April 7, 2009

San Francisco And Magical Coconut Bars

by IsaChandra

 I’m heading to San Francisco this weekend! So all you Bay Area people better hide your tempeh and get to your favorite restaurants early, lest I eat everything. I’m planning on hitting up Millenium, Cafe Gratitude (say what you will, their tiramisu rocks yours), Cha Ya, Udupi Palace and Amici Pizza, which is apparently serving Cheezly pizzas with no extra vegan cheese charge. How swell! (I don’t think I’ve ever used “swell” in a sentence, but it’s the only thing that fit.) I hope to come home with plenty of food porn, but for now feast your eyes on another recipe from the upcoming Vegan Cookies book.

Magical Coconut Cookie Bars
makes 24 very rich little bars

As the song from Xanadu (the movie) goes…you got to believe we are magic, and nothing will stand in our (and your) way once you taste this unapologetically vegany version of the stuff childhood dreams are made of.  Here are the nutty, chocolately, ultra-sweet and buttery-tasting graham-crackery coconut bars you loved so much as a kid. If your childhood was lacking in them, well then these are tastier than therapy for sure. The vegan secret weapon of choice here is cooked-down coconut milk, bringing in even bigger coconut flavor than ever imagined. The ever-elusive vegan butterscotch chip, should you ever have some, makes a sublime addition too.

These bars require a good overnight chilling to really firm them up before slicing, so plan accordingly.

Tip: You’ll want to use only sweetened, fluffy white flaked coconut for these. Save the natural shredded stuff for a healthy curry.

Tip: Press the graham cracker crumb crust like crazy into the pan; the more you pat it down the firmer the resulting crust will be.

One 14 oz can (regular or lite) coconut milk (about 1 3/4 cups)
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups vegan graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted margarine
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
2 cups flaked, sweetened coconut
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

In a large saucepan whisk together coconut milk and brown sugar over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mixture may form a thin skin on the surface; just stir it back into the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool while preparing the crust.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, melted margarine and sugar; mix well to moisten crumbs completely. Firmly press mixture into prepared pan, pressing evenly from center to sides of pan.

Pour warm coconut milk mixture evenly over crumb base. Top with an even layer of chocolate chips, flaked coconut and nuts, in that order. Firmly pat everything down until coconut milk mixture soaks upward into the toppings. Bake for 28-30 minutes or until coconut is deeply golden and filling is bubbling, remove from oven and let entire pan cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Transfer pan to the refrigerator to completely cool and firm up for at least 4 hours, even better overnight or until very firm. Use a sharp, heavy knife to run along the edges of bars, slide bars on parchment paper out of pan onto a cutting board then to slice into 24 squares. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. These also freeze well, tightly wrapped and allowed to thaw for 20 minutes before serving.

  • April 7, 2009 at 10:47 pm: lisa (show me vegan)

    I just got back from San Francisco! Have a great trip. At Millennium, I thought I’d died and gone to vegan heaven. We loved the black bean torte, mushroom and walnut strudel, chantenay carrot polenta cake, and chocolate bread pudding with peanut butter ice cream.

  • April 7, 2009 at 10:56 pm: Kiersten

    Thanks for the recipe Isa! I am super excited about this one.

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:02 pm: Josiane

    Those bars seem to be the most decadent thing ever! I may just have to give them a try very soon…
    Enjoy your trip! Your plan, as far as eating goes, sounds great! I simply leafed through the Millenium cookbook a few weeks ago, and it was more than enough to know that a stop there is a must if I ever go to San Francisco…

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:14 pm: Katie

    YESSSSSS I am so excited for these!!!

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm: erica

    This recipe looks extremely simple. I see why you call these “magical”.

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm: JessieG

    I love the idea of using coconut milk in these bars, as opposed to the condensed milk found in the traditional non-vegan recipes. They look delicious!

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:36 pm: A-K

    Hooray! I’m glad you posted this one! It’s going to be a sugar-week, I can tell…

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:39 pm: karla

    mamakim is going to be in SF this weekend too! she’s going to see leonard cohen.

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:45 pm: michmell

    Um, YUM! Must try soon. Have fun in SF!

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:49 pm: Ryan Kennedy

    Isa, I can vouch for Amici’s. My wife and I went to the one in Mountain View over the weekend and had their veggie pizza with the soy cheese. I’m so happy…pizza is back.


  • April 8, 2009 at 2:46 am: Melisser

    We ate the last of the vegan pizza from Amici’s tonight at my house. 6 pizzas, demolished! Too bad for you!

