seven-layer bar crunch.

It’s true; I enjoy turning things into other things. This compulsion is why I made the cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookie into an ice cream. Or a favorite fall salad into a pizza. In my hands, beloved snickerdoodle cookies transform into ice cream vessels. Other times, I shove classic chocolate chip cookies into a muffin tin. Whatever. But it’s about time I take on something much more serious: turning the mythical seven-layer bar into a snack mix.

Fair warning: many of the photos in the links above, as well as some of these original seven-layer bars, are gross. I was just learning about light and food photography back then, and it basically looks like I took my pictures in a cave during a massive thunderstorm. Forgive my early blog photo attempts; the food is good, but the pictures don’t, in all cases, do it justice.

Seven Layer Bar, Magic Bar, Happenings, Hello Dolly Bar; it doesn’t matter what you call it; everyone has had (and probably loved) one of these. Seems as though if you’re like me, and grew up in the seventies and eighties (maybe even nineties?) in the US, you hold a sentimental attachment to them because your mom or grandma made them for you way back when, before any of us were concerned with pesky things like weight gain and cholesterol levels. Besides, when you ate one, you probably burned it off immediately playing outside with the neighbors in one of those super hot outfits we all had back then.

Initial Problem: I can’t seem to find a convincing excuse to make them year-round. For us, they were always reserved for the Halloween through Christmas months, and then they would disappear for the rest of the year. So it’s one of those holiday things, similar to anything made with peppermint and chocolate, that only seem appropriate for a limited time. It has yet to take on a chocolate chip-like freedom which allows it to be baked anytime, anywhere. I want to change that.

Solution: Make the seven-layer bar into a snack mix.

you heard me correctly: you can now snack on seven layer bars. guilt-free? No; I didn’t say that, because you will most likely eat the entire pan. Quickly. But my snack mix version seems much more appropriate for any time of year than a heavy bar.

Minor Problem: How to make this stick together and include the sweetened condensed milk, which is essential to the seven-layer bar. I mean, it’s one of the seven layers, and it’s literally what holds the entire thing together. Also, it needed a “baked” flavor without it being actually baked.

Solution: I used marshmallows to stabilize the sweetened condensed milk and kept the butter to a minimum, which gave it a bit more stick. To “cook” the mixture without having to actually bake anything, I microwaved it all together as you would for cereal treats. Did you know condensed milk turns into a caramel when microwaved enough? I did, because it’s how I make my millionaire’s shortbread (the homemade Twix bar) and it worked exceedingly well with the marshmallows and butter.

The coconut also needed a little work, because left alone, it’s sticky added to more sticky, and the flavor of un-toasted coconut is completely different from that of  toasted. To fix this, I toasted the coconut ahead of time, which is very easy to do, but does involve a little babysitting.

Major Problem: the melty stuff. Adding flaming hot caramel milk stuff to things like cereal, coconut, and pecans isn’t an issue; trying to add it to chocolate chips and butterscotch is another story. Add them too early, and they melt completely when you stir, turning your snack mix into a mess. Add them too late, and they won’t stick. Solution? not adding them at all, at least not in their “natural” chip-shaped state.

Thing i did not know: chocolate chips, butterscotch chips – and any “chips” really – contain stabilizers which makes them retain their chip form until stirred. These stabilizers also make it more difficult to melt chips versus chocolate in bar form, as the stabilizers tend to facilitate seizing and burning. I had no idea! I just assumed it was a “lesser” chocolate as compared to the bars, but no; chemicals are more to blame in this case. I had no trouble melting the chocolate chips, but the butterscotch chips were a different story. There’s more fake stuff in those, so like white chocolate, they are more prone to seizing up.

Solution: Add fat. More specifically, add a little butter to get things going. It smooths things out and makes the butterscotch less pasty and thick, which is essential to getting the drizzle thin enough to adhere to your crunch mix and subsequently stay put as you break it up to serve.

Although there are steps to this, I wouldn’t say it’s very labor-intensive, and nothing takes more than a few minutes. If you don’t have trouble melting two things simultaneously, you can save yourself a two steps (top and bottom) by drizzling the butterscotch and chocolate on at the same time.

I know at least one of you, at this point, will experience the epiphany that is “why can’t I melt the two together in the same saucepan?!?” Honestly, I don’t know why, but I haven’t personally tried it yet, so will it work? Anyone’s guess. Also, I really like the color of the chocolate over the butterscotch on this crunch, and although aesthetics aren’t of dire importance in a snack mix, it’s nice when it looks appealing. Mixing them together, for me, may make it a bit to…medium brown? I don’t know. If one of you does this, shoot me a photo.

