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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{ 169 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa@Pocketfuls December 18, 2012

Oh wow — these look delicious! The Magic

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Lisa@Pocketfuls December 18, 2012

Oh wow — these look delicious! The Magic Layer Bars were my absolute favourite when I was a kid… I’m excited to try your healthier version! I make a gluten free crust with almond flour for other bars that I bake, and I think this one would work very well in your recipe for those who are looking for a gf option: http://www.pocketfuls.ca/2012/12/cranberry-almond-crumble-squares-gluten.html .

I thought I was finished my Christmas baking for this year but I’m pretty certain now that I have to make these, too! ;) Thanks for the recipe!

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Tanya @ playful and hungry December 19, 2012

I’ve done a similar crust and it works perfectly fine!

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Adam December 18, 2012

Those look amazing. I do like coconut oil…what was the original recipe with the butter?

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chantal December 19, 2012

They don’t just look amazing, they are amazingly delicious. After seeing your post, I knew I had all the ingredients at home so I made them right away and wow, those are a piece of heaven in your mouth. Thank you for sharing that wonderful recipe. After tasting I knew those bars have become my favorite go to treats. Cheer, Chantal from veghead

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 19, 2012

Hey Chantal, I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed the bars! Happy holidays :)

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Irene December 19, 2012

This looks like a recipe my mom’ll adore, thank you for sharing it with us! For the graham cracker crumbs, do you think your own graham crackers recipe would work, after I pulverized the resulting crackers in the food processor?

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 19, 2012

I’ve tried that before and the crumbs came out a bit strange in flavour – not really what I was expecting. In a pinch they could work though!

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Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers December 19, 2012

Oh my, how gorgeous! They look so scrumptious!! You made another wonderful creation!!! I have to make these, and soon!

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Krista December 19, 2012

Magic Squares have always been my favourite holiday treat – I can’t wait to try this version!

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Alexis @ Hummusapien December 19, 2012

I absolutely love the idea of making homemade sweetened condensed milk from coconut. I always loved magic bars growing up–the sweet, salty, chewy and crunchy all in one is heavenly!

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Tanya @ playful and hungry December 19, 2012

Those look addictive! And so pretty, too! I have never tried coconut sugar, it’s always so expensive… but maybe it’s time to try it now! ;)

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Ana December 19, 2012

Hey, where did you get unrefined coconut sugar and how expensive is it? I live in Toronto, and haven’t seen that in regular supermarkets.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 19, 2012

Hi Ana,
I buy it in a huge bag from Costco.

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medicine December 19, 2012

it looks so delicious and tasty. i love to read the directions here to prepare it. i enjoy to eat coco nut bar with a cup of tea and will now try this one too by following the directions. thanks for sharing.

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Ashlee @ Plant Infusions December 19, 2012

Hey, Ange, I have always wondered if nondairy condensed milk could be made. You did it! Amazing!

Now I wonder how well it would stand up in replacing dairy condensed milk in other recipes. Far out there, but maybe even in pumpkin pie? I know I’m past the season, but I just think it is so neat that you figured out how to make nondairy condensed milk!

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Mary December 19, 2012

Wow these look amazing! I absolutely love food with different textures and flavors, especially sweets!

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Sonia the Mexigarian December 19, 2012

I am completely clearing out my freezer and am shoving these babies in there. Totally making this recipe this weekend.

I am just drooling thinking about it.

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a farmer in the dell December 19, 2012

These look fantastic! The snow has just started falling in Oregon and I think a day spent baking is in order. Thanks for a great recipe!

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saniel December 19, 2012

i used to eat a version of these as a kid but with caramel chips and stick or more of butter. thanks for the lighter brighter version!!

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Stephen@HappyHeart December 20, 2012

These looks AMAZING!!! Definitely need to give them a try…though if you fancy sending some to Ireland they’d be greatly received! :)

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Danica December 20, 2012

I made these last night in the gluten free version! I used the Gluten Free Graham Crackers. I Used these

http://www.amazon.com/Kinnikinnick-Smoreables-Graham-Style-Crackers/dp/B004T3AWRA

which you can get at any Whole Foods or Loblaws/Zehrs.

