Lightened Up Magical Coconut Bars

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Magical Coconut Bars were always one of my favourite dessert squares growing up, next to Nanaimo bars. In my younger mind, the sweeter the dessert, the better. The words “too sweet” just weren’t in my vocabulary back then.  

Fortunately, for my body (and cavity-prone teeth) I outgrew this mindset, embracing lighter, slightly earthier versions of my favourite desserts. It’s amazing what the taste buds can adapt to with a little time and patience.

Luckily for these lightened up bars, no patience was required for my taste buds. It was love at first bite!

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Here are some of the swaps I made:

- coconut oil instead of butter, plus a reduced amount

- unsweetened shredded coconut instead of sweetened coconut flakes

- unrefined coconut sugar instead of processed white sugar

- homemade condensed light coconut milk instead of a can of sweetened condensed dairy milk

- reduction in the amount of chocolate and coconut

I really wasn’t sure how they would turn out given all these changes, but the outcome was just right – decadent, but still light tasting, or at least that was the consensus in the group. I really can’t imagine these any sweeter than they already are.

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I took some step-by-step photos to show you how easy (and fun) they are to make!

1. Make graham cracker crust & push down hard.     2. Pour on homemade condensed coconut milk.

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3. Sprinkle on chocolate chips.                                4. Followed by shredded coconut.

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5. Chop pecans and sprinkle on top. Press mixture down with hands and bake for ~30 minutes.

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The hardest part is waiting for the bars to set! Most recipes say to chill the pan overnight before slicing (is this even possible? hahah) or chill in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours. Being the patient person I am, I shoved these bars straight into the freezer. A mere 2 hours later, I was enjoying my first square which sliced perfectly. Freezer for the win!

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Lightened Up Magical Coconut Bars

While these are lighter than some traditional magical coconut bar recipes, they are still quite decadent, so I prefer to serve them in small squares. A little bit goes a long way! We also found that the bars tasted better the next day, possibly because the flavours have time to settle. Make sure you really push the graham crumbs down firmly into the pan. This is key if you want the crust to hold together well. See my substitution notes below and be sure to read the entire recipe before starting.

Text, email, or print this recipe

Adapted from Post Punk Kitchen.

Yield = 20 squares

Ingredients:

  • 1 can light coconut milk*
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar*
  • 2 cups vegan graham cracker crumbs*
  • 6 tbsp (65g) coconut oil*
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup dairy-free chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life mini)
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • pinch of flaked sea salt, for garnish (optional)

 

1. Prepare condensed coconut milk: Preheat oven to 350F and line a 9-inch square pan with two pieces of parchment paper (one going each way). Add entire can of coconut milk into a medium-sized pot, and whisk in the coconut sugar. Increase heat to medium and bring to a low simmer. Watch closely as it can boil over very quickly! Simmer on low-medium heat for about 12-14 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the mixture thickens slightly. If film develops on the top as it condenses, just whisk it back into the mixture. Remove from heat to cool while you prepare the crust.

2. Prepare graham cracker crust: In a pot, soften coconut oil over low heat until mostly melted. Add to a mixing bowl along with graham cracker crumbs and maple syrup. Stir very well until thoroughly combined. Spoon graham mixture into prepared pan. Starting at the centre of the pan, press the graham cracker crumbs as firmly as you can, moving outward from the centre. The harder you press the crumbs into the pan, the better the bars will hold together. I used a pastry roller at the end to really pack it all in and I had no problems with crumbling when I sliced the bars.

3. Assemble: Pour warm condensed milk over the graham crust. Now, sprinkle on the chocolate chips, followed by the coconut, and finally the pecans, evenly over the condensed milk. Press the mixture down lightly with hands until the coconut milk soaks upward into each layer. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt (optional).

4. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 27-31 minutes at 350F (I baked for 30 mins), until the edges are golden. Remove pan from oven and place on cooling rack for about 30 minutes. Now, transfer the pan to your freezer for 2 hours (quick-set method). Or chill the bars in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight. When set, cut into squares (thaw at room temp first if removing from freezer). Bars can be wrapped up and left on the counter, or in the fridge or freezer.

