Lightened Up Magical Coconut Bars

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on December 18, 2012

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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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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

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Cindy November 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm

These are SO good! I substituted vegan cane sugar for the coconut sugar (1/2 cup) and used Earthbalance margarine (vegan) for the coconut oil.
My only problem is I can’t stop eating them. Thank you for the recipe.

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Krista Foley December 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I am gluten-free and love Kinnikinnick’s brand of gf graham crackers. This is a great recipe, I’ll just use the gf graham crackers and be set!
http://www.amazon.com/Kinnikinnick-Smoreable-Graham-Crackers-8-Ounce/dp/B003TO9RSU
I defintely plan to make these soon! And I love coconut sugar, too. Yum!

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Claire December 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm

These were AMAZING. Seriously tasted just like the super unhealthy, processed, non-vegan ones I’ve had but BETTER and with less guilt! Great flavor and I love them just out of the fridge. I did the thick graham cracker crust and it is awesome… next time I’ll try maybe 1.5 cups almond flour, I think it would work really well too! I followed the recipe except I used sweetened coconut and white sugar since that’s all I had on hand. I think they would be best with unsweetened as they are very sweet, but either way – still so, so good. They will definitely be a crowd pleasing, go-to dessert!

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Becky December 19, 2013 at 11:20 am

Just a caution – this did NOT work for me substituting white sugar for the coconut sugar. I could not get the lite coconut milk to thicken – I finally gave up because I’d cooked it far longer than the instructions said to and thought maybe it really had “thickened slightly.” Apparently not – even after baking and cooling overnight, the bars did not solidify.

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Amy December 21, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I have probably made these a dozen times now. Some of my favorite adaptations: I use my food processor to add dates to the coconut milk and sugar mixture, makes it more caramel-y; sometimes I add cocoa powder to the graham crackers for more chocolatey crust; I mix the pecans with flaked salt and toast them before adding. Thanks for your wonderful blog!

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Leslie January 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Not sure if anyone has tried this yet, but I just made your “vegan and gluten-free graham crackers” recipe and used some of that dough as my graham cracker crust to make this recipe gluten-free. Just spread that into the pan, then topped it with the condensed coconut milk, and then the chocolate, coconut, and nuts.

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Buffy February 5, 2014 at 4:26 am

Almond flour mixed with sweetener and coconut oil or vegan butter makes a great graham cracker crust replacement for us gluten free folk…I’ve done it before. There is also the brand Knickiknick that makes GF Graham Crackers, but produces in a facility with milk so could have traces. I like the almond flour best…it works great and healthier.

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Bridget February 13, 2014 at 3:37 pm

For a gluten/oat free crust this is what I tried with great results. I always use your almond oat crust, but I had to make it for friend who couldn’t eat oats. So, I changed the oat flour to 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder and switched out the oats for 1/3 cup almonds and 2/3 cups of walnuts. So delicious! Thanks for these amazing recipes!

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Sarah May 29, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Just made these. DELICIOUS! Made them with GF graham crackers. Used 1/2 butter & 1/2 coconut oil. Also only use 1/2C sugar and only 2 tbsp maple syrup and used dark chocolate chips just to cut down and it was still plenty sweet. Thanks for recipe…will definitely be making again!

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Marie-Claude November 16, 2014 at 7:32 am

Simply Deeeliciousss! :))

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Gina November 30, 2014 at 7:09 pm

You are magical.. Haha I had eaten a coconut dream bar at work the other day that was made in a bakery and clearly was not even close to healthy. I knew I needed to recreate it in a healthy way because they were so good! These were literally spot on and tasted exactly like them! My family thinks they’re the best dessert I’ve made yet (and I make a lot of healthier desserts!) I love your recipes and will definitely continue to use you as my main source of ideas! Thanks so much, keep it up :)

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Pat January 4, 2015 at 7:33 pm

I’ve made it twice, using a gluten free cereal (Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise) as the base and it turned out fantastic!

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Pete January 21, 2015 at 9:04 am

I made these and decidedly couldn’t wait, because i wanted to see the difference the coconut oil and coconut sugar would make. So, i had one fairly soon after i made them. I thought hmm, not bad, but not really worth the fuss. I was disappointed and put them in the fridge. Both kids liked them, but also didn’t go crazy. Failed experiment right? Well, dinner time came and went on Day 2 and i took these out again and cut us a square. The first bite was….magical! They were phenomenal! Both girls looked at me with big eyes as if to say “holy cow – these are amazing!” Of course, they couldn’t speak because their mouths were jammed :) So yes, I’m advocating to wait a day after they’re made – it’s truly worth the wait!

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Paula October 1, 2015 at 8:19 pm

These. Bars. Changed. My. Life.

I am actually in love. I’ve always loved hello dollies and since i became lactose intolerant I’ve been unable to eat desserts…which i love hehe. This may very well be the last dessert bar I ever try because I wont need another! I’m surprised at how well the coconut sugar worked with making condensed milk because I’ve tried making that homemade dairy free caramel sauce and i thought it was terrible…maybe I did something wrong but I’ve been skeptical of making condensed coconut milk since but wow did this recipe ever turn out well. 6 of my friends had a slice at supper last night and they all agree too!

GREAT recipe.

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mmwalk December 11, 2015 at 9:49 am

Have you stored these in the freezer? I was wondering if they freeze well. Make a batch now, freeze a batch for Christmas?

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Michelle Park December 17, 2015 at 7:43 am

Hi Angela, Magica Cookie Bars are a Christmas tradition in our house. We have used your gluten free graham cracker recipe for the cracker and then run them through the food processor and then continue with this recipe. The recipes work beautifully together! TWO thumbs up!

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Sarah November 25, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Made these yesterday, and they were SO yummy!! Thank you Angela for this great recipe!

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Angela Liddon November 25, 2016 at 2:33 pm

I’m happy to hear you enjoyed them, Sarah!

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Brooke December 3, 2016 at 5:49 pm

I made these for Thanksgiving and wow were they a hit. I made 2 mods:

Used full fat coconut milk. It’s Thanksgiving and it’s desert.
Added 3 T raw cacao powder to the graham cracker crumbs

So good just out of the freezer!

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Tanya December 26, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Any chance I can use full fat coconut milk instead of the light? I don’t have the light on hand but do have th full fat. Thank you.

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Angelique December 31, 2016 at 5:34 pm

OMG I just made these with 1/3c only of Turbinado sugar and they turned out amazing I have to fight myself to not eat the whole pan. Yum!

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Samantha March 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm

I added Pinch of Yum’s vegan caramel sauce to the recipe on top of the condensed milk and used sliced almond and walnut pieces instead of pecans. So good :) Thanks for the recipe!

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Angela Liddon March 27, 2017 at 9:14 am

Oh, that sounds amazing, Samantha!

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Trina June 16, 2017 at 1:33 pm

What a disaster the homemade condensed milk was. It was thin even though I cooked it longer than the recipe said to, in hopes of thickening it up.as I poured it over to crust it all just turned into mush. Not sure went wrong.

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Wife of a vegan December 23, 2017 at 8:51 am

I made these last night, but they are totally stuck to the pan and falling apart :( Taste good though. I think I didn’t let coconut milk get thick enough.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 23, 2017 at 10:49 am

Oh I’m so sorry to hear that! Did you line the pan with the two pieces of parchment paper? I find that really helps them lift out. I hope if you try them again it goes better for you.

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