I used a blender to grind down the crackers to a crust and 1 box makes just under 2 cups of Graham cracker crumbs.

I would use a little less coconut oil though next time, maybe 5 tbsp.

They turned out delicious!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 21, 2012

Thanks for the tips! Im sure people will appreciate it :) I’m glad they worked for you!

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Christine (The Brighter Side of Life) December 20, 2012

These look SO good! And believe it or not, I’ve never made bars. These may be the first ones I try my hand at. :)

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Amber from Slim Pickin's Kitchen December 20, 2012

I totally just made something similar to this yesterday, but it included toffee bits and and chocolate chips instead of coconut milk. I, too, subbed a lot of the ingredients, and I was thrilled with how well they turned out. These look absolutely delightful! Can’t wait to try them!

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Emily @Random Recycling December 20, 2012

These look amazing. Thanks for all the great substitution ideas. In all the many healthy recipes I have read, I’ve never even heard of coconut sugar. I’m going to hope that my local Whole Foods carries it.

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Margaret December 20, 2012

yum! I love bars like this, I might have to make these for xmas…
On a side note, I was looking at your list of favorite cookbooks to get some ideas of ones to take a look at. There are a surprising number of vegan cookbooks coming out and its hard sometimes to know which ones are good. Have you seen “Ripe From Around Here” by Jae Steele? The recipes are both vegan and seasonal and its amazing! And I think she’s from Canada. :) I definitely recommend it to everyone.
Very excited for your cookbook too!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 21, 2012

I haven’t but I will have to look it up! Thanks for the tip.

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char eats greens December 20, 2012

These totally look like keepers, Ange!!!

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Kathy Steger @FoodWineThyme December 20, 2012

Anytime a shredded coconut is involved I’m there. :) Delicious

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Clare December 21, 2012

YUM! I have never come across magical layer bars…. maybe not a thing in Australia but these look so good!

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Laura December 21, 2012

Looks amazing– adding this to my pinterest board to try soon!!

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Lauren December 21, 2012

Angela, I was so excited about this recipe that I made them right away! But I have a question: I doubled the recipe and made them in a glass 9×13. I put them in the fridge overnight, and when I got them out in the morning, it was still soggy. ??? Does this recipe not double well? I followed the recipe exactly.
I would love some help…I don’t want to waste all these ingredients!
Thanks!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 21, 2012

Hi Lauren, I’m not sure if it doubles well, sorry that happened to you!

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Amelia December 21, 2012

OMG, So delicious!!! I tweeted to you earlier today that I had made these. Words can’t do justice (nor pictures) to how DELICIOUS these things are! So glad i made them. :) Thanks!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 21, 2012

Aw, im so happy to hear that! Happy holidays :)

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Rebecca December 22, 2012

I was so excited to see this recipe as I was seriously bumming about missing this heavy dairy dessert this Christmas! We’ve decided to make a bundle of Oh She Glows Goodies for gifts this year and added these to the mix!

Unfortunately, while cutting these bars, I sliced my poor little thumb to the bone! In spite of the pain, these treats are quite Magical!

Thanks for the amazing recipe!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 24, 2012

oh my gosh that sounds so painful…I’ve definitely been there before! I guess the excitement gets the best of us eh? Well I am glad they turned out regardless!

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Jessica December 23, 2012

I just popped this in the oven…I made them with your pecan crust from the salty pecan pumpkin pie…here is hoping that worked out…haha! I needed a GF version.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 24, 2012

ohhh let me know how it goes!

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Jessica December 24, 2012

Worked out perfectly!! So amazing! Everyone LOVED them and ate the whole pan – fast! Thanks so much for your recipes – my daughter is allergic to dairy and eggs. We eat vegan pretty much all the time now because of it. Everything that I have made from you has been delish! (and even the 2 year old gobbles it up!) Merry Christmas!