  • April 8, 2009 at 3:09 am: ayako

    I’ll make it tonight! THANK YOU!

  • April 8, 2009 at 4:19 am: t

    Ooooh. *jealous* Have fun in the city of my birth. Wish I could be there – not to see my parents, but for the PIZZA!! But, I’ll take the Magical Coconut Bars as a consolation prize. Man, they look DANGEROUS.

  • April 8, 2009 at 5:12 am: Jemima

    A plea from over the pond – could someone describe to me what graham crackers are like so I can decide what I could substute for them???

  • April 8, 2009 at 5:53 am: Siobhan

    Jemima – A graham cracker is more or less the same as a digestive biscuit in the UK :)

    These look fantastic!

  • April 8, 2009 at 6:37 am: Vegetation

    Oh! I can’t wait for that magical deliciousness to be devoured by me!!!!

  • April 8, 2009 at 7:29 am: Gina

    Eeeeeeee!! *Jumps up and down* This was the recipe I was hoping for. I can’t waaait to make them!

  • April 8, 2009 at 7:59 am: Marla

    May I humbly suggest a place called Weird Fish? They do a fantastic vegan fish n chips!

  • April 8, 2009 at 8:11 am: Mihl

    Thank you! They look so amazing.

  • April 8, 2009 at 8:17 am: Shelby


  • April 8, 2009 at 8:24 am: Ricki

    How I used to love these bars as a kid (we called them Hello Dollies, as I recall). The use of coconut milk is pure brilliance here. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into one of those. :)

  • April 8, 2009 at 9:39 am: sparkythewonderdog

    AhhhhH!!! Thank you thank you thank you! I have been craving these ever since you posted the pictures. When does the magical cookie book come out?

  • April 8, 2009 at 9:59 am: carmichael

    those look delicious!!!!

    don’t pass up on maggie mudd’s! i just got back from san francisco, and that place had like fifteen kinds of giant vegan ice cream sundaes!

  • April 8, 2009 at 10:42 am: trina

    Thanks for sharing!

  • April 8, 2009 at 11:18 am: amw

    If you’re coming to the bay area, I suggest you stop in Oakland and check out the following vegan option restaurants and cafes:
    Manzanita, Lanesplitters Pizza, Vegan Plaza, The Breakroom, MamaBuzz, Cafe Tomate…
    And if you get a chance you might want to head over to Sausalito where there is an amazing Indian/Mexican fusion restaurant called Avatars. If you tell the owner that you’re vegan he will take away your menu and bring you the best meal you’ve ever had!

  • April 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm: Karen

    What, no Herbivore? (http://www.herbivorerestaurant.com/) Delicious, but slow service.

  • April 8, 2009 at 12:32 pm: jenn

    I’d love to join you for dinner at Millennium – would love to meet you! Also, I’m friends with the chef there… drop me a line.

    Herbivore is *meh* – the food is “ok” but not worth going out of your way. Neither is Manzanita – way overpriced for what it is, seriously. It’s basically steamed veg & millet with very little seasoning and way pricey.

    I do recommend going to Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley – the location there is a much bigger restaurant in what used to be Il Fornaiao – gorgeous brick building with a fireplace. Also recommend the Telegraph Lanesplitters by my house over the one on San Pablo – and would be happy to join you there (likely end up there after riding up to the Wall with some friends on motorcycles anyway).

  • April 8, 2009 at 12:43 pm: veggievixen

    so awesome! i would totally make a huge batch of these and stash them in my freezer for when sweet cravings hit…

  • April 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm: Franni

    I thought that Amici’s soy cheese had casein in it…..hmm….

  • April 8, 2009 at 5:07 pm: Jemima

    Thanks for your advice Siobhan, Cookie Bars here I come!!

  • April 8, 2009 at 5:23 pm: Pepper

    Those look so delicious, I’ve never used coconut milk before. I’m gonna try these soon!

  • April 8, 2009 at 7:28 pm: jess

    omg does this mean you’re not coming to my dinner that is about me leaving, not you?

  • April 9, 2009 at 10:58 am: melanie eight

    Isa, you are awesome and generous. I am a fan.

  • April 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm: anita

    don’t miss herbivore – two locations – the mission is better. GREAT food!

  • April 9, 2009 at 3:25 pm: River (Wing-it Vegan)

    *Homer Simpson voice* Mmmm coconut!

    Enjoy San Francisco and all its vegan greatness!!

