If I dig waaaaayyyy back in the recesses of my memory, I can imagine a scene from a long-ago Christmas Day: a gathering of extended family (second- and third-once-removed cousins, great aunts and uncles), with the adults crammed around the table in a small dining room somewhere in Indianapolis. At the center of the table, inevitably, is a platter of homemade cookies … and at the center of the platter, inevitably, is a pile of seven layer bars.
I remember seven layer bar cookies: teeth-shatteringly sweet and filled with coconut — which I could not then and cannot now abide. But still, c’mon … they’re seven layer bars.
This, then, is a super-hacked recipe for seven layer bar cookies. I started with a recipe from the new “Special Collector’s Edition America’s Test Kitchen Best-Ever Christmas Cookies” magazine — which, by the way, I highly recommend. ATK recipes are dynamite, of course, and foolproof. But given my less-than-sweet tooth and aversion to coconut, I altered this recipe in quite a few ways.
Most notably, I cut the recipe in half. Because, really, two people Do. Not. Need. a full 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish full of seven layer bars. These things are like candy. I halved the recipe and baked the bars in a 9-inch baking pan, and ended up with 36 1-inch squares, which is plenty, truly.
Second, I replaced the traditional graham cracker base with crushed pretzels. (Cue heraldic trumpets.) Hello, salty sweetness! Finally, I omitted the toasted shredded coconut, which you could certainly include.
Give this updated recipe a try and let me know what you think of the tinkering!
seven layer bars with pretzel crust
makes about 3 dozen 1-inch squares
1/2 cup Heath milk chocolate toffee bits
3/4 cup crushed thin pretzels (from a generous 1 1/2 cups thin pretzel sticks)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup crisped rice cereal (see Note)
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted sweetened flaked coconut (optional, see Note)
1 14-ounce can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil, leaving several inches of overhang so you can lift the cookies from the pan. Spray the foil well with baking spray. In a food processor, process the toffee bits until they're pulverized almost to a powder. Transfer to a bowl. Put the 1 1/2 cups thin pretzel sticks into the processor and pulse repeatedly until the pretzels are finely chopped; measure out 3/4 cup. Combine the toffee bits, pretzels and melted butter; press the crust mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the milk chocolate over the crust; let sit for about 2 minutes to melt the chocolate, then spread it into an even layer. Scatter the rice cereal, then the pecans, then the chocolate chips, then the optional coconut. In a small bowl, whisk together the condensed milk and vanilla; pour this mixture evenly over the bars. Bake until very golden brown, about 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking time. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the bars completely (a couple of hours). Use the foil overhang to remove the bars from the pan, and cut into 1-inch squares.
Note: If you omit the coconut, use 1 cup of crispy rice cereal.