I’ve talked about this enough: time to eat! I’m making this for my Halloween party, which – don’t get excited – involves maybe 7 people. Oh; I will be decorating like there are 50 people coming, don’t you worry. And making enough snacks for the entire neighborhood, the vast majority of which are not invited. It matters not.

Seven-Layer Bar Crunch

  •  2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (2 tablespoons for marshmallow mixture, 1 for butterscotch melting)
  • 6 cups Golden Grahams cereal (one could say “heaping” on this, as they don’t lay flat in a measuring cup)
  • 3 cups slightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3/4 to 1 cup pecans, rough chopped (depending on how many pecans you’d like in your crunch
  • 8 ounces butterscotch chips* (I used Nestle)
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips* (I use Ghirardelli for its superior melting capabilities)

As this is your crunch, I want you to make this your way. I’m giving you plenty of both the butterscotch chips and chocolate chips because I don’t want you to run out trying to drizzle every little piece. If you don’t use the entire 8 ounces of each, that’s okay; consider that “to taste.”

Toast your coconut:

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Ready a half-size sheet pan, preferably lipped (or two lipped quarter sheet pans) by lining them with parchment paper.

Spread out coconut on the sheet pan(s) and place in the oven on a middle rack. Toast for 5-8 minutes, tossing frequently so the edges don’t burn. You know you’re finished when your coconut ranges in color from light peach to dark brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. If you allow yourself enough time, you can use these pans (and the parchment) over again for chilling your crunch.

Mix some of your layers:

In a large (“large” as in “the largest bowl you can find”) heatproof bowl, add your cereal, toasted coconut, and pecans, tossing with your hands until thoroughly mixed. Set aside.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl (like a glass Pyrex), add marshmallows, sweetened condensed milk, and 2 tablespoons of your butter. Microwave on high for a total of around 4 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon after 1 minute of cooking and every 30 seconds thereafter (or every time you see it start to really bubble up.) After 4 minutes have passed, you should see it has become slightly darker in color, and everything should be smooth.

Remove from microwave and pour immediately over cereal mixture, stirring hastily but gently with a rubber spatula (which causes the least amount of trauma to the cereal) until everything is coated in marshmallow goo. Work quickly, but not so fast that you miss getting everything incorporated. Unlike marshmallow-only cereal treats, this doesn’t harden up as fast, so you have a little more time.

Spread out your mixture onto your prepared lipped sheet pan(s), still lined with parchment I hope, and flatten gently into a semi-even layer. This doesn’t all have to be touching, because it’s a snack mix; a haphazard swath of cereal mixture is fine, but spread it out as much as you can so the butterscotch and chocolate drizzle gets to as much as possible. Place in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.

Drizzle the rest of them:

When your cereal mixture is chilled, melt your butterscotch by placing it in a small saucepan with your remaining tablespoon of butter. Heat on low, stirring frequently, until just melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, just to where you can easily handle it while in a plastic storage bag. that’s right: it’s squeezie bag time.

At the same time (or immediately following, as your butterscotch is cooling), melt your chocolate. I do this in a double boiler over just simmering water, stirring frequently, until just melted. As with the butterscotch, remove the chocolate from heat and let cool until it’s easy to handle and won’t melt a plastic bag.

Alternatively, you can do this with a large spoon, dipping it in your butterscotch and swinging it to and fro over your cereal mixture. Up to you. I like using the squeezie bag because you can control the drizzle and you don’t get big drips anywhere. 

Get your cereal pans out of the fridge. Place half your butterscotch into your plastic bag and cut one small corner off. squeeze your butterscotch evenly over your cereal mixture until everything looks the way you want it to. Repeat the same process with half your melted chocolate. Place cereal mixture back in the fridge so your first round of drizzle can set up, about 1/2 hour.

Once your drizzle has set up and nothing is melty, remove pan(s) from the fridge again. Take your cereal mixture, which by now should be hardened into one movable block, and flip it over so the drizzle side is face-down on the parchment paper. Repeat your drizzle (butterscotch first, chocolate second) with the face-up side, trying again to get some butterscotch and chocolate on everything. Put this into the fridge for one more round of set-up.

After a half hour more, your crunch should be ready for action. Remove from the fridge and break apart into chunks, any size you want, to serve.

