Dream Bars

In the depths of the Depression, Americans badly needed sweet dreams. And that’s exactly when recipes for dream bars—rich, nutty coconut bars—first made the rounds in newspapers. Within 20 years, dream bars were so popular that manufacturers had taken to using them to promote a wide range of ingredients. A Domino sugar advertisement went so far as to promise that the housewife who used its brown sugar to make her dream bars would become known as “a cook with a touch of genius.”

Early recipes called for a simple brown-sugar pat-in-the-pan shortbread crust topped by a sticky, uncluttered filling (eggs, more brown sugar, shredded “cocoanut,” and “nut meats”). By the ’40s and ’50s, dream bars might include chocolate chips, cornflakes, graham cracker crumbs, dried apricots, or even rolled oats. A number of these fully loaded versions originated as back-of-the-box recipes (most famously for bars that incorporates sweetened condensed milk). As the ingredient list swelled, the recipes were rechristened several times over. But Hello Dolly bars, seven-layer bars, and magic bars all are a far cry from the pared-down, toffee-flavored original dream bars that I was determined to re-create.–María Del Mar Sacasa, Cook’s Country

Dream Bars Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 3 H, 45 M
  • Makes 24 dream bars

Ingredients

  • For the dream bar crust
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • For the dream bar topping
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup cream of coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped

Directions

  • Make the crust
  • 1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with foil, allowing the excess foil to hang over the pan edges. Coat the foil lightly with vegetable oil spray.
  • 2. Process the flour, sugar, pecans, and salt in a food processor until the pecans are coarsely ground, about 10 seconds. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Using the bottom of a metal measuring cup, press the mixture firmly into the prepared baking pan. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
  • Make the topping
  • 3. Combine the coconut and cream of coconut in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Stir in the pecans, then spread the filling over the cooled crust. Dollop heaping tablespoons of the coconut mixture over the filling, spread the coconut mixture as evenly as possible over the pecan layer, but don’t worry if it looks patchy.
  • 4. Bake until the topping is a deep golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Using the foil overhang, lift the dream bars from the pan and cut into 24 pieces. Serve. (The dream bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.)
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Comments
Comments
  1. Heather says:

    These look very good.

  2. Hannah says:

    They look truly incredible, I can’t wait to try them. I’m tempted to add a little mixed spice for a festive version.

  3. Janne says:

    Oh my goodness. My Mom used to make these for her Euchre Parties and they were requested again & again. I have been looking for this recipe for years (thank you Internet). I can’t wait to make these! Side point – Mom hated cooking and even more so BAKING. She had two specialties: Roast beef Sunday and Dream Bars. I kid you not. (You don’t want to know what we ate the rest of the week!) 3 of 4 children are now terrific cooks.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Janne, about those Euchre parties… You’re not from Michigan by any chance, are you? My mom’s side of family is. But we rebelled: we all play Pinochle. And we bake. A lot. I haven’t tried these bars myself, yet, though. Might need to now. Thanks for commenting.

  4. This is not the recipe I was looking for. They recipe I’m looking for has a graham cracker crust, coconut, semisweet chips, butterscotch chips, and sweetened condensed milk. Anybody out there have this recipe, please let me know. Thanks much, Nancy

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