Substitution notes: 1) You can use full-fat coconut milk instead of light. 2) Coconut sugar can be subbed for any granulated sugar (Sucanat, natural cane sugar, brown sugar, etc). 3) Two cups of graham cracker crumbs produced a fairly thick crust (see photo). You can probably reduce the amount to 1.5 cups if you want a thinner crust. 4) You can probably sub non-dairy butter for coconut oil. 5) I purchased my graham cracker crumbs from Bulk Barn.

I know some of you are probably wondering about a gluten-free version too. You could try using gluten-free graham crackers and processing those in the processor/blender or you might be able to make an almond flour crust. Thoughts? If anyone tries a GF version please leave a note in the comments!

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{ 172 comments… read them below or add one }

Herbivore Triathlete December 18, 2012

Oooh, these look decadent! One of my favorite treats is 7 layer magic bars, these look very similar. I love that you lightened them up but didn’t sacrifice any flavor. Your photos are fabulous as always! (Are you using a black back drop of some kind?)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 18, 2012

I’ve always wondered what the difference is between the 7 layer bars and these. Do the 7-layers have butterscotch chips or something?
I have a couple backgrounds for my photos – black and white presentation boards from Michaels. :) They stand up on their own (well most of the time!) and don’t need to be clipped in place.

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Herbivore Triathlete December 18, 2012

Yes! The 7 layer bars that I make use chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts of some kind, and coconut flakes on top of graham cracker crust and the condensed milk. That’s 6 layers, I’m drawing a blank on what’s missing, ha ha!

Thanks for the tip on using presentation boards. I was thinking flat sheet but boards would be much simpler!

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Mischelle December 22, 2012

maybe the seventh layer is love?! (But it could be the butter too)

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Mischelle December 22, 2012

Okay, didn’t read far enough… Angela says it’s the magic ;)

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Ali @ WHOLEistically Fit December 18, 2012

Yum, these look magical indeed! ;) And, thanks so much for the tip on the backgrounds! I’m new to the blogging thing and photography isn’t my forte. I’m definitely going to look into getting some of these boards at Michaels. :D

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 18, 2012

The 7th layer is magic ;)

About the boards – I used to use regular bristol board, but it was annoying to hold up and it didn’t clip well either, so the presentation boards are a nice option. They’ve only tipped onto my food once or twice so far….hah.

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LJ May 15, 2013

Weird I looked up my old recipe for 7 layer bars and it’s not really a 7th layer. It’s a heaping goob of butter mixed into the graham cracker layer.. Hmmm.. I’m suddenly craving a goob of Earth Balance and graham.
It’s already May, I think I should hop on my Christmas baking and try this. :)

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Lia @ Sojourning December 18, 2012

This is amazing! My brother’s GF’s mom, who taught at our high school, makes these all the time, but I can no longer enjoy them as a vegan. Now I can! Hehehehe! This dessert is really a part of my childhood and has so many great memories attached. I’m so excited to try these out!

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Shundara@ SavyNaturalista December 18, 2012

Oh these look amazing they remind me of a toffee brownie with less fat and I can eat more; I bet the smell was so wonderful…

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Karen December 18, 2012

My Mom used to make these bars with the added butterscotch chips. Don’t know if they were called 7 layer bars or not, but they were good! Yours look fantastic! Will have to try, I am just flirting with going Vegan. You have inspired me so much! I have been making changes in my diet and already feel the difference! :)

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table December 18, 2012

I loved these as a kid! You made some great swaps. I think I’d like this version better as an adult. Especially with the unsweetened coconut – it’s so decadent I or know why anyone needs to use the sweetened variety!

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Anele @ Success Along the Weigh December 18, 2012

Love it! I made something similar into truffles and they were a big hit. I’m definitely pinning these babies!

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Amanda@ Spiritual Sweat December 18, 2012

Holy Moly these are my ideal dessert!!
I LOVE all things coconut. Coconut sugar is amazing. I put it in a lot of your baking recipes and the substitution works great!

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Laura December 18, 2012

I really love coconut oil and so happy to see that his recipe is filled with coconut :)
Just wondering though what makes coconut sugar different then refined white? Is coconut sugar less processed/better for you?

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Maria December 18, 2012

Hey Laura,

Coconut sugar has a very low glycemic index, namely 35. Refined white sugar has a glycemic index of 100 (maximum) and you’ll need only a tiny amount of it to influence your blood sugar level. This affects cravings, headaches and sugar rush/low, for instance. Palm sugar has an even lower glycemic index, namely 33. “They” say that sugars or sweeteners or any kind of food actually with a glycemic index of 55 or 60 upwards should be avoided or taken with consideration.

