Congo Bars

These congo bars are sort like a mashup between seven layer bars and blondies and are made with a graham cracker crust topped with condensed milk, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and pecans. Bet you can’t stop at just one.

Stack of four Congo bars made of coconut, chocolate, graham crackers, each on a square of paper

The name “congo bars,” we’re told, comes from the “lineup” of graham crackers, condensed milk, chocolate chips, and shredded coconut in this classic childhood sweet that’s also referred to as 7-layer bars. (And we know what you’re thinking. 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. Although we confess, in an aberration from tradition, we sort of like to chop chocolate bars into chunks rather than rely on little chips. A little adult arrogance, perhaps.)–Patricia Helding

Congo Bars | 7 Layer Bars

  • Quick Glance
  • (2)
  • 10 M
  • 40 M
  • Makes 12 to 16 bars
4.5/5 - 2 reviews
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Ingredients

  • For the crust
  • For the topping

Directions

Make the crust

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.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs and light brown sugar and mix well.

Tester tip: 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.

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

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 to 23 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.

Let the pan of bars cool on a wire rack for 2 hours or so, until the chocolate is no longer soft and they slice easily.

Tester tip: Don’t learn the hard way that the bars really do need to rest a while before slicing. They’re simply too gooey to devour right away…unless you simply dig in with a spoon.

Cut into whatever size or shape you fancy. Originally published April 28, 2011.

Print RecipeBuy the Fat Witch Brownies cookbook

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

When I first saw this congo bar 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.

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.

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Comments

  1. I love this recipe. However, the first time I made it I thought it was a bit too salty. I would recommend 1/2 tsp. salt. I also substituted the milk chocolate chips with butterscotch chips, which compliments the semi-sweet chocolate chips very well. Here’s another tip: If you want to use the full 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk, make 1.5 recipes (you can do the simple math!) and bake it in a 9″ x 13″ pan. That way you don’t have to throw out the rest of the can and you have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy more bars.

  2. 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.

    1. 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!

  3. 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?

    1. 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!

  4. 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.

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