Congo Bars

I think the name “congo bars” comes from the lineup of graham crackers, condensed milk, chocolate chips, and shredded coconut. This version doesn’t skimp on any of them and adds pecans to boot. These are a delicious after-soccer hit with kids, but if there’s a platter put in front of football-watching adults, they’ll be gone before halftime.

You can make the graham cracker crumbs in the food processor, or do it the old-fashioned way by putting whole crackers in a resealable plastic bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.–Patricia Helding

LC Seven Layer Bars in Chic Clothing Note

You know how sometimes after remembering a childhood favorite fondly for years, if not decades, you set out to make the recipe…only to be wildly, wretchedly, devastatingly disappointed? That won’t happen with this recipe. It’s an ever-so-slightly gentrified, though still quite genuine, incarnation of seven layer bars, albeit with a funky name. Although we confess, in an aberration from tradition, we sort of like to chop chocolate bars into small chunks rather than rely on those little mass-produced rounded blobs that come in 12-ounce packages. But that’s just us. If nostalgia calls for blobs, by all means…

Congo Bars | 7 Layer Bar Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 40 M
  • Makes 12 to 16 bars

Ingredients

  • For the crust
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 10 whole crackers)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • For the topping
  • 1 1/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans or any other nut you fancy, if desired

Directions

  • Make the crust
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Butter an 8-by-8-inch or 9-by-9-inch baking pan, dust with flour, and tap out the excess.
  • 2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs and light brown sugar and mix well.
  • 3. Work the butter into the crumb mixture with your hands until the crumbs are evenly coated with buttery goo. Spread the crumb crust in the prepared baking pan, pressing down gently with your hands. You don’t want to make the crust too dense or compact. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is slightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the topping. Oh, and leave the oven on.
  • Make the topping and assemble the congo bars
  • 4. While the crust is cooling, mix together the coconut, both chocolates, and the condensed milk. Add the pecans or other nuts, if desired. Spread the mixture evenly over the warm crust. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is set and light brown. Watch carefully toward the end of the baking time to make sure the top doesn’t become too bubbly or dark.
  • 5. Let the pan of bars cool on a wire rack for 2 hours or so, until chocolate is no longer soft. Cut into whatever size or shape you fancy.
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Comments
Comments
  1. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Helen Shumway] When I first saw this recipe, I thought it would be easy, but too sweet for me. I figured I’d just share with coworkers and get rid of the extras. Well, I was halfway right—the bars were easy, but they never made it to work! They were absolutely lovely and rich, and just the right sweetness. I did share with friends and with my mother’s neighbors. Everyone raved about them, but I was too busy munching on my share to say thank you. Honestly, I’d not change a thing in this recipe. Please give it a try.

  2. Testers Choice says:

    [Linda B.] Wow, what a blast from the past! These bars are as tasty as I remember. Gooey, chewy, and sweet. The slightly salty graham cracker crust was a nice balance to the topping. I might try it with butterscotch chips in place of the milk chocolate chips next time. I’m not quite sure why I don’t make these more often.

  3. Testers Choice says:

    [Joan Osborne] I made this recipe twice, and both times, the pans were devoured in no time. I used an 8-by-8 pan, which worked fine. I did have a little problem the first time as I used the whole stick of butter with the graham cracker crumbs. The crust turned out a bit looser on the bottom, but still delicious. Also, if you let the baked crust sit for about 5 minutes, it’s much easier to spread the topping on. With the first batch, I sprayed the pan with floured baking spray. The second time around, I buttered and floured the pan. The results were much better the second time. My 11-year-old great-niece helped me the second time, and she thought they were fun to make and delicious to eat. Our tasters couldn’t wait for them to completely cool to cut them. One could even make a triple batch and use two cans of sweetened condensed milk and not have any left over.

  4. Testers Choice says:

    [Lila Ferrari] We loved these bars. I’ve traditionally made these with eggs, but the condensed milk works fine, resulting in denser Congo Bars. The recipe called for 11 whole crackers to make 1 cup of crumbs, but I had a lot of crumbs left over, so next time I’d start with 6 whole crackers. Also, I didn’t think having semisweet and milk chocolate chips made a difference taste-wise. But overall, the Congo bars were sweet, with a hint of salt, chew, and crunch—we ate them all!

  5. Testers Choice says:

    [Allison J.] This recipe was easy to make, and was a hit with my friends. I also added white chocolate and butterscotch chips to the mix. I wasn’t sure initially if I was supposed to let the crust cook completely before adding the filling, but when I added the filling to the hot crust, it seemed to work fine.

  6. Testers Choice says:

    [Rebecca Marx] I loved this recipe both for its ease and how it tasted. For me, the salt elevated it from something that was merely good to something that was ruinously addictive—the sweet, savory two-punch was pure dynamite. I served these at a party so I cut them smaller than suggested and got 25 squares. Given how rich these were, the smaller size worked well. Though really, it wouldn’t have mattered what size they were—people literally could not stop eating them. The only thing I’d change about this recipe—aside from maybe adding a few more chocolate chips—are the directions for adding the butter to the graham cracker crumbs. Even softened, the butter was difficult to combine with the crumbs. Instead of using the fork the recipe called for, I used my hands, which was much more effective. I think you could melt the butter and still get the same result. One final note: I used unsweetened shredded coconut instead of sweetened, and it worked well.

  7. Testers Choice says:

    [Amy M.] These were delicious! I don’t like coconut, milk chocolate, or sweetened condensed milk, but I’m a sucker for a graham cracker crust. So, I made the recipe in order to use some homemade graham crackers. What a pleasant surprise! All of the ingredients I normally don’t like melded beautifully together. There was also a healthy dose of salt in the crust that perfectly balanced the abundance of sweetness in the coconut mixture. The only issue was that on the second baking with the coconut mixture, I had to bake them about 3 minutes longer than stated. The recipe says to cut them when they’re completely cool, which, I almost learned the hard way, is a necessity. Until they’re totally cool, they’re not completely set. I’d also like to make them next time in an 8-by-8-inch pan, for a thicker bar.