  • April 9, 2009 at 7:15 pm: Harmony

    nobel prize in coconut.

  • April 9, 2009 at 10:16 pm: Laura

    i wish i could eat those RIGHT NOW!! yummmmmmm….

  • April 9, 2009 at 11:00 pm: willwolf

    So freaking awesome! Thanks so much. I hope you have a great time in the city!

  • April 10, 2009 at 12:21 am: kpepper

    thank you thank you thank you thank you!
    you’re sweeter than a magic cookie to tolerate all of our collective begging :0)

  • April 11, 2009 at 6:43 pm: Nancy Nevada

    Isa – this may be one of the best ‘your cookie was so good’ stories.
    I made these for a phonebank I did for Equality Maine, making calls to find supporters of samesex marriage and get them to call their legislators (Oh, and I turned the name into “Magical Gay Bars” – hope that’s cool).
    I gave one to a friend who was walking the opposite direction than me on my way there. A few minutes later, I see him literally running around a building, interrupting his presumably busy day,coming after me asking for the recipe.
    “Oh my god, these are so good! Can you give me the recipe??!?! Normally, when I hear vegan, I’m like hmmmm, but these are AMAZING”
    The words I just typed do no justice to the facial expression.
    The reactions at the phonebank were equally pleased, and the leftover three were eaten delightfully by the student I taught afterwards.
    In short, you spread joy all across campus today. Be proud.

  • April 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm: nicole

    I second Weird Fish (in the Mission). They also do vegan brunch!

  • April 13, 2009 at 3:09 pm: Jemima

    Wow – I have just eaten my first one of these and it was amazing!! I was so unconvinced that they would even come out of the pan but they did like magic!! Really easy to put together as well. Thanks Isa for sharing your recipes so generously, this one rocks.

  • April 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm: Sarah

    Have fun!!

  • April 14, 2009 at 5:01 pm: Abby

    Isa, you missed a real treat on your trip to the Bay Area. Next time, add Vegi Food in Berkeley to your list. They are just up Shattuck from Cafe Gratitude on Vine just west of Shattuck. They are an Asian-style vegan restaurant that has been very popular for probably more than 30 years. My favorite is their black bean and tofu chow mein.

  • April 14, 2009 at 6:37 pm: dreamin'itvegan

    I’ve been wanting to make something with coconut! yay!

  • April 26, 2009 at 10:46 am: Alicia

    I cheated and used a storebought graham cracker crust, but these were delicious! I’m going to have to freeze the rest or make myself sick eating it all.

  • May 8, 2009 at 8:21 pm: bek

    These are absolutely amazing! But the four hours or overnight part, pffft, I was eating them with a fork immediately out of the oven, molten chocolate and all. You are seriously my hero for this, seven layers are the one thing I seriously missed and had pondered over getting right forever. And I’m lucky to have Food Lion nearby for the butterscotch goodness.

  • July 19, 2009 at 1:37 pm: Elise

    I am about to put these bars in the oven & this is the second time I have made them. I am almost regretting the fact that I made them again today because last time it only took 2 days for me and 3 accomplices to devour the entire 13×9 pan. These bars are one of the best desserts of all time. They taste even better if you store them in the freezer (especially because its damn hot outside in Texas right now) and eat them right out of the freezer. Thank you, Isa! xo

  • August 5, 2009 at 4:02 pm: Christy

    You have the goods and you share!! Everyone hates a recipe miser. I appreciate your generousity, and love buying your books.

  • November 25, 2009 at 10:35 am: Chrissy

    I could kiss you full on the lips for this! this was the first thing i was ever allowed to bake by myself. i made it everytime we spent the night at my grandparents house and i have been looking for a recipe for it to veganize myself for ages! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU X infinity

  • December 4, 2009 at 1:58 am: Loretta

    These are absolutely INSANE. They are so delish. Tried them while still warm…. they are unbelievable. I made them for a party on Sunday, it’s Thursday night. I think I’ll have to make another batch……The non-vegans will be clueless. I’ll write again after the party.

  • December 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm: Amanda

    I just need to say that I am so glad to see a vegan version of these by the wonderful chef Isa! I have been missing them every year like MAD! These little bars are a family tradition around Christmas time in my household, only it is the recipe from the Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk can! = )


  • December 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm: ko

    :( tasted awesome. But were incredibly soggy. They couldn’t even be left at room temp for 10 minutes before they thawed and turned mushy. Not like the Magic Bars I used to know and love. I feel like I missed a step or undercooked them? Is this possible?