Something like that ;)

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Jessica December 24, 2012

What a helpful answer! Can coconut sugar be swapped in for wherever regular white sugar is used? Do they taste the same as each other?

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Maria December 24, 2012

Hey Jessica,

Thanks! Here – hopefully – another one:

Coconut sugar can be swapped in for wherever regular white sugar is used, yes! But I find that every sugar (or nectar, syrup, etc) has it’s own flavour and intensity. Presumably you’ll have to adjust the amount according on the one hand to the intensity and on the other hand: it will taste differently. The latter also depends on what sugar you use, because some sweeteners have a strong or particular flavour, like stevia or palm sugar. I made a Pisco Sour cocktail (of course I left out the egg white :) ) with palm sugar instead of white sugar once but it was waaaay to sweet; I think you’ll need 2/3 of palm sugar when replacing refined white – and also take into consideration your own sweet taste.

The more sugar is a part of the dish, the more you’ll ‘taste’ it, of course, so I think it’s trial-and-error there… maybe combining sugars can be a solution when you don’t like the taste.

Mind this: liquids (rice syrup, agave, maple etc.) cannot just be replaced by solid sugars, since it will influence the consistency of the dish you’re preparing, and vice versa. Here you have to work things out, for instance replacing a part of the amount of sugar by a liquid and the other part by another sugar. Also trial and error :)

xoxo!

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Sally December 18, 2012

“Freezer for the Win” OMG a woman after my own heart! And the recipe looks great. Like everyone I will be baking in the next few days and this will be on the agenda. Thanks!

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Christine December 18, 2012

Hi Angela – these look delicious!! I am definitely making these babies tonight. I am a GF vegan so I will report back with how they turned out!

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kim@hungryhealthygirl December 18, 2012

I’m so making these!! I’ve been looking for a bar to make for Christmas and I’ve alway loved these. Great substitutions. Can’t wait to taste them!!

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Erica @ Coffee & Quinoa December 18, 2012

Yum! We used to call these seven layer bars, and I definitely remember they were my favorite to make in middle school… when I could still feel perfectly fine after eating several large squares! Not so any more, so I’m so happy to see your lightened-up version.

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Allison December 18, 2012

WHAT?! These look so good. I was literally drooling over my Ipad this morning when I saw this post…

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Allison December 18, 2012

Hi Ange! It’s me Al:) The recipe sounds amazing, can’t wait to try it and I will let you know how the GF version works. I’m sure Matt will love it! ps did you get my emails (re xmas present)??

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 18, 2012

Hiiii. check your email!! :) I hope the bars work out! Let me know what you end up using for the crust. xo

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Stefanie @ Thin Vegetarian December 18, 2012

I used to be all about sweet also, but now I find so many things to sweet to even eat!

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Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl December 18, 2012

These bars most certainly look magical!! :)

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Andrea @ Vegvacious December 18, 2012

Delish! There is definitely something magical about coconut and chocolate in bar form :-) These look wonderful!

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Ashley December 18, 2012

They look absolutely incredible! Definitely decadent. I’m sure no one would ever know they have been lightened up a bit. You can just tell the texture is thick, chewy, and crunchy. All of my favorite things!

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The Healthy Hipster December 18, 2012

These look just lovely, Angela. I am officially making these this morning, possibly with the addition of some dried cranberries to up the festive factor. Perfect for a holiday get together!

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jodye @ chocolate & chou fleur December 18, 2012

These look too good to be true! I’ve been heavily debating what cookies I’m going to make for Christmas, and now I know that I’m going to make these for certain. It doesn’t help me decide between the other recipes, but at least I know I’ll have one killer cookie that everyone will adore. Thanks for the great recipe!

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Sarah @ Yogi in Action December 18, 2012

Those look so amazing! Definitely adding it to my list of things to bake in 2013.

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Averie @ Averie Cooks December 18, 2012

I love Seven Layer Bars, Magic Bars, whatever name they go by…great change up to keep these a little lighter and vegan. The sounds of homemade condensed light coconut milk is RIGHT up my alley. I love sweetened cond milk, but making it at home and with coconut milk sounds like the best trick ever!

