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Even after countless cookie recipes I’ve made on this blog, one of my favorite sweets to make is these cookie bars.
They only take 5 ingredients, and no mixing bowl! They’re so incredibly easy and hands-off to make. And so incredibly delicious. I always keep ingredients for them in my pantry, so I can make them whenever the mood strikes me.
Cookie bars are very sweet and rich, since they’re made with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and more chocolate chips on a graham cracker crust.
They’re also very customizable! I usually pair semisweet chocolate chips with butterscotch chips (my favorite) or peanut butter chips (Alex’s favorite), but vanilla/white chips or raspberry chocolate chips are also fantastically delicious.
Where Cookie Bars Come From
The recipe for cookie bars is one of those recipes that are passed between family and friends. I just love those kinds of recipes.
I got this recipe over 20 years ago from my aunt, who got it from a coworker who brought these to a potluck. My aunt made it for us when we visited, probably at Christmas. My family loved it enough to get the recipe, and make it over and over again.
When I shared a few of these recently, one of my friends asked me for the recipe. This makes me so happy.
Although this recipe was originally shared with me on an index card, I have a feeling that it’s actually a variant on magic cookie bars – you know, the ones where you layer coconut and nuts and chocolate chips on a similar graham cracker crust topped with sweetened condensed milk. But I can’t imagine those being as delicious as this. Who needs coconut or nuts when you can just have all chocolate or candy?
How to Make Cookie Bars
Making cookie bars couldn’t be easier! You need just need five ingredients – butter, graham cracker crumbs, sweetened condensed milk, and two bags of chocolate chips. You only need a 9×13 inch baking pan, and the only thing you measure is 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs.
I melt butter directly in the baking pan while the oven preheats. Then I pour on graham cracker crumbs (the only thing I need a measuring cup for), and sweetened condensed milk. Top them with two bags of chocolate chips, and then pop them in the oven.
If you’re apprehensive about patting things into a hot baking pan, you can melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove instead, mix it with graham cracker crumbs, and pat the crust into a room temperature pan.
Be sure you get sweetened condensed milk, and not evaporated milk, for these. Sweetened condensed milk is thicker because it has sugar dissolved in it. Evaporated milk is thin, and simply won’t work.
I’ve used both glass and metal baking pans for these. For a long time I preferred glass, because the cookie bars can stick to the sides of the pan sometimes and glass is easy to scrub without scratching. Natural aluminum (not non-stick) works well too. The crust does best if the edges of your pan are pretty flat, and not very sloped. I’ve used primarily natural aluminum recently, with zero problems.
Whatever pan you use, bake until the edges begin to turn brown. This will leave your bars easy to cut and eat.
It’s important to cut the cookie bars while they’re still slightly warm, particularly if the sweetened condensed milk browns a lot. If you let them cool completely, you may have a hard time cutting through the solidified chocolate. If you cut them while they’re too hot, everything will swirl around and you’ll also have to cut them again once they’re solid. They also won’t be very pretty (though they will still be just as delicious).
Storing and Keeping Cookie Bars
Cookie bars are great for potlucks; they take little preparation, and they’re great for cutting into tiny pieces to serve to a crowd. They’re also made almost entirely with pantry ingredients!
Store cookie bars in a closed container at room temperature, although they will be fine uncovered for a while too. They keep well, if you ever have them for that long. Ours usually disappear quickly, even with just two of us eating them. (We hoard them, and don’t share them with Amelia very well.)
Like this recipe or have questions? Rate it or leave a comment below!
In the past:
One Year Ago: Multigrain Sandwich Bread
Four Years Ago: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake (from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Six Years Ago: Pear Bread with Walnuts
These rich cookie bars take just 5 ingredients to make. No bowl required! Make them whatever flavor you'd like. Our family favorite!!
- 8 tablespoons margarine or butter (1 stick)
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk (1 can)
- 12 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips (1 bag)
- 12 ounces flavored chips or other chocolate chips (1 bag) (butterscotch, peanut butter, vanilla, raspberry, mint - whatever you'd like)
Heat oven to 350F. Place butter or margarine in 9x13 inch glass or a not-non-stick metal baking pan. Melt butter in the preheating oven. (See note below.) This only takes about 5 or so minutes. Remove pan from oven. Carefully spray the sides of the pan with cooking spray to prevent sticking.
Tilt the pan to evenly spread the butter throughout the pan. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over melted butter, creating a crust. (Be careful - the pan may be hot!!) Spread evenly out and pat gently.
Top crust with, and spread out, sweetened condensed milk. Top with both bags of chocolate chips.
Bake 25-30 minutes, until edges are slightly browned. You can bake until the sweetened condensed milk is browned if you'd like, but it will make the pan harder to clean.
Cool slightly, and cut bars while slightly warm. They'll be too hard if they cool completely. I like cutting them rather thin and small. Try not to eat them all in one sitting.
Be sure you get sweetened condensed milk, which is thick since it has sugar cooked into it. It is NOT the same as evaporated milk, which is unsweetened.
Use a glass or natural aluminum (not non-stick) pan with flat, not sloped, sides. This makes for the best crust and easiest clean-up.
Be careful handling a hot pan!
If you're nervous about making a crust in a hot pan, melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove, stir in graham cracker crumbs, and pan evenly into a room temperature pan. Proceed with layering the sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips; bake normally.
(Originally published June 20, 2011. Updated text, photos, and recipe in September 2018.)