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.

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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 }

Jenn Stevens December 27, 2012

Just wanted to comment and say THANK YOU! I made these for my family as a Christmas dessert & to say it was a hit is a total understatement. They could hardly wait for them to thaw from the freezer before half the pan was gone! Love hearing remarks like, “I can’t believe these are vegan!”. So, so good!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 28, 2012

Hey Jenn, so glad to hear this! I never tire of hearing that either heh

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Juliana December 28, 2012

Magic Cookie Bars are one of my family’s favorite Christmas treats – but this is the first Christmas we are gluten and (mostly) dairy free. I made these with GF graham cracker crumbs and dark chocolate chips. Better than the original and a huge hit. Thank you for the recipe!

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Courtney December 28, 2012

Could the coconut oil possibly be substituted with nut butter?

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 28, 2012

Im sorry Im not sure Courtney. Please let me know if you try it out!

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Kathleen December 29, 2012

I just made these bars today and they are delicious! My only query is with regard to the chocolate chips; for some reason my vegan chocolate chips from Whole Foods did not melt. Any thoughts?

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 31, 2012

I had issues with my chips not melted fully too. I think you could melt the chocolate before baking and just drizzle it on maybe?

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Kathleen December 31, 2012

Will do! Thank you and happy new year!!

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Chrissy December 31, 2012

Thank you so much for your website, your pictures, your recipes! I have tried several of your recipes and people can’t believe they’re eating vegan food! I was so excited to see the magic bars, I made them right away..huge hit. I gotta tell ya…I love salty and sweet…so…I made them again but used chopped salted peanuts in place of the pecans…WINNER !! So happy to be able to make these and share and see the looks on my friends and families faces when I tell them their vegan…WHAT??? Keep on doing what you’re doing! :D

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Sue B December 31, 2012

Oh boy, these are really, really delicious. Waay better than the original (too sweet) recipe.
Thanks for posting and hope you have a wonderful 2013!

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Jasna December 31, 2012

I made these last night and they turned out great! I made my own gf graham crackers and let the coconut milk cook for about 45 minutes instead. Delicious!

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Tara Bliven December 31, 2012

Do you have the nutritional info for this? (Am I blind?! I’m not seeing it anywhere!)
Thanks – making these for a new year party tonight. I have also loved these my whole life. Even cheated on some non-vegan ones over Christmas, but THAT’s over ;) Yum, can’t wait!

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irush January 1, 2013

I made this bars as a main desert for our New Years celebration. Everyone loved it!!!! Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe!

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Natalie January 1, 2013

Yum, these look so incredible!!

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Joslin January 5, 2013

I made these bars last night & they are delicious!!!! I actually spoiled my breakfast this morning by eating one; I couldn’t wait:-) Thanks, Angela!

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Sonja January 5, 2013

Just made these tonight and couldn’t even wait the 2 hours to try them. After just an hour they sliced perfectly and I cannot express how amazingly decadent these are!! Thank you so much for the recipe; my non-vegan coconut-hating husband actually said they were incredible – how funny is that? :) I check your website daily and am always making something of yours, and I truly have nothing but high praise for everything on here… your talent and creativity is just amazing! Thanks for all you do for all of us!

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Brittany January 8, 2013

I have tried the PPK version with GF graham crackers (both hand crushed into crumbs and given a whirl in a food processor) and it comes out great either way! So great that non-GF, non-vegans have told me that it’s the most amazing dessert they’ve ever had. I can’t remember the brand of GF graham crackers that I used, but one box is just scant of two cups crushed so it works out well. I also have concocted a really quick graham cracker crust with oat flour, sugar, cinnamon, and earth balance that turned out alright as well.

Hope that’s helpful for the GF vegans out there :))

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Sophie January 8, 2013

Wow! These bars are INCREDIBLE! And I’m not just saying that!
I made them gluten free, using a recipe for graham cracker crumbs (which I thought was a clever idea….why make crackers only to crush them up?!), and they came out amazingly! :D
For the graham cracker crumbs, I used:
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapoica flour
1/2 cup almond flour (other flour may work for nut-free)
1/2 cup melted Earth Balance soy-free butter substitute
1/2 cup brown sugar

I mixed that in a kitchen aid mixer, then poured it into a 9×13 pan (should be crumb-like…), and baked at 350 for 15-20 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Watch carefully because they can burn quickly! :)

Then, I just used 2 cups of these crumbs for your crust recipe!
The bars came out great! I was so pleased with them :D Thanks for all your hard work Angela!!

(The only thing I found weird was the sweetened condensed milk part…i used a light can of coconut milk, as the recipe suggests, but used cane sugar instead of coconut sugar. I boiled/simmered it for a while and it never seemed to thicken up enough! It eventually got thick enough to use, but not exactly what I was expecting…also, it was a strange gray-ish color, but maybe because I didn’t use coconut sugar? The color was fine in the finished product though.)
Regardless of this, the bars were incredible, definitely a recipe to make again! :D

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Leigh January 9, 2013

I made a version of these and used Gluten Free Graham Crackers that I ground in my vita mix. They worked great!

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Bailey M January 15, 2013

These look fantastic! Can’t wait to test them out!!

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marla January 24, 2013

Girl, these bars look AWESOME!

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Alexandra February 3, 2013

These look absolutely delicious! I find it hard to find a good dessert recipe that doesn’t use butter or eggs. Coconut oil sounds like a great alternative! (Definitely helps that I LOVE coconut). Thanks for sharing!

