Trust and believe when I say that it is taking me the strength of ten thousand people to NOT eat the entire batch of these caramel cookie bars. To think I almost did not make them this weekend, because I thought they’d be too sweet…
And, YES, these bars, made with dulce de leche, chocolate chips, and coconut flakes ARE sweet, but in a good way. Not in a give-your-dentist-a-heart-attack way (they ARE sticky though, which your dentist might not like, so, don’t tell your dentist you made these. It’s our little secret).
Soft, chewy, and rich, these are a spin on the classic Magic Cookie Bars, also called “Seven Layer Bars” and “Hello Dolly Bars”. Instead of topping the layers off with condensed milk, we’re going to use a can of sweet and delightfully sticky dulce de leche. The idea comes from John Kannell’s (Preppy Kitchen) Magic Cookie Bar recipe, where he suggests using dulce de leche as an alternative. Well, having made both a traditional bar and a caramelized version, I’ve gotta say that the dulce de leche REALLY makes this dessert extra, extra special.
What is Dulce de Leche?
Dulce de leche is caramelized milk that can be made either on the stovetop or in the oven. It translates to “sweet milk” or “milk candy” in Spanish. It’s DELICIOUS, and I promise you will have a VERY hard time not eating the entire can by itself with a spoon. You can also make your own homemade dulce de leche, but I like Nestle’s La Lechera brand.
What else makes these bars amazing?
Graham cracker crust – Crumbly, crunchy, and also SOOOOO easy to make! You’ll just need graham cracker crumbs, melted unsalted butter, and 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt. We won’t add sugar to the crumb mixture because the dulce de leche and the toppings are already sweet enough.
Layers on layers on layers: Here’s where the real fun begins! I used semisweet chocolate chips, chopped pecans, and sweetened coconut flakes. Personally, I feel this yields the richest result with the perfect mix of soft and crunchy. But feel free to get creative and switch it up. You can use white chocolate chips, peanut butter morsels, almonds…Use whatever you fancy!
The biggest challenge is resisting the urge of slicing right into them as soon as they’re out of the oven. But you MUST resist! These bars have a cooling time of at least 3 hours. Once removed from the oven, the dulce de leche still has to set and become firm enough to slice into without making a complete mess! I’ve seen variations of these bars call for cooling overnight, which I also recommend. But, if you simply don’t have the time (or the patience), 3-6 hours is well enough.
If you want these for a party, make them the night before or super early in the morning. I took my bars out of the oven at 9 AM, and they were sliceable by 1 PM. They could have possibly beeen ready earlier, but I waited quite a while, just to be safe.
Here’s another plus: you don’t have to worry too much about super precise measurements! Try to be very accurate when making the graham cracker crust, but even though I call for 1 cup of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of pecans, you can customize the amounts to your liking. If you want chocolate in every bite of these bars, then go ahead and more chocolate chips! Want more crunch? Then, add more pecans! Don’t like coconut? Then omit the coconut flakes!
These bars are all you, baby! So get your ass in the kitchen and make them! (please)
Dulce de Leche Cookie Bars
For the crust
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter melted
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the filling
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1 can dulce de leche
- splash of milk
- coarse sea salt, for sprinkling optional
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line an 8×8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Do not skip the parchment paper; it's very important for clean, easy removal of the bars.
- Make your graham cracker crumbs by placing broken up sheets of graham crackers in a powerful blender or food processor. Pulse until the crackers become small crumbs. If you don't have a blender or processor, put the sheets in a ziploc bag and use a rolling pin or bottle to crush them. Measure out the specified amount and toss it into the prepared baking pan.
- Add melted butter and salt to the crumbs. Stir them together with a fork, until the mixture resembles wet sand. Use the palm and back of your hand to press the crumbs into a flat, uniform crust.
- In a medium bowl, combine dulce de leche and a splash of milk. Stir together with a spatula or spoon. We're just doing this to make the dulce de leche slightly thinner. Be careful not to add too much milk.
- Now, we'll begin layering the bars. Start by sprinkling chocolate chips over the prepared graham cracker crust. Then, add coconut flakes, and finish it off with the chopped pecans.
- Drop dollops of the dulce de leche on top of the layers of chocolate, coconut, and pecans. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the milk caramel as evenly as you can. It will be thick and very sticky. Don't worry about spreading the dulce de leche to every corner, or pressing it down too much into the pan, because it will spread and liquify as it bakes.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 28-30 minutes. The dulce de leche will be slightly bubbling, and the edges will be golden brown. Even though it's finished baking, the caramel will still look pretty wet and gooey. That's okay.
- Remove the bars from the oven, sprinkle a little coarse sea salt over the top, and allow them to cool in the pan, uncovered, for AT LEAST 3 hours before slicing into squares or diamonds. Do not attempt to cut or remove the bars until they are sufficiently cooled.
- In no way can these bars be described as a “light” dessert. They are SWEET and RICH. If you don’t fancy very sweet desserts, you might want to skip this one.
- Dulce de leche is quite thick and won’t exactly “drizzle” like regular sweetened condensed milk. When I made these, I was worried that the caramel would just sit on top of the layers, but it spreads and melts just fine in the oven.
- You MUST line your pan with parchment paper for easy, clean removal of these bars.
- This recipe yields about 10-12 bars, depending on how large you cut them.