  • December 23, 2009 at 3:53 pm: sarah

    these were easy and came out great!

  • December 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm: Sharen

    These are incredible! I will be making these again for sure. I didn’t use parchment paper, just used a light cooking spray on a glass baking tray. And I cooked them for a full 30 minutes. Absolutely delicious and they set perfectly overnight in the fridge.

  • January 11, 2010 at 2:24 pm: Olivia

    These were amazing! They did not last 2 days in our house – I had to hide some in the freezer so my dad and sister wouldn’t fiish them all!

  • January 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm: Heather

    Any suggestion to make this harder? It melts a lot easily. But overall, the taste is outstanding.

  • January 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm: Cate

    I made these for a camping trip last year, everyone loved them (:

  • May 24, 2010 at 10:33 am: Amy

    I made these and brought them into work. My co-workers went crazy for them. These are the bestest thing ever.

  • June 14, 2010 at 1:26 am: Mathew Kemick

    Another Great post, I will be sure to bookmark this post in my Diigo account. Have a good day.

  • July 21, 2010 at 12:55 pm: Mary

    I just made these early this morning…VERY early this morning lol so they would be ready for lunch time… and they are absolutely amazing! Not difficult to make and very cost effective! I picked everything up for them last night and it was about 7.00… thanks so much for sharing this recipe! I will be holding on to it for a while… BTW they were a HUGE hit! no one could believe that they were vegan!

  • July 22, 2010 at 4:57 am: malika

    This seems truly divine, however I don’t eat margarine – hydrogenated fat may be perfectly vegan but it’s BAD for you!
    What can you suggest as a substitute for margarine?

  • July 24, 2010 at 7:29 pm: Lauren

    What about Earth Balance? They do not use hydrogenated oils in their vegan spreads. Otherwise, you could experiment with coconut or canola oil, reducing the amount to 1/3 cup.

  • July 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm: Johnetta Franeo

    Wonderful blog! Just one question: I’ve been using this RSS reader application. How do i go about adding your site to it?

  • August 4, 2010 at 11:50 am: Monique

    These bars are amazing. I have made them twice – once for bookclub and another for a potluck. They are soft, so you need to keep them cool before serving. Also, we froze the last two and pulled them out of the freezer and ate them immediately. So good! The rest of your cookie book is great too. I just made your regular chocolate chip cookie… waiting for them to cool to try ’em.

  • November 8, 2010 at 5:46 pm: Nik

    These look fantastic! I’ll make it tonight!

  • February 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm: vegan pagan

    Why does everyone post before they actually make it. No one cares if you say your gonna make it. Make the dish and then post on your experience. Maybe additions or subtractions?? Just dont say..”cool i cant wait to make that”. Its annoying! Thank you.

  • March 10, 2011 at 6:47 am: Natalie

    I love many of your cookie recipes, but this one just didn’t cut it for me. The crust was too wet. I cooked the coconut milk for a bit more than 10 minutes. Is it supposed to thicken? If so, how much? Should it be a similar consistency to sweetened condensed milk when cooled? We ate them with some pleasure ; chocolate, nuts and coconut is almost always delicious. I was underwhelmed by the results, however, and won’t make them again the same way.

  • March 10, 2011 at 7:53 pm: Krista

    Think I can use coconut oil instead of margarine??? Thanks!!

  • May 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm: Amanda

    i made these last night.. they are beyond amazing and i’m totally addicted now! i used earth balance instead of margarine.. pretty much just guessed on the amounts of every layer. i did use two cups of graham crackers, and followed the ingredients for the coconut milk and dark brown sugar though. the pecans on top dont stay put on the bar though.. i wish they did!

  • June 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm: veganmim

    ok this one just wasn’t fair, i am on a DIET!!

  • December 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm: Montana Sue

    Good grief these are good! I ate way too many and loved every bite of it.

  • December 4, 2011 at 5:41 am: amy

    I was imagining a version of these with coconut milk to complement the already present coconut…and was totally thrilled to find that you’d already done something similar! I used a can of coconut cream rather than coconut milk (slightly thicker, higher fat content), and simmered it gently for about 15 minutes. (Had problems with it boiling over at anything higher than low heat). I made a slurry of 2 Tbsp. cornstarch & 1.5 Tbsp. water & whisked into coconut mixture until thickned, then tossed in some vanilla and mixed in the coconut. To cut the sweetness a bit, I subbed unsweetened coconut for the sweetened stuff. Smeared it all on the crust layer (made sans added sugar, as I used cinnamon graham crumbs), pressed choc. chips & nuts into the surface. The bars held together really well, with no stuff falling off the top. We just sampled them after about an hour in the fridge–almost set. Thank you for the delightful recipe!

