Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Well hello, dolly bars!

hello dolly barsBirthdays at the office used to be grand affairs with cakes, cards and parties thrown for each person on their special day. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago the birthday budget was slashed and no longer was there an endless stream of cupcakes, ice cream and/or pizza provided on the company dime.

Not to be deterred, my colleagues and I are a friendly bunch and decided to take matters into our own hands, either buying or making sweets to commemorate one’s birthday. Ice-cream cakes purchased at the local Hallmark store spent a long period in vogue, as one colleague noted, “What’s not to love—it’s cake and ice cream all in one package.” Meanwhile, some of the more kitchen-friendly folks have been known to whip up their own creations, such as one man’s recent offering of a triple-layer lemon-curd cake to celebrate his gaining another year of experience.

On my birthday, our lovely deputy art director brought in an array of cupcakes, sourced from a delicious bakery near her home in Forest Hills. The large box was filled with flavors ranging from German chocolate to red velvet. I was extremely touched, most especially since I’ve become one of those “I’ll just keep my birthday to myself” kind of people and reckoned no one would remember I was gaining another year. So when her birthday rolled around recently, I wanted to return the generosity.

There’s no shortage of bakeries in my neighborhood, and I contemplated buying her a cake. But when I eyed certain ingredients I had on hand, namely cinnamon graham crackers, shredded coconut, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk, I decided instead to make Hello Dolly bars.

Hello Dolly bars are probably the first dessert I ever baked. When I was nine, I had a super-cool grown-up babysitter named Sarah, and when she was in charge of me, fun things always happened. Whether it was ice skating at the Houston Galleria, taking me to see silly movies such as Donny and Marie Osmond’s “Goin’ Coconuts,” or just baking in her kitchen, she was always a blast.

Her specialty was Hello Dolly bars (also known as magic bars or seven-layer bars, but does anyone know how they gained the musical moniker?), and almost every time she babysat me, we’d whip up a batch of these simple yet delicious treats. Since there was little work involved, save for melting some butter and measuring out ingredients, it was a terrific recipe for a kid. When she moved away from Houston, I asked her to give my mom the recipe, and for a few years my enjoyment of dolly bars (I decided to drop the “Hello” because I was tired of bursting into song whenever I said their proper name) continued.

Over time, I lost my super-strong sweet tooth, and when I baked I focused more on breads. But when trying to decide what to bring into the office last week, I realized it had been too long since I’d eaten these childhood treats and my decision was made. Plus, the great thing about these bars, especially on hot days, is they take little time to prepare, are in the oven for about 30 minutes, and can be easily transported to another location. And while they’re a cinch to make, the marriage of coconut with chocolate and a caramelized sweetened-condensed milk belies their simplicity. Trust me, they are a guaranteed crowd pleaser!

I figured everyone else in my office had grown up with dolly bars as well. But I was surprised at my work friends’ response: “What are these?” they’d ask, while proceeding to eat another and another and another. Yes, they’re addictive, and it didn’t take long for my box of dolly bars to empty. So by special request from my colleagues (who all said, “Please! Post the recipe on your blog!”) I present to you dolly bars—so easy a kid can make them, so scrumptious an adult can’t stop eating them.

Hello Dolly Bars

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups crushed cinnamon graham crackers (about 8 graham crackers)
2 cups of chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat. Pour the melted butter into an 11x7 or 8x8 cake pan. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs into pan, and mix well with the melted butter to form a crust.

Layer on top of the graham-cracker crust the chocolate chips, coconut, and pecans. Evenly pour sweetened condensed milk over everything.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is light brown. Let cool in pan for at least half an hour, then cut into bars and serve.

8 to 16 servings

Some recipes use butterscotch and chocolate chips. Likewise, you can use walnuts or any other nut you like as well. I used cinnamon graham crackers because that's what I had in my pantry, and while plain graham crackers are more traditional, I thought the cinnamon added a nice touch.



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Luisa said...

Cupcakes? Forest Hills? Any chance they came from Martha's? Tell me more, pleeeeeez. ;)

Patricia Scarpin said...

I've read something about hello dolly bars but have never eaten them - they look good!

Myanderings said...