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D February 12, 2013

This was delish!! I have made approx 10 or more recipes in the last month and all of your recipes come out delicious! I don’t have to test run a recipe. I’ve made the twix bars two times now and took them to a party. I took these delish morsels to work and the men loved it! Thank you for providing so many delicious recipes! I have discovered a whole new genre of cooking and I love it! (My daughter I’m nursing is dairy, soy, corn, egg, nut allergic.) Yes, most of the recipes I’ve tried were desserts, but I just made the tomato pesto and it is a hit! I’m going to try the lentil loaf this weekend. Thanks again.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 13, 2013

Thank you for the feedback, I’m so glad you enjoy the recipes D!

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Jan February 15, 2013

Can you tell me how many ounces/ml are in the can of coconut milk?
Thanks

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 15, 2013

398 ml if I recall :) enjoy

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Cheryl March 2, 2013

Just made these last night and left ‘em in the fridge overnight to set up. The crust held up really well with no crumbling. I tossed on a layer of craisins and it takes the bars to a whole other level – they’re SO delicious! Thanks for another great recipe :)

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Lynda March 5, 2013

Hi, Can these remain out of the refrigerator for a day or so once they have cooled? Thank you.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) March 5, 2013

I can’t see why not! Just be sure to pop them in the fridge when you can.

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Elizabeth March 16, 2013

Made these last weekend, and they were Fantastic delicious!! It’s not my fault they disappeared even though the hubby was sick and not eating much…

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Kaitlin March 20, 2013

Made this today with dad. He and my hubby (and I!) loved it.

My substitutions (to save money and use what I already had), and they all turned out fine:
I used some coconut oil and some vegan margarine instead of the full amount of coconut oil.
I used regular sugar.
I used standard coconut milk instead of the light.
I used light maple syrup.
I used a smaller dish, so they came out thicker.

I found unsweetened shredded coconut at Wegman’s.

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Michelle March 22, 2013

These look great and I also have been looking for an easy recipe for non-dairy condensed milk so I need to try that as well. Thanks! While this is not GF, to make it healthier try using fiber one cereal (or equlivalent) in your processor to make crumbs. It works great for cheesecake crust.

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Amanda March 22, 2013

These look fantastic! Thanks for the recipe. Do you know how many calories per serving??

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Anja March 25, 2013

I made a batch of these last night and by today they were half way gone. Will make these over and over and over again!

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Joan April 9, 2013

I just wondered where you were from……reading your recipes in Winchester, England, I did a little double take when I saw a contibutor from Nelson BC but had even more of one when you mentioned growing up with Nanaimo bars…..a GREAT favourite when we head out to Canada (west coast) for the summer!

Joan

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Angela (Oh She Glows) April 9, 2013

Aren’t they tasty? I have a vegan recipe on my site if you are interested!

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Viola April 14, 2013

omg, omG, oMG, OMG! So yummy, so delectable! Love, love, love! My family said they tasted like a cross between super-sugary chocolate coconut bars I used to make for Christmas and pecan pie. I used date sugar instead since that is what I had on hand; otherwise, I made no other changes. Thank you Angela, for this amazing recipe!

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Carla May 27, 2013

These are fantastic! I made them with GF graham cracker crumbs and they were just as good. Angela your website is incredibly inspiring! Thank you!

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Kaitlin June 25, 2013

Just made these for the third time…can’t go wrong!

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Jana Cervinka June 26, 2013

I recently made these – absolutely delicious! I love that they are quick to make, right portion-sized, and a perfect treat.

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Claire June 27, 2013

Thanks so much for this recipe, it was the most perfect way for me to play around with my first bag of coconut sugar – I actually think these are the best thing I have ever made! I ended up using oats for the crust, which worked really well – though having said that I have never tried the graham cracker crust version so that might just blow my mind!

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Giraffe22 July 9, 2013

Yummy can’t wait to make them :) what’s the nutritional info versus regular bars?

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Trista Witherspoon July 17, 2013

I made these with gluten free graham crackers and they turned out amazing! I just put them in a food processor and blended until they were a nice crumbly consistency. This is a great recipe and will be kind in my book for years, thank you for sharing!

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Shelly July 17, 2013

Oh WOW! I make theese with the coconut milk condensed, been doing it for years. I loved theese as a child, and when when I became vegan 10 years ago I didn’t want to give them up so I used the coconut milk as a sub. I thought I invented it how funny! Nice to see others inventing just like me…hahaha!

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Lisa July 18, 2013

Ooohhh myyyy these were sooo gooooddddddd. I cut down the sugar in the coconut milk and it turned out fine. Condensed coconut milk is out of this world good. Who knew!

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Christy W. August 23, 2013

I used gluten free graham crackers for this a while back and forgot to post how awesome they turned out! Everyone loved them! I’m making them again tonight.

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Kate September 1, 2013

These were decadent. Going to try a batch using whole graham crackers (without crushing) similar to the “poor man’s bark or christmas bark” where they use some type of whole cracker. May grind a small amount of salt on top. Should be interesting…

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Kiran September 4, 2013

WOW THESE ARE GREAT!! They have that buttery richness that is so vital to a satisfying dessert, but without the butter! I am so blown away by your dessert recipes, and so is my non-vegan husband! Can’t wait to try out the next one :)

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