Although it fares pretty well sitting out for hours at a time, I like to store this in the fridge (airtight container, please) to keep it crunchy. Lasts for up to 3 days, but maybe longer; I couldn’t tell you, because we ate it. Sooooo…maybe next time i’ll hide a “control” portion in the fridge and test it out for storage time.

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  • Reply Brianne October 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    WHAT IS THIS GOODNESS?!?!!! I want it in my mouth as soon as humanly possible. Oh my gosh, Golden Grahams?!? YES. I don’t know the last time I was this excited about a recipe! It took a lot of willpower to actually read through this post because I was so excited just to comment and tell you how AWESOME of an idea this is. I love me some seven layer bars, but in my family, they’re a springtime treat. Weird, huh? I guess the coconut at Easter thing is why we do it that way. Also, when we melt butterscotch chips for a cookie we bake every Christmas, we a) melt them right with chocolate chips and b) use a bit of paraffin wax to make the mixture melt smoothly. It works like a charm!

    • Reply Emma October 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm

      I don’t know if I like the thought of eating wax. Makes me think of gnawing on a candle or something:)

      • Reply Brianne October 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm

        It skeeved me out at first, too. But my grandma did it, so it’s tradition, and you can’t even tell it’s there. I eat like 3 dozen of the things every December.

        • Reply Emma October 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

          And you’re grad student-y. I like it!

      • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

        i think it’s pretty burly to eat wax. 🙂 that’s like, hardcore grandma stuff. pioneer. and i bet the Amish do it.

        • Reply Emma October 24, 2012 at 6:10 am

          Ooh! If the Amish do it, I want to do it!!

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:30 am

      i’m so excited you like these! i feel like Gereral Mills must make an absolute KILLING off of Golden Grahams; i thought i just loved it and that was that, but as it turns out, EVERYONE LOVES IT. 🙂 who knew!

      so it’s an easter thing for your family; i’m making a note. ever since last year when i made this for the blog, i have tried to determine from whence these bars came. I feel like they’re regional, but i don’t know from what region. They are a holiday bar, it seems, but for you they mean easter, and for me they mean christmas. i’m getting to the bottom of this, somehow.
      you make a cookie out which includes melted butterscotch and chocolate chips together?? i have to know what that is. and paraffin? that it like, so old school awesome. i’m going to find paraffin now and mess with it when i melt things.

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina October 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I challenge you to turn lemon meringue pie into a hand-held snack.

    Hey, a gal can dream, right?

    Also, I’ve never had 7 layer bars. 7 layer guacamole? Yes. But, never 7 layer bars. I need to readjust my priorities.

  • Reply Tina @foodfortina October 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Yum, great recipe! I’ve bookmarked it 🙂

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:32 am

      thanks tina! 🙂

  • Reply Sharyn Dimmick October 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Golden Grahams are one of my guilty food secrets (Oops — not secret anymore!). I hardly allow myself to have them because they remind me of candy: if I eat them as cereal I just season healthy cereal (Cheerios, Shredded Wheat) with them. Your snack mix looks phenomenal.

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

      thanks! sharyn, as i’m reading through the comments, i realize that a love of golden grahams is something lots of us have in common; no need to be ashamed anymore! 🙂 you know, i had to do three versions of this recipe before getting it right; each time meant a new box of GG’s. Why? because i had finished off the last box via bowl and milk. 🙂 adding them to healthy cereal is a great idea!

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog October 19, 2012 at 7:10 am

    You are a genius! How did you know Golden Grahams are my fav cereal. I can’t wait to mix a batch of this up, and did I hear guilt free? I think I did, which means I can eat more of it. Pinned!

    BTW, your photos look pretty!

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:37 am

      jennie, i’d argue that i’m less of a genius and more just determined to find a way to eat things i want to eat. 🙂 i hate that every time i eat a beloved 7 layer bar, i feel like a cow. so this snack mix is my attempt to feel less-cow-like. all this talking about it makes me want to make another batch…right…now… 🙂

      thanks for the photo compliment; the weather has been working against me recently, so it’s nice to snag a sunny day here and there for pictures!

  • Reply Ashley October 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Ah, making way too much food for a party is a family tradition for me. One I enjoy continuing…or continue to enjoy. I love that you’re putting a twist on something familiar. It takes so much more confidence and knowledge than following a recipe (though tackling a Momofuku recipe is awfully gutsy in my book!). I love it! And I’m jealous of your mad photo skills. It’s something I desperately want to improve. Any advice?