Thank you. My grandson is coming over tonight and now I know what we will be doing!

staceyvee said...

co-worker's birthday next week...must make some. God it's been along ass time since I've had these.


Jerry said...

My sister calls them 7 layer bars and they are delicious. I think I'll pick a fight and call them Hello Dolly bars. :)

AnnieKNodes said...

These are my absolute, all-time favorite dessert. I LOVE them. I grew up in the "Magic Bar" camp but I like Dolly Bars better.

I've been trying to think of what to bring the nurses at the hospital for when I give birth, (it's been suggested you do this so that they like you more), and I think you led me to the winner!

Mercedes said...

Oh my God, I just love it. We used to drive to Tennessee for Christmas every year (a tortuous 10 hours in the car until we finally upgraded to flying) and we'd always pass Dolly-wood. Just the billboards leading up to it were entertainment enough.
Graham crackers, caramelly nuts, coconut, and chocolate, what's not to love!

andrea_lynn27 said...

I'm fairly ashamed for my Alabama roots as I've never had these before. Can't wait to try!

noodle princess said...

I know these bars as my Aunt Peggy's Romance Cookies. They're exactly the same. I totally recognized them. No idea where the name(s)come from. But they sure are delish, aren't they? By the way, I'm a native New Yorker now living in SoCal and I have the reverse issue - I cant find a decent bagel anywhere out here...please, if you want to send me weekly bagel shipments, I'll send you weekly refried beans. Do we have a deal?

Chai said...

I have made these before as "ooey gooey bars" only we used regular grahams instead of cinnamon...I am going to try the cinnamon version next week when the family goes to crystal beach near galveston...i love your blog by the way.

christine (myplateoryours) said...

Now I'll be humming that song all day long (and craving sweets!) Thanks.

Homesick Texan said...

Luisa--Yes! They were from Martha's. Have you been there yet?

Patricia--So good they're addictive!

Myanderings--They're perfect for making with kids, have fun!

Staceyvee--I know--it had been such a long time since I had eaten them as well, but just as delish as I remembered.

Jerry--Ha! But no matter what you call them, they are delicious.

AnnieKNodes--If you make dolly bars those nurses won't like you, they'll love you!

Mercedes--I'm sad to say I've never been to Dolly-wood--I'd love to go someday.

Andrea--They may not be a southern thing so I wouldn't worry about it. Enjoy!

Noodle Princess--I like your name for them as they are indeed very seductive. What's your favorite NYC bagel?

Chai--Ooey gooey bars is an excellent name for them as they are very ooey and gooey. Try the cinnamon grahams, they add a great flavor.

Christine--Ha! You've very welcome! The Louis Armstrong version is my favorite.

Melissa said...

I honestly can't remember what these were called when I was a kid (though definitely not hello dolly bars), but they were one of my favorites. I remember them from school bake sales and brownie meetings; I even remember begging my mom to get the recipe from someone else's mom but she refused, saying they were too unhealthy!

Guess I'll just have to make up for lost time!

Frank said...

My mom used to make these in Houston when I was a kid-always at Christmas. These look exactly the same-yummy! I probably could not eat more than one now, but they are great.

Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law introduced me to these as Brickle Bars...My now husband brought them to my family when he first met them...

They are so addictive that I have been known to eat a whole pan in three days:)

Lissa said...

Yum - can't wait to make these!

BTW, this is off topic, but I didn't know if you had heard that Marvin Zindler passed away Sunday. Another one of my Houston memories gone. :(

Anonymous said...

I logged on to see if Marvin had been memorialized here. I'm sure he's already checked the big restrunt kitchen upstairs for rats,roches (hard to spell things the way he said it!), and sliiiiiiime in the ice machine. He will be missed terribly.

Thanks for the Dolly recipe! I remember them as a kid, but haven't had them in ages.


JEP said...

On of my old time favorite bar cookies & your variation sounds yummy!

Lydia said...

This recipe looks so familiar, but not the name Hello Dolly bars. I know we had another name for them, but cannot remember what it was! Anyway, nice to see them again.

SteamyKitchen said...

Those are non-fat bars, right?

Homesick Texan said...

Melissa--Yes, they're terribly unhealthy, if not a bit trashy but oh so good!

