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Recipe: seven layer cookies

Our neighbors are absent in summer because they run a camp in the wilds of Canada. It’s really too bad because we quite like these neighbors and their giant walking carpet of a dog (she’s such a lover). The kids return in late August when school starts, and then the mother comes back in September and finally, the father wraps everything up and returns in October. We see glimpses of one another in the driveways as summer transitions into autumn. It’s a busy time for us too with travel and work such that I make a point of going over to welcome them home. I can’t really walk over empty-handed, because… I can’t.

graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, coconut, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, macadamia nuts

buttering the pan and lining with parchment paper (and buttering again)

So I’m flipping through my old notebook with my earliest recipes, looking for a certain cookie when these seven layer cookies caught my eye. This was a recipe from my days growing up in Virginia, something the ladies would bring to potlucks. It is sweet beyond all get out and is filed with the rest of my favorite “white trash” recipes. I hadn’t made these in over 20 years. I know this because Jeremy had neither heard of them nor tasted them before. Time to whip up a batch, no?

mix the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs

press into the bottom of the pan

These are the kind of treats that rot your insides, but are surprisingly snacky. That’s why I 1) haven’t made them in 20 years and 2) gave most all of these away. It’s foolproof too. I really don’t think anyone can mess this recipe up. If you do manage to mess it up, don’t tell me.

pour the sweetened condensed milk over the crust

layer the butterscotch and chocolate chips

There is an enormous amount of flexibility to this recipe because it’s just layers of stuff, really. Technically, I think it’s six layers, but seven ingredients. However, seven sounds like you’re really getting a bargain compared to six. Change the stuff up as you like – add dried fruit, pretzels, white chocolate, whatever. Just make sure you have something sticky or gooey that will hold it all together or else you will experience baking FAIL. We all have to stick together, yo.

sprinkle coconut

distribute the nuts (i used macadamia nuts)


The bars are rather good. I mean, some of the ingredients kinda creep me out (like butterscotch chips – what the hell ARE those?), but when it all gets baked together, something magical happens. It’s that white trash recipe goodness that I cannot explain. No one seems to require an explanation though, they just gobble them up.

seven layer cookies (aka seven layer magic cookies)

welcome home, neighbor

Seven Layer Cookies
[print recipe]
from the Eagle Brand site even though I use an organic brand instead

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted (plus extra for greasing the pan)
14 oz. (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cup flaked or shredded coconut
1 cup chopped nuts

Brush some melted butter on the inside of a 9×13-inch baking pan. If you want to cut the bars neatly, line the pan with parchment paper and brush more melted butter on the parchment paper for ease of release. Otherwise, you can omit the parchment paper if you plan to cut the bars in the pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the graham cracker crumbs together with 1/2 cup melted butter and press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the graham cracker crust. Sprinkle the butterscotch chips evenly over the sweetened condensed milk and repeat for the chocolate chips. Scatter the coconut over the chips and finally top with chopped nuts. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops begin to turn golden. Remove from oven. Use a knife to loosen the edges from the pan and let cool in the pan. If you used parchment, when the bars have cooled, lift the whole thing from the pan by the parchment and then slice. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

37 nibbles at “neighborly”

  1. Kath says:

    Oh Jen! My sister Diane used to make these for me all the time…they are “HER” cookies. And totally scrumptious! Thanks for making me smile. xoxo <3

  2. j3nn says:

    Every layer is better than the last! So, so yummy.

  3. wanG says:

    it looks yummy… wanna try tomorrow-thanks for the recipe ;-)

  4. Debbie says:

    I made these years ago and they are very good and addicting!

  5. Olivia @ Liv Lives Life says:

    Haha I’ve always wondered what butterscotch chips are, too! I do like them though, especially in 7 layer bars/cookies. And I agree, I think it’s wise to give most of them away! ;-)

  6. Kristin says:

    White trash recipes! I love it. I have so many of my own….many that I won’t make anymore. I grew up with this recipe, but I am not a graham cracker fan. Reading this post about how sweet they are (and my teeth hurt thinking about it) I decided that I might try to make a pretzel crust if I ever make these again. I think that salt would be good with the sweetness.