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Abby @ The Frosted Vegan December 18, 2012

Oh my, these look too good!! I am the only coconut lover in my house, so I would keep these all to myself : )

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Liz December 18, 2012

Although coconut is not my most favorite, I must say those bars look pretty tasty. :)

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Anne December 18, 2012

I love your website.. your recipes.. I am only reading you since a week but consider me a HUGE fan.. finally a website where you can find the ingredients at a normal Hyvee Store and you don’t need hours to whip things up and most important.. the final product really tastes good! It’s hard to find vegan recipes that actually taste amazing!
I already tried out 3 of your recipes and I LOVE every one of them. And it’s so great that you always tell in the recipes how long you can store them and how! I love to take stuff with me to school or cook in advance and portion it! THANK YOU for making my life easier!
And if you now figure out a way to make caramels <3 <3 vegan! That would be amazing!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 19, 2012

Hey Anne, Thank you for your sweet comment! You totally made my day. Love the vegan caramel ideas…I’ve been wanting to make those for a while now.

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Sharla December 18, 2012

Ok, in order to have unsweetened coconut flakes do you have to use fresh coconut or is there a bagged/canned variety out there anywhere? I can only find sweetened coconut at the grocery.

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Cara December 18, 2012
Suzette January 21, 2014

You can also buy unsweetened shaved coconut in the freezer section sometimes. I’ve found it in several grocery stores.

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Tiff (@LoveSweatBeers) December 18, 2012

Mmmmm, graham cracker crust is where it’s at! :)

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Lori Greenberg December 18, 2012

I can’t wait to try these (with some type of GF crust)!

question: we usually buy coconut milk in the carton.what size is the “1 can” of coconut milk you use?

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 19, 2012

you can find cans of light coconut milk in the baking section of most grocery stores. Enjoy!

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Sandy November 26, 2014

Also in the Asian foods aisle if your grocery store hides it there :)

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Shel@PeachyPalate December 18, 2012

Fantastic recipe! What sort of size tray did you bake them in?

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Cara December 18, 2012

Angela, you are amazing. First the mocha, now this. I read The Kind Diet a while back, and I felt like giving up sugar was MUCH harder and felt more “threatening” as a lifestyle change than giving up dairy–so I love that you try to offer us some healthier alternatives that still let us enjoy things we love!

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Heather December 18, 2012

Wow – these look amazing! So happy you did a lightened up version – you must have been listening to me last week! Can’t wait to make these for the boys and not feel so guilty about them eating them :)

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Janessa @ Epicurious Vegan December 18, 2012

Yum!!! These look so good! Your photos are so so gorgeous.

I made a gluten-free version of these a few months ago, with a nut, maple syrup and coconut oil crust: http://epicuriousvegan.com/vegan-dance-magic-bars/.

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Vegan Radhika Sarohia December 18, 2012

These look soooo delicious!!!!!!!!!!

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity December 18, 2012

These look unreal!
I may use cacao nibs instead of Choco chips for some extra health benefits.
The problem is that I am in Australia and I have never seen graham cracker crumbs before?

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Rebecca December 18, 2012

I just made these. So emotional! I’m GF so I used this almond crust recipe: http://www.krissys-creations.com/2012/04/berry-tart-with-almond-crust-gluten.html?m=1

I also used 1/2 c. Brown sugar instead of coconut sugar.

Thanks so much for another fantastic recipe!

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Marissa December 18, 2012

This lightened up version was a great idea. I always loved these when I was a kid, too. Anything chocolate and coconut was amazing in my book.

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Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat December 18, 2012

Ooh I saw these on Instagram last night and got very excited for today’s post!! They sound delicious, and I’m not even a big coconut fan! I’m a huge sucker for graham crackers so you can bet I wouldn’t leave a crumb behind! :)

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jenna December 18, 2012

these bars are one of my favorites! your ‘cleaned’ up version looks just as amazing as the traditional.

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Kimmy December 18, 2012

oh man… these look amazing!!!!

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Alex December 18, 2012

OH MY GOSH.
I’M GOING TO THE STORE TO BUY COCONUT MILK NOW.
Wait, it’s closed at 9:36 at night. Fudge.
FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.
:)

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Alex January 5, 2013

Just made these with brown sugar! Delicious! Thanks so much for the recipe!! :)

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