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!
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.
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.
3. Sprinkle on chocolate chips. 4. Followed by shredded coconut.
5. Chop pecans and sprinkle on top. Press mixture down with hands and bake for ~30 minutes.
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!
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
- 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!
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 :)
Hi, Can these remain out of the refrigerator for a day or so once they have cooled? Thank you.
I can’t see why not! Just be sure to pop them in the fridge when you can.
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…
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.
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.
These look fantastic! Thanks for the recipe. Do you know how many calories per serving??
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!
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!
Aren’t they tasty? I have a vegan recipe on my site if you are interested!
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!
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!
Just made these for the third time…can’t go wrong!
I recently made these – absolutely delicious! I love that they are quick to make, right portion-sized, and a perfect treat.
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!
Yummy can’t wait to make them :) what’s the nutritional info versus regular bars?
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!
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!
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!
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.
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…
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 :)
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.
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!
I defintely plan to make these soon! And I love coconut sugar, too. Yum!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
Simply Deeeliciousss! :))
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 :)
I’ve made it twice, using a gluten free cereal (Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise) as the base and it turned out fantastic!
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!
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!
Have you stored these in the freezer? I was wondering if they freeze well. Make a batch now, freeze a batch for Christmas?
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!
Made these yesterday, and they were SO yummy!! Thank you Angela for this great recipe!
I’m happy to hear you enjoyed them, Sarah!
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!
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.
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!
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!
Oh, that sounds amazing, Samantha!
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.
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.
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.
This is the best desert EVER! Thank you so much. Made this for my daughter and her husband for Christmas dessert. Will definitely make again! Used 55%cacao chocolate chips. AMAZING!
Thanks Jennifer! I love making these around Christmas time…nothing is better. So happy you enjoyed them so much!