  7. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    These look fabulous!

  8. Kerry @ Snark & Pepper says:

    I have seriously been eating these since the 80s, and never thought to use macadamia nuts in them — that classes them up a bit. :)

  9. Kadee Barrett says:

    My Gramma, wonderful gramma that she is, was never a baker. But this is the one thing that she would make, so in our house they are still Gramma’s Cookies. They way she taught me was that the melted butter equaled a “layer”, which gets you to 7, and she would always put all of the other layers first, and pour the sweetened condensed milk on last. She would make them with walnuts, but now when I make them I often sub almonds or cashews, or leave the nuts out since I’m sensitive to walnuts. Kristin, I always add a bit of salt the the graham cracker crust, cause salt and sweet is always better, but your idea of pretzel sounds genius. Another favorite switch I make is peanut butter chips for the butterscotch. Oh my yum!

  10. megan says:

    can i be your neighbor??? i’d babysit kaweah, too!
    btw, i think butterscotch chips (at least nestle’s) are just shortening,sugar, and flavoring =/ i’m guessing that a fancier version of butterscotch chips would be oil, sugar, and flavoring.

    nevertheless, i still love 7 layer cookies, but i just make it w/ the choco chips only!

  11. ellen says:

    wowzaaaa!! these look great and i too never thought of adding Macadamias! I’ve been making these for years as well (we call them Hello Dollies) and everytime i make them people gobble them up like there is no tomorrow. therefor it’s my go-to recipe whenever i need a quick pile o’YUM!! My personal favourite mix? dried cherries, walnuts, coconut & dark choccie chips. oyyyyyy, my teeth are aching! ;o)

  12. Melissa says:

    “White trash recipe” – that’s hilarious!! I wish I would have thought of it first :)

  13. Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious says:

    I need to be neighbors with you so I can devour this amazingness!

  14. Rachel @ Bakerita says:

    These are a family favorite! I make three batches every Christmas – just for my family! We use walnuts, though. We love them frozen, the sweetened condensed milk gets super chewy. Soo good!

  15. Jessica says:

    Oh my gosh, we used to make these for our weekly house meetings when I was in college. I think we had less than 15 girls and we would eat the whole pan in less than an hour. So good!

  16. Y says:

    What a nice neighbour you are :) Never heard of these cookies and mildly intrigued by the butterscotch chips!

  17. Sherry says:

    These seem like something that would excessively sweet. I know you’re Asian as well so would this be okay for a typical Asian palate when it comes to sweetness?

  18. jocelyn says:

    these look so yummy!

  19. Christina says:

    This is exactly why I love your blog and why I keep coming back. You have a knack for juxtaposing classy recipes with delicious trashy ones. Other ones from your site that come to mind are the broccoli bacon salad and spinach dip, both of which I love. Of course, I like the classy ones too :). If I weren’t currently living in China with no oven (and I’m pretty sure no butterscotch chips), I’d whip up a batch right now. Yum.

  20. Jill says:

    wow. sinfully yummy looking!

  21. Bev says:

    We all have ‘white trash’ recipes tucked away that have no reason for existing except to rot our teeth and make children bounce off the walls from sugar-highs, but like leftover Hallowe-en candy, we just can’t resist them. I laughed out loud when you said the “wilds of Canada” as though envisioning us all living in log cabins miles from our nearest neighbours (we have weird spelling up here, too, LOL). Of course I know you don’t think that! Love your recipes and your narratives. Keep it up.

  22. JulieT says:

    Back in Chicago we called these “Dream Bars”

  23. Cookin Canuck says:

    Won’t you please be my neighbor? If this is white trash, then put a pair of too-tight spandex on me and call me WT!

  24. Jess says:

    Up here in Ontario, Canada my old church cookbooks inherited from my grandmother call those “hello dollies” :-) delicious no matter the name!

  25. Tawnia says:

    White trash recipes! *snort* This one has been around forever and is also in all my church cookbooks. Fun to see it on your blog. You are a very good neighbor!

  26. NURDAN says:

    Hello, cookies look yummy.. what can I use instead of condensed milk as it is hard to find in Turkey.