  • February 7, 2012 at 1:59 am: cathy

    Thanks for posting this! I own all your cookbooks, but it’s nice having the info in electronic form. It makes it a lot easier to put the ingredients into MacGourmet so I can get the nutritional info. The Beet Burgers look fantastic. I’m looking forward to getting some beets next week so I can try a batch.

  • August 12, 2012 at 3:53 am: cj

    These bars are fabulous!!! I loved them and they were an absolute hit with my extended omni family. Thank you Isa!! I only made two changes to the recipe: I used unsweetened coconut flakes (as this was all I had on hand) and I used cornstarch as recommended by commenter Amy on Dec 4/11 (I was concerned about possible soggy or runny results). As promised, the bars were magical! No sogginess and everything stayed on the bars. This recipe has become my new, foolproof, go-to dessert. When I make these again, I may try adding a bit of extra sugar to compensate for the unsweetened coconut; I don’t feel it’s necessary, but am curious which version I’ll prefer.

  • August 29, 2012 at 2:31 am: Lacie

    These are simply divine, Isa! My dad, who isn’t a fan of coconut, loved them; my mom, who isn’t a huge sweet tooth, loved them; and one of my best friends said that this was her favorite dessert that I’ve made… and I’ve made a lot!
    Instead of topping with pecans or walnuts, I used the peanut butter caramel recipe from Veganomicon, and the flavors worked great together.
    This recipe is definitely a winner!

  • February 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm: Jenny B

    I love these bars! My non-vegan husband ADORES them. He says they really are magical!

  • April 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm: Jennie

    Could I use almond milk instead of coconut milk?? I just went to the store, and then came back and saw this recipe….xP and I don’t have any coconut milk on hand.

  • May 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm: rachel

    i want to try this with almonds instead of walnuts/pecans. . . i think it would be like almong joy heaven that way!

  • June 11, 2013 at 2:57 am: rose

    this recipe is AMAZING! I brought these to a vegan potluck last night. An older gentleman came up to thank me (literally on the verge of tears) because his mom used to make him ‘Hello Dolly’ bars when he was a kid and he thought he’d never eat one again after going vegan. Thank you so much-my cooking gained me lots of fans and attention last night. Now the pressure is on though as I’m not sure how i’ll top these at the next potluck.

  • August 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm: Jane

    Thanks for this recipe. Love “magic cookie bars” made with sweetened condensed milk and this vegan version did not disappoint. Delish!

  • September 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm: madcityfoot

    I have made these for four different events now (for mostly non-vegans) and people LOVE it! Thanks for the post and for all of your amazing recipes!

  • September 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm: Lizzy

    Just tried the bars.. I have to say “Wow”, I run a vegetarian Yoga center in Guatemala and will put these on the menu. I made my own coconut milk (land of coconuts), super easy and its even better than canned. Thanks for the great treat.

  • June 21, 2014 at 2:35 am: Michelle

    Do you think I could sub almond meal or other finely chopped nut for the graham cracker? Or anything else? I need to make it GF and I don’t have/want to buy GF cookies.

  • August 31, 2014 at 11:40 pm: Kristen

    These bars are amazing. I was looking to find a recipe that would replicate the bars they sell at Alladins (a Middle Eastern chain restaurant) but these are so much better! Best of all, my 3-year-old doesn’t like coconut, so that means more for me! And less sugar for her. Thanks for sharing!

  • June 9, 2015 at 11:45 pm: Kim Nobles

    Please I need some of these wonderful vegan dessert recipes. My vegan daughter is coming to visit from the other side of the country. Oh, & I am not opposed to pigging out on vegan desserts. I’ve tried many in Oregon, land of the Vegans. I hope Veganism spreads like wildfire in this country. I have 2 wonderful adult children who cook the best vegan food ever. My son, OMG! Shh! Don’t tell my daughter. My son should be a vegan chef!!!!

  • December 13, 2015 at 12:40 am: Melanie

    I adore these! These bars ( the non-veg version) used to be my thing before I bacame vegan. I would bring them to potlucks or as a hostess gift all the time. My friends called them “Melanie bars” :) So glad I can start making them again now that I’ve found a veganized version!