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.
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
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
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.
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.
I made this recipe twice, and both times, the pans were devoured in no time. My 11-year-old great-niece helped me the second time I made them, 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.
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.
One could even make a triple batch and use two cans of sweetened condensed milk and not have any left over.
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 tastewise. But overall, the Congo bars were sweet, with a hint of salt, chew, and crunch—we ate them all!
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 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. I used unsweetened shredded coconut instead of sweetened, and it worked well.
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 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.
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.
We’ve always loved these bars. I made 2 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.
Originally published April 28, 2011