Frank--Don't underestimate yourself, I reckon you could still eat more than one.

Lissa--That's so sad, I always enjoyed watching him on the news growing up.

Texann--My first restaurant job we were always imitating him yelling, "There's slime in the ice machine!" He was a true Texas original.

JEP--They're good stuff!

Lydia--As the song goes, "Well, Hello Dolly!
It's so nice to have you back where you belong"

SteamyKitchen--These bars are such magic, you actually lose weight when eating them. A miracle!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Those bars look awesome! I love this kind of sweet treat...

kansasrose said...

OMG..this is kismet. I was just thinking about them! (hello dolly bars) The movie "Dick" had them as the star! Searched "high" and low for them..and now I found your fun and great blog and Dollys. I am bookmarking ya homesick texan! Thanks!! Jenny

Deryn Mentock said...

Ohhhhh..these are so incredible! One of my faves. Buttery and addictive, they're terrific if you want to add 5 inches to your rear! Are these a Southern thing? I'd never heard of them till I moved to Houston (I'm a mis-placed Oregonian).

cpclergymama said...

Hello Dolly Bars!!! Hello Heaven! It reminds me of siting with my grandma while she whipped up a batch in our home in west Texas. Miss it soo mcuh. Maybe I can make some of those memories with my little one here in Tennessee! Thanks!

marye said...

I haven't thought of Hello Dollys in a long time!
They came out great!

Caroline said...

wow, looks hard to go wrong with these!

wendy said...

I looked at this recipe earlier -- and I haven't stopped thinking about it all day. They look amazing!

Lee Anne said...

I just made them. Delicious! My husband will be taking them to work tomorrow so I won't eat the whole damn lot of them. Thank you!

The Cooking Ninja said...

Wow! that is one delicious looking bars :) Can't make them now as we are on a diet. :(

Cynthia said...

Oh my, I don't really have a sweet tooth but these hello dolly bars would convert anyone :)

ann said...

Oh yeah! I remember those!! wow... I do think my friend's mom who made them for us used butterscotch chips or maybe they were peanut butter chips... Eh, who cares! All I care about now is sating my incredibly sweettooth that has suddenly reared its ugly head! thanks Lisa!

CB said...

It's a giant game of Blogger It, and you've been tagged. :oD I just got tagged earlier this week, and I'm sharing the fun. The rules of this funny little game are in my latest post, Tagged!. Hope you'll play!

Lisa.. Those bars look great, I can't wait to try them out.

persis said...

Just wanted to say that I've tried your Fried Chicken, Cornbread, and Chocolate Fudge recipes so far, and they went down really well with my guests. My boyfriend, who's from Houston via Kansas City, wants to say THANK YOU too. =)

Susan said...

Yup, hello dollies, that what my mom always called them, and they were always my favorite Christmas cookie. In fact, I loved them so much that she always saved a box especially for me. I haven't had them in ages, but I'm salivating over your photo right now.

bea at la tartine gourmande said...

oh this looks to die for. I do not think I knew the name before, and then, never ate them!

Scribbit said...

Kind of reminds me of the Seven Layer COokies we had growing up. Tasty.

Mom said...

The use of cinnamon grahams is a great idea...for pure decadence, how about chocolate?

Love, Mom

Homesick Texan said...

Rosa--Thanks--they are indeed a treat!

Jenny--Welcome, and I'm happy to help! It's been a long time since I've seen "Dick" (such a hiliarious movie!) and I'd forgotten about the inclusion of Hello Dolly bars in the plot. I'll have to see it again soon!

Deryn--I don't think they're necessarily a Southern thing but perhaps calling them Hello Dolly bars is Southern as they're known as seven-layer or magic bars also.

CPClergyMama--They're a perfect dessert to make with kids as there's not much work involved. And I reckon they taste just as good in TN as they do in Texas.

Marye--I know--it's funny how I'd completely forgotten about them too, but they're just as delish as they ever were.

Caroline--It's impossible to go wrong with these!

Wendy--Thanks! They taste amazing as well!

Lee Anne--Yea! I'm so pleased y'all enjoyed them! You're very welcome!

The Cooking Ninja--Well, when you've completed your diet, you have something scrumptious waiting for you!