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:48 am

      too much is better than too little when it comes to food and parties, though, right? I think so. leftovers = awesome, but running out is so embarrassing. 🙂 and thanks! I like taking things i’m used to and switching them up. I don’t have any idea how to truly just make something NEW new, so it’s nice when you know the flavor of something and can work on translating that into another. i have fun with it. and thanks for the Momofuku compliment; I give a lot of well-deserved credit to that book for making me confident enough to do things like this. Someday i need to write Christina Tosi a big, fat thank you note. 🙂
      you’re so nice to compliment my photo skills. i’m still learning so much, and certainly my photos will probably never be “foodgawker” worthy, but i’ve tried to get better as the blog goes on. The best advice I can give you is to practice with what works in your home in terms of light. I try to work with the natural light as best i can, and that includes finding the best times of the day to photograph your stuff. Also, having a few white foam core boards and natural parchment paper can work wonders if you like minimalist shots. email me if you feel like it and we can talk more. I feel dumb giving advice, because i think there are tons of people WAY better than i am, but i can try to help. 🙂

  • Reply Emma October 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I have never heard of seven-layer bars, let alone had one. So I suppose I am quite behind! But I’m with Brianne, this snack looks so damn good I could hardly make it through the post, I was that excited to think about doing some serious snacking.

    Though I’m also thinking that I NEED to make millionaire’s shortbread, and pronto. Which to do first?!

    And no, this time around I’m not actually hungry. I’ve overdosed on brownies. This is just pure enthusiasm for you:)

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

      not even by one of the seven-layer bar aliases? really? this helps me in my search for where these originated. if you make the snack mix and like it, do yourself a favor and make the bars. and be prepared, because you’ll want to eat WAY more of the bars than you can physically handle. around christmas, when you see most of my family lolling about on the sofa, it’s probably less about being tired and more about how many bars we ate. 🙂

      OH: that millionaire’s shortbread is the best. not the easiest to make, or i should say not as easy as either the 7 layer bars or crunch, but well worth the effort.

      i love it it’s you talking and not just your stomach. 🙂 although i enjoy your stomach talking to me as well.

  • Reply movita beaucoup October 20, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Sometimes, when you come up with stuff like this, I think: thank goodness she’s using her power for good. Because that mind of yours? MOTHER OF PEARL!!

    Obviously, this snack is freaking my freak. Bite-sized anything is awesome. Also, the only thing I request every year at Christmas is Hello Dolly squares. But lately, my mother has been making Hello Molly squares. They are not the same. It has become an issue for our family.

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:58 am

      i get a little over-excited about food; it’s true. sometimes it’s like when you hear about normal humans lifting cars; i think this was some sort of insane adrenaline rush because I knew it was my responsibility to do it. I owed it to the bars for being so good to me my whole life.

      Hello Molly squares? Tell dear Rosie Beaucoup to get a grip and get back to the Dollies. Politely. 🙂

  • Reply mellissa@ibreatheimhungry October 20, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Ermahgerd! Herlo Derly Snerk Mirx!!!!!!!!!
    Movita posted this on FB and I had to come over and check it out. Major kudos for creativity! Hello Dolly Squares are my kryptonite – putting them in a snack mix? Unbelievable! Must try! Pinning to my “I am SO making this!!!” board!

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 11:01 am

      YES! I finally got an Ermahgerd! 🙂 I should have called these Herlo Derly Snerk Mirx.
      Movita’s the best, isn’t she? i love her. and thank you for pinning! i hope you love the recipe as much as i do. it’s like there’s been a little empty place in my house ever since we finished the last batch. must…make…more… 🙂

  • Reply natalie October 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    i love it! and BF walked into the room while i was oggling the pictures, so now i’m apparently obligated to make it per his demand… 🙂

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 11:02 am

      okaayyyy…you can blame it on BF. 🙂

  • Reply elizabeth October 21, 2012 at 8:43 am

    WOW. This is incredibly impressive–and I’ve never even heard of the seven-layer bar specifically but I am familiar with bars that use condensed milk, graham cracker, chocolate, and peanut butter chips. This looks absolutely delightful.

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 11:05 am

      thanks, elizabeth! i’ve heard of different versions of this – a peanut butter chip one sounds wonderful! I’m guessing you could do the same with the snack mix, which is another reason I like it. it’s like a Compost Cookie; switch stuff in, switch stuff out, see how it goes. 🙂

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