  27. swan says:

    sometimes you have to do white trash food. i have a whole book i made as well…going to make these for my seven year old niece for xmas. i KNOW mom doesn’t give these to her!

    thanks jen!

  28. Janet says:

    In Rose Levy Berenbaum’s classic, Christmas Cookies, she has a version of these that takes it a bit upscale. She uses three kinds of chocolate, chopped into chunks: White, Milk, and Dark, and then adds toasted pecans, toffee bits instead of butterscotch chips. But it still uses graham crackers and sweetened condensed milk, because that is the glue that holds it all together. Worth trying.

  29. Margie says:

    easy peasie…I like it, I like it a lot! A great supplemental item for the cookie/candy tray during the holidays/entertaining.

  30. farmerpam says:

    I didn’t grow up ever knowing about these, had my first one at a Greatful Dead concert years ago. I thought they were really good, back then. (lol). However, I made them for the second time yesterday, and while the kids LOVED them, alas, I just couldn’t get past the fake butterscotch taste. Kinda gross, I thought. But I do see the potential in upgrading the basic recipe. Thanks for the memories, these cookies were called “congo bars” and you could always find someone on tour who had them for sale.

  31. jenyu says:

    Kath – aww, what a sweet sister you have. xo

    Olivia – I like the flavor if I don’t think about what’s in the butterscotch chips too much ;)

    Kristin – yes, I totally agree that a salty base might be totally awesome (and perhaps use caramel instead of sweetened condensed milk).

    Kerry – yeah, I like the mac nuts much more than almost any other kind (perhaps pine nuts or hazelnuts or pistachios would be good too?)

    Kadee – I think many of us from a certain generation are pretty familiar with these goodies :)

    megan – kaweah would love to have a babysitter! she loves chilling with new people.

    ellen – i love hearing all of these other names for the bars! and yeah, thinking of them makes my teeth hurt too ;)

    Melissa – oh, it’s *everywhere* in southern Virginia.

    Y – ah yes, I think Australia may not carry something as scary as butterscotch chips!! ha ha!

    Sherry – these are super sweet. I can’t eat more than half of one, but I don’t know what you do and don’t like (I know plenty of Asians who love these).

    Christina – it’s all a mish mash, isn’t it? ;)

    Bev – oh no, they really are in the wilds of Canada! You can’t reach the camp except by boat over 50 miles. It’s waaaaay in the woods – no roads, no wifi, no nuthin but fishing, bears, and nature!

    Cookin Canuck – you would be my very favoritest neighbor in the whole wide world, Dara!! xoxo

    Nurdan – oooh, I’m not sure. Perhaps caramel? Yes, I think caramel would be a good substitute.

    swan – ha ha!!

    Janet – I trust Rose, to be sure. But I really don’t like white chocolate and I’m meh on milk chocolate ;)

    farmerpam – that’s hilarious – a Dead concert! Awesome.

  32. Kristin says:

    Ooooh, pretzels, caramel….I think I will be experimenting for the Christmas goodie bags!

  33. rose says:

    love the idea that the sticky part is hidden and what shows up is the lovely layer of cookies! great idea..

  34. Marissa says:

    I just made these but I substituted a brown butter shortbread crust since our graham crackers were stale. It was insanely delicious! We cut ours into tiny squares and they vanished pretty quickly!

  35. Crystal says:

    Wow, these are deadly. I thought I just could eat one and stop but couldn’t…now I’m just waiting for this tire around my waist to get a little bigger. I took someone’s suggestion to refrigerate or freeze them, which definitely gave the cookies more texture and chewiness. A lot of my Asian friends that aren’t fond of sweets surprisingly loved these. Thanks for the recipe!!

  36. Michelle says:

    If you are gluten free…I started making these substituting Corn Flake crumbs for the graham cracker it is just as yummy and maybe not quite as sweet?! I grew up with these too and was so excited that even though I don’t eat gluten I can still have my white trash snack!

  37. passerby says:

    Just came across your website searching for a good treat recipe.
    Mmmmmm this looks delicious!
    My boys would LOVE it.
    I wish we had a nice neighbour like you!

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