAHAM CRUMB CONSISTENCY
There are really two options when it comes to making this square recipe. You can purchase the graham crumbs. Or you can make your own crumbs from graham crackers. To be honest, both will do just fine, but if you choose to use crackers, you need to get the consistency just right.
Many bakers will place graham crackers in a bag and smash it with a rolling pin. That’s fine – if you want to spend your day banging a rolling pin onto your kitchen counter. You see, Dear Reader, the crumbs need to be fine in order for the cookie batter to level out properly while baking.
The best way to get the right crumb consistency is to buy graham crumbs. That way, the work is already done for you! If all you have on hand are graham crackers, you can use those. But, do yourself a favour and pop them into a food processor. Pulse them until they are fine like sand. This will ensure you get the perfect graham crumb base.
Lord Byron’s Annual Christmas Cookie Series
Did you know that Lord Byron’s Kitchen has been sharing a 24 Cookies of Christmas Series for the past several years? Click on the links below to see all of the recipes from each series on one page!
SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK
I have a lot of recipes here at Lord Byron’s Kitchen with sweetened condensed milk as one of the ingredients. (Click here to see them!) Growing up in Newfoundland, it was always something I’ve been aware of. But, that’s not the case for everyone. I get many questions from readers about it. For someone not familiar with gooey, sticky canned milk, it might be easily confused with canned Carnation condensed milk, for instance. Let me explain what it is here.
So, first of all, it’s condensed. The milk is condensed by removing water. This can be accomplished by applying heat. The water will evaporate causing the milk to condense, which thickens the milk. Sugar is added to sweeten the condensed milk. The main purpose of adding sugar is to prolong the shelf life of condensed milk, which can sit on room-temperature shelves for years. Sugar prevents microorganisms from growing in the milk and helps to thicken it even further—it’s added after the milk has been boiled, reduced, and pasteurized.
If you find unsweetened condensed milk, it’s most likely that it’s simply evaporated milk or condensed milk, which is thick, but not gooey and sticky. Evaporated milk is often used as a cream added to tea or coffee. If you are unfamiliar with it, please read the can carefully. Also, shake it – can you feel the liquid splashing about inside the can? If so, it’s not sweetened condensed milk; it’s evaporated or condensed milk only!
HOW TO MAKE HOLIDAY MAGIC SQUARES
Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×9 baking pan with parchment paper. Fold the parchment paper so that it fits snugly in the pan. I use two sheets – one folded to fit the length of the pan and another folded to fit across the pan. Allow the excess parchment paper to hang out over the side of the pan. Coat the parchment paper with a thin layer of non-stick cooking spray. Once the confection is firm, use the excess parchment to lift the whole block out of the pan to make it easy to cut into squares.
Add the graham crumbs and the melted butter to a mixing bowl and use a fork to mix and combine. When the two are blended well enough, the mixture will resemble wet sand. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and gently press it into the pan to form an even layer. This is the crust part of the squares.
Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the graham crumb base so that there is an even layer covering the entire surface. Sprinkle over the white chocolate chips, followed by the coconut, peanuts, and chocolate M&Ms. With your hand held out flat, gently press down on the layers to secure them. Pressing down gently will ensure that you have a neater square that is easier to slice.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the outer perimeter of the squares are lightly golden brown. Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the squares to fully cool. I like to place the baking pan onto a wire cooling rack and let it sit undisturbed for at least 2 hours before slicing.
STORING, PACKAGING, AND FREEZING
These squares will stay fresh for about 3-5 days in a covered container and in a cool place. But, if you plan to freeze these squares, use a food-safe container that can be frozen. You’ll want to ensure a very tight-fitting lid too. (I use these quite often when freezing baked goods.) I like to place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of the container before pushing the lid on. This helps to create a better seal. The goal is to keep all of that freshness locked in!
You can freeze these Holiday Magic Squares for up to three months. They will come out of the freezer looking just like they did when you put them in there as long as you don’t stack them. If you must stack, lay a sheet of parchment paper between each layer. To thaw, remove bars from the freezer and place them on a wire cooling rack for 20 minutes. Once you thaw them, they will taste just as fresh, and be just as soft, as the day you first baked them.
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Holiday Magic Squares
- 1 1/2 cups graham crumbs
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup white chocolate chips
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut
- 1 cup salted peanuts
- 1 cup M&Ms
- non-stick cooking spray
- Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×9 baking pan with parchment paper. Fold the parchment paper so that it fits snugly in the pan. I use two sheets – one folded to fit the length of the pan and another folded to fit across the pan. Allow the excess parchment paper to hang out over the side of the pan. Coat the parchment paper with a thin layer of non-stick cooking spray. Once the confection is firm, use the excess parchment to lift the whole block out of the pan to make it easy to cut into squares.
- Add the graham crumbs and the melted butter to a mixing bowl and use a fork to mix and combine. When the two are blended well enough, the mixture will resemble wet sand. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and gently press it into the pan to form an even layer.
- Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the graham crumb base so that there is an even layer covering the entire surface.
- Sprinkle over the white chocolate chips, followed by the coconut, peanuts, and chocolate M&Ms. With your hand held out flat, gently press down on the layers to secure them. Pressing down gently will ensure that you have a neater square that is easier to slice.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the outer perimeter of the squares are lightly golden brown.
- Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the squares to fully cool. I like to place the baking pan onto a wire cooling rack and let it sit undisturbed for at least 2 hours before slicing.
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