Cynthia--I don't have that much of a sweet tooth either, and surprisingly, these aren't that sweet.

Ann--Yep, they're awesome with butterscotch chips (sadly, though my Whole Foods doesn't sell them).

CB--Enjoy! And thanks for the tag!

Persis--You just put a big smile on my face! Y'all are very welcome!

Susan--Your mom is a gem! And I guess that proves they're not a Southern thing if y'all were eating them in Rhode Island.

Bea--Thanks! And try them, they're wonderful!

Scribbit--Yes! I think that's the other name they go by, probably the same cookie. Tasty indeed!

Mom--Leave it to you to add more chocolate! Great idea!

Julie said...

I've never heard of hello, dollies. They look delicious. The only downside is I now have Jimmy Durante singing "Well, hello, Dolly..." running through my mind.

Vanessa said...

Wow these look great. Love the different names - Romance cookies, ha!
I would be very happy to receive these for my bday, but I have to agree with your coworkers that there's something about an ice cream cake that's just fab - frozen cake is so fun to eat!

Love the new pic!

bubbly said...

I made these as a kid as well, but I knew them as kitchen sink bars (as in "has everything but the kitchen sink"), but that's just what the kids' cookbook that had the recipe called them. Funny though, I live in Holland now and two other Americans I know here have made them. I thought they were just something in that book I had as a kid.

By the way, the Dutch tradition is that you bring your own damn cake (or cookies or whatever) for your own birthday. Perhaps it's related to the penny-pinching stereotype that the Dutch have.

Carolyn J. said...

I also heard "kitchen sink bars" as a child.

So anyway, my husband hates coconut. Is there something with which I can replace it? Or is it the one essential ingredient here?

Homesick Texan said...

Julie--Heh, sorry to stick the song in your head--I prefer Louis Armstrong's version myself!

Vanessa--Thanks! And ice-cream cake is indeed fun--ever made one?

Bubbly--That's the English tradition as well I discovered when I started working with a bunch of Brits--not a bad custom, actually.

Carolyn--I don't think there's anything that replaces the flavor and texture of coconut, but that said, these wouldn't taste bad without it, just different.

Debbie said...

Seems to me that if you set that stick of butter on the pan and in the oven while you're preheating it, you could avoid messing up a saucepan.

Homesick Texan said...

Debbie--I never thought of that--great idea!

Eliza524 said...

These were my first cookie baking experience too! I like adding a little cinnamon to the crumbs instead of using cinnamon grahams, never liked those. Rose Levy Beranbaum has a version of these that uses dark, milk, and white chocolate chips in place of just the regular ole Hershey's chips. That's what I'm making for my Christmas sweets table contribution.

Clevermonkey said...

My favourite aunt made these for family parties and I always wished she was my mom so I could have them more often. My own mother is a lovely woman but she bakes pies and I'm not big on pies.

I didn't realize they were so simple to make... I had all the ingredients (and then some... I threw in some white chocolate chips and toffee bits... just in case they aren't sweet enough ;) ha!

Anonymous said...

I too grew up calling these "Hello Dolly Bars" and I grew up outside Philly! But they were always a favorite and I am so glad to see that the name was not a mirage for me since I could not find anyone who had ever called them anything other than Magic Cookie Bars. thank you!

Make Life Delicious said...

I love the name of your blog! I can relate all too well as I am a homesick Texan now living in Arkansas. I love Hello Dolly's. I haven't made them with cinnamon graham crackers....but will definitely be giving it a try! I bet it adds a nice touch to an already tasty dessert!

Amy C Evans said...

OMG, we had the same childhood! I've only just discovered this while looking at your recipe archive (desserts, of course!). I'm going to have to make these ASAP. Thanks, Miss Lisa ;) PS: I am currently in possession of the very best list of Vietnamese restaurants in Houston. Will send to you via regular e.

Anonymous said...

Try substituting saltines for the grahm crackers. The salt really creates a more balanced taste. My mom called these Hello Dollies for 40 years.

Tia Juana said...

Dear HT,

I was visiting a small bakery/cafe the other day with a friend and she pointed out their Hello Dolly bars on their display in their case. She told me they were much like the Magic Cookie bars she knew I made but these looked more like a brownie than the traditional Magic Cookie Bar or Hello Dolly Bar that you have here.

