Seven-or-eight-layer cookie bar ingredients laying on a range: canister of graham cracker crumbs, bag of pecans, flaked/shaved coconut, can of sweetened condensed milk and bags of various flavors of chocolate baking chips.

Eight-layer Bars, A Christmas Favorite



The title says eight layers… but technically they are seven-layer bars. However, I always make them with at least eight layers, or nine, or ten, or eleven. Regardless of how many layers they have, they are a delicious treat that kids and adults will love eight-layer bars.

They are a favorite around the holidays. My family has made them for Christmas going back to when I was a kid, but you can make them any time of the year. I recommend microwaving them for a few seconds to make them soft and gooey, but others prefer them room temperature.

Eight-layer Bars History

Magic cookie bars, Hello Dollies, coconut dream bars, dessert bars or eight-layer bars. The names of this dessert are as diverse at the ingredient variety. But how did it start and where did all the strange names come from? As the owl commercial says, the world may never know.

The bars have been traced back to the 1960s where there are numerous stories about how the various varieties were born. However, there doesn’t seem to be any single origin. It’s possible many at the time simply started experimenting with different ingredients and various varieties started to be popularized through TV, book, and newspaper appearances.

What about the history within my own family? It’s not actually my family’s recipe. Even though I remember them being made for Christmas quite far back, it wasn’t my family’s (or even the family it was acquired from) recipe. After acquiring my grandmother’s recipe book, it states right in it that it was from her neighbor.

A simple search online shows it to be the Eagle Brand recipe that was printed on the back of their sweetened condensed milk cans starting in the 60s. Or possibly from a reprint of it in a local newspaper. Either way, it was a commonly known recipe. However, I’ve altered it with my own ingredient substitutions and additions over the years.

Easy To Bake But Stay Away From Prepackaged

These cookie bars are simple to make, require just a few ingredients, and about 30 minutes to make, but will be the talk of the school and office. They have a very distinctive taste, but don’t get them from a store. Few grocers make them and they tend not to have good flavor. Many store-bought sweet treats work well but seven-layer bars are not one of them.


There are a lot of options for baking chips. I often use chocolate along with a couple of others. You can use semi-sweet chips though I prefer milk chocolate. Feel free to experiment. Use light or dark chocolate chips. Butterscotch, peanut butter, and salted caramel chips are what I typically include. While my grandmother’s generation were adamant about sticking to recipes, you can be creative and make them your own.

As for the nuts, you can leave them whole or crush them into smaller pieces. Place them into a bag and smash them partially with a hammer. Some leave them whole, but we prefer them in pieces. Pecans, walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, cashews… use your favorites.

Allergy Warning

This recipe contains nuts and coconut. If you or anyone you who many consume these cookies are allergic to any of the ingredients you may want to leave them out or substitute with other ingredients.

In someone is allergic to or simply dislikes coconut, you may try substituting shredded white chocolate or oats. If a nut allergy is involved you can try substituting for sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Green cookie sheet containing a large golden-brown baked eight-layer cookie bar prior to being cut.

Eight-layer Bars Cookie Recipe

  • ½ cup (one whole stick) butter
  • 1½ cup graham cracker crumbs (1 package + 4 crackers)
  • 2 or more bags chocolate or flavored cooking chips
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Put butter in an 11×17½ inch pan and melt in the oven. Alternatively, put in a microwave-safe bowl and melt 20-30 seconds then pour into pan. Spread melted butter over entire bottom of pan to create an even layer.
  3. Add remaining ingredients in the order given.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes (oven heat & times may vary, check periodically).


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