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Becca December 23, 2012

Wonderful recipe OSG!

I made a gluten-free version by using the same gluten-free graham crackers that someone else mentioned in the comments. However, next time I want to try an oat flour-almond flour crust.

The only things that was unclear for me while making these was how “thick” the coconut milk should have been before taking it off the stove… I was really hesitant to take it off after 15 minutes of boiling because it still seemed really runny …but in the end my squares were awesome so I guess whatever consistency I had was the right one!

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McKel December 23, 2012

Excellent recipe! I did try a gluten free version with a twist. I made them with Mi-Del gluten free ginger snaps for an extra holiday spice variation. It turned out great, and I highly recommend this to all the other gluten free lovers out there!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 24, 2012

Thanks for the tip!

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Barb C December 23, 2012

I might try these with gluten free graham crackers tomorrow, so I’ll report back how they turned out!

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Laura December 24, 2012

I made these the other day for a holiday party and they were a hit! These are so easy to make and taste amazing! I will be making these again soon!! Thank you for sharing :)

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المسالك البولية وسلس البول December 24, 2012

Wowwwwww….I must try this :)

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Paula December 24, 2012

These are FABULOUS!!! I’m GF so used GF Graham Crackers for the crust and added some butterscotch chips (as my son loves them). Tried a tiny corner this morning and WOW… will definitely be making these again and probably soon as I doubt they’ll be any left after out X-mas eve gathering tonight :) Thanks!!

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Manu December 24, 2012

Thank you so much for all your work in creating recipes.
I’ve never failed with your cookie recipes so far and I’ve tried a few :)

Do you remember how much quantity of coconut milk you used?
I know you say to use an entire can, but I live in a different country where coconut milk
is typically available in small packs of 200 ml (around 6.8 ounces). So it’d help to know the
measure by volume or weight. Thanks so much!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 24, 2012

for sure – it’s a 400 ml can :) hope this helps!

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Melissa December 25, 2012

I made these for Christmas. I used this gluten free crust recipe (I followed the partial pre-bake instructions) http://www.againstallgrain.com/2012/02/10/honey-graham-cracker-pie-crust/
The crust worked great. In general this recipe is pretty good, but I think I would make a couple of changes next time. I think I would try using brown sugar instead of the coconut sugar (I LOVE brown sugar!) in the condensed milk and I’d mix the coconut flakes into the milk after thickening. We found that even with pressing the toppings into the milk, the coconut flakes fell off the finished bars too easily and made a big mess when you try to eat them. I’d pour that mixture on the partially baked crust and then sprinkle the chocolate chips and nuts (I used walnuts) on top of that, and press down. I think this is a great basic recipe that you can easily tweak to your preferences.

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Brooke December 27, 2012

I made these bars a few nights ago with the same GF crust from Against All Grains blog. It was really good and I didn’t have any problems with the coconut falling off. My crust was a little thick and I baked it a little too long before I put the layers on top of it, but it turned out just fine. I will definitely be making this again!

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Kelsey December 25, 2012

They turned out just great with GF graham crackers! Yummy!

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{Moni} @ Moni Meals December 27, 2012

I make these every year and I wish I saw this before I made the traditional 7 Layer Magic Bars! Next year for sure. These look amazzzzzzing. :)

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Lesli December 27, 2012

I made these and with so much going on,I was the only one who knew how YUMMY they are..until last night.I had some out on a plate and my husband asked “So,is that all there are left? How did I miss out on them!?!” He looked so forlorn that I fessed up that there were more in the freezer.Now I am going away overnight.I hope there are some left when I get back :). Another super awesome recipe…thanks for making it easy to show my family how un-weird vegan food can be!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 28, 2012

hah that sounds familiar…I think Eric says that about once a week. ;) Hope you find some when you return! Thanks for trying it out.

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