I came home and tried to search the internet for a recipe that would make the treat as a cake-like brownie. In doing so I came across several websites - like yours. Another site I found gives a possible explanation to the Hello Dolly name you wondered about in your post. The site gives a possible explanation of the cookie to the name as well as the history of the Hello Dolly cookie from the early 60's to present day. Most of the recipes are the same, with a change in name or slightly different ingredients (substitution for vanilla wafers for the graham crackers being the most common). It is at the 19 September 1965 part that you will see the reference to a small girl who entered a baking contest with her grandmother's cake recipe and won. According to the author of the site, she named it for the then-recent popularity of "Hello, Dolly!" which features Dolly eating at a restaurant in the show.

Here is the link to the post (on which you are also mentioned.)


Just thought you'd like to know a possible answer to your question. You have a very fun and informative site. I hope you don't mind if I visit again.


Annie-go-lightly said...

I first made these bars in 1972 or 1973. I was in Mrs. Mulquin's home economics class in middle school and my recollection is that she told our class that they were called "Hello Dollys" because the head caterer on the Barbara Streisand movie made them for the cast and crew while they were shooting the movie. I still have a copy of her Hello Dolly recips here somewhere. The main difference between her recipe and yours was that she substituded butterscotch chips for half of the chocolate chips. She also used plain graham crackers instead of the cinnamon ones. She also told us another name for these were "Seven Layer cookies".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the recipe!
I recently made them for my husband and we went through the whole tray over a weekend.

Will have to make it ,over the holidays for guests- so easy!

Colleen said...

I'm from Ontario, and my family's been making these bars for as long as I can remember. We've always melted the butter in the pan while the oven was pre heating, and we've actually used cornflakes instead of the crumbs quite a number of times... I prefer them this way, I think it's because they're crunchier!
While my family was living abroad, pecans were rarely available so I've made these with every nut under the sun, a mixture of cashews and pistachos went over nearly well as the traditional!
I have to say though, even though I'm "all grown up" now, I still love it when my grandmother hands me the can from the sweetened condensed milk after she's drizzled it over the bars... delicious.
You write a wonderful blog, and I shall be forwarding this on to a number of my relatives... my grandmother included.

Anonymous said...

I made these over the weekend and they were great! Thank you so much for posting this easy and delicious recipe. I'll definitely be making these again!

his khadijah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MissPreTeen2010 said...

I make these all the time mt grandma taught me how i LOVEE THEMM !!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Do you have to refrigerate the Hello Dollies after baking?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Awinstead--No, you do not have to refrigerate them after baking.

Barbara said...

I know I'd love them, but boy, are pecans ever expensive! I have to save them for holiday times only now.

DBStar said...

I won a contest at the rodeo in the hill country with these back in the 1979. I never knew what they were called though and I used half chocolate chips and half butterscotch. Give that a try! I love this site.

Vicky Lynn said...

I made these for the millionth time today. Love these bars! So simple and so addictive. My son has been away from home for 18 months - this is what he wanted with his first meal. Come to think of it, we had your biscuits too. Pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted asparagus, biscuits and Hello Dolly Bars. Light and healthy, dontcha think? :)

Ariel said...

Oh boy am I glad I found your blog! I am a homesick Texan, living in NC for the past 10 years. I don't see when I'll get back home, but this blog sure helps. I was browsing your recipe index and found these Hello Dolly cookies. I remember mentioning these once years ago to my 'yankee' husband (from NY) and he looked at me like I had two heads. No one has ever heard of them and I thought perhaps I dreamed up the name, since it had been so many years since eating one of these confections.
Lo and behold, here they are!! I am so stinkin' thrilled and as my husband would tell me, he needs an interpreter when I get excited because "my Texas comes out" and he can't understand a word I say...now would be one o' those times!
Thanks for an awesome blog and I can't wait to visit more often.
Y'all take care
~ Ariel

Anonymous said...

I lost my recipe so I was so happy I found your site, I will be baking these today, these are the best!

Carole said...

I grew up in southern Quebec, Canada. These were called Hello Dolly Squares in our church cook book of 1961. How the recipe moved from Texas to us I'll never know.

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