  8. Testers Choice says:

    [Kara Lawlor] This is a wonderful recipe! I make seven-layer bars every year at Christmas, and these Congo Bars will definitely replace them from now on. Baking the crust before adding the toppings and baking for a second time, really makes a huge difference. It gives the bars almost a cheesecake-esque crust that’s delicious. I’ll definitely make these bars again.

  9. Testers Choice says:

    [Kim Venglar] We’ve always loved these bars. I made two different batches, one with pecans and the other sans nuts. I guess things don’t change much over time, because when my children were little, the adults liked the ones with nuts and the kids liked them without—and it’s the same case now. These bars are very easy to put together, and baked in the exact amount of time stated in the recipe. The hardest part was letting them cool enough to cut and eat! I’d like to make them again using hazelnuts. Now, if they only made Nutella-flavored chips.

  10. cheryl says:

    Ah, the MEMORIES.

    Setting: Haverford College, late 80s.

    Act 1: College freshman, hair in a ponytail, discovers the 7-Layer/Congo bar on the cafeteria line. Eats one; pockets a second for later. Decides then and there that this college was indeed the right pick. Six years later, marries her college sweetheart. In 2011, lands here, on this site, and all those memories flood back.

    Fate?

    Curtain closes.

  11. Julia E says:

    I grew up calling these Hello Dollies. They seem far too sweet for my adult tastes nowadays, but I remember absolutely loving them!

    • David Leite says:

      Julia, I’m embarrassed to say we never had these growing up. We were a brownie and blondie town. I ate these the first time in college at R.I.T. in Rochester, NY.

  12. Momma & Poppa Leite says:

    Dear David: Those congo bars look scrumptious! One gets the urge to eat them right off the web page! Bravo ! Great stuff—-YUMMY! :) Keep up the great work! Momma & Poppa Leite

  13. Andrea says:

    I made this, and the crust turned out really salty. I’m pretty sure I followed the recipe correctly. Are you sure the amount is right?

    • David Leite says:

      Hi, Andrea. Yes 1 teaspoon is salt is correct. Did you, perhaps, use 1 tablespoon by accident? Lord knows I’ve done it.

  14. My mom has made something similar for lo 50 years and I finally jumped on the bandwagon a few years ago. This is her version–the order is important, and she uses cornflake crumbs rather than graham crackers–makes all the difference in the world. Everyone LOVES these.

    Magic Cookie Bars
    Melt one stick of butter in 13-by-9 pan in a preheated 350° oven. Mix with 2 cups of crushed cornflakes. On top of this—in this order—sprinkle 1 cup of chopped nuts, 1 cup or more of chocolate chips (any kind), one bag (7.5 oz.) shredded coconut. Then drizzle one can of sweetened condensed milk over the top and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

    • Beth Price, LC Recipe Testing Director says:

      Sounds wonderful! Of course, anything that contains chocolate and coconut works for me- what a yummy combination.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Clare, these sound frighteningly addictive. I’m not sure whether to thank you or curse you! My mom used to make an oatmeal and chocolate chip cookie that also had cornflakes in it, and although it sounds rather odd, I found the corny crunch to be divine. Sounds as if your mom’s magic cookie bars recipe has that in spades…

  15. Acorst8105 says:

    These are great…simple to make. I also make a similar one with skor chips.

  16. Sklug says:

    anybody try this with dark choc chips and semisweet instead of milk?

  17. Marguerite Philpott says:

    Concerning the name–there is nothing metaphorical about it. It was developed by Congregational church women and used extensively for church suppers or fellowship gatherings. Congregational churches are the original Protestant churches in New England.

  18. Linda says:

    I’ve made these twice now and even though they are amazingly tasty, I’m not really impressed by the look of them. I love the way they look in the picture above, the coconut is white and there are dark chocolate specks throughout. Mines turn out uniformly brown, the base is pretty much the same color as the topping. Maybe it’s my fault because I use unsweetened coconut that I toast for a few minutes to bring out the flavor (which makes it to darken). I also use chopped chocolate instead of chocolate chips, which probably melts a bit when baking.. Could it be it? Maybe I should not toast the coconut as it will bake and get toasted anyway? Or maybe, just maybe, I can layer the ingredients on the base one by one instead of mixing them all up in a bowl beforehand?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Linda, first of all, so glad you’ve tried and loved the recipe! As for the beige, bingo. Toasting the coconut prior to baking the bars will darken it to a shade of beige, and using smaller bits of chocolate is going to cause the chocolate to melt much more easily and tint the rest of the bars, not just because it’s chopped to a smaller size which will melt more quickly than larger chips, but because chips are specially made to resist losing their shape even when they reach a temperature at which they ought to melt. Give the recipe a whirl the way the recipe instructs and see what you think in terms of the appearance. As for the layering, you could try that, although I worry that the bars, when sliced, may crumble more easily. Let us know how it goes!

  19. Beverly Miller says:

    This recipe is for Magic Bars or Seven Layer Bars. Congo Bars is a different recipe and is sometimes called Blondies. I claim to be an authority on this matter because four generations of bakers in the family say so. Whatever the recipe name, these delectable bars are much loved.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Lovely to hear that the bars are loved so, Beverly. And it’s funny, we’ve heard all sorts of names for these and other bars. It seems there are familial as well as regional variations on these things, with folks swearing by such and such a name for something that another family or part of the country swears is something else. As you say, whatever the recipe name, they’re delectable!

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