Holiday Magic Bars

published Nov 27, 2022
Holiday Magic Bars Recipe

The seven layer magic bar is dolled up with bold mix-ins - spice cookies, coffee, pistachios, dried cherries, candied orange peel - for a festive pick-me-up.

Makes24 pieces

Prep10 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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magic cookie bars on a sheet tray
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: Sarah Smart

This recipe is a part of Secret Family Cookies — a dozen recipes from our favorite bakers, inspired by the people who make them feel at home. Get all the amazing cookies here.

My nonna is famous for many things: her garden, her chattiness, her color-coordinated ensembles, her sweet tooth, and her cookie stash. She always had tins of homemade cookies hidden throughout the dining room that, when I was a kid, I’d sniff out like it was a treasure hunt. For Christmas, she’d bake for months ahead, freezing what she made, so there were at least three treats for every guest.

She’s most famous for her cranberry and pistachio biscotti, but she’s 96 now; as she’s gotten older, it’s harder for her to cream and mix and cut out cookies. You know what she can still make, though? Magic bars. And you know what can satiate even the most acute sweet tooth? Magic bars. My nonna seems to think they also help with arthritis and memory loss, so she eats them with espresso for breakfast, with red wine after dinner, and, when no one’s watching, as dinner.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: Sarah Smart

My Holiday Twist on Nonna’s Magic Bars

With a crumb crust, gooey center, and crunchy toppings, these holiday-inspired magic bars have the same structure as the classic ones that my nonna makes, but this version is studded with ingredients that remind me of her. The crust is made from spice cookies, plus some espresso (or coffee) grounds, which add a little coarseness and bitterness. In a nod to her biscotti, there are pistachios and dried cherries. And because she eats panettone for breakfast all December, there’s candied orange peel, too. Then, of course, there’s chocolate. She loves chocolate and would love to tell you about how good it is for you.

A Couple of Tips for Making Holiday Magic Bars

  • Balance out all the sweetness. I recommend using salted pistachios over unsalted and dried cherries over dried cranberries because they help balance some of the sweetness of the cookie.
  • Have fun with the recipe. Marzipan, amaretti cookies, hazelnut spread, and chocolate- covered espresso beans are all ingredients that could be found in one of my nonna’s cookie tins — and any of them would be a nice addition to these cookies. Just keep an eye on how many sweet add-ons there are. These bars are rich no matter what, but can get very, very sweet. Not that my nonna would mind one bit. 

Holiday Magic Bars Recipe

The seven layer magic bar is dolled up with bold mix-ins - spice cookies, coffee, pistachios, dried cherries, candied orange peel - for a festive pick-me-up.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 24 pieces

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray or softened butter, for the pan

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 2 cups

    Biscoff, gingersnap, or cinnamon graham cracker crumbs

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground coffee or espresso (not instant)

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 (14-ounce) can

    sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 1/2 cups

    roasted, salted pistachios (about 7 1/2 ounces)

  • 1 cup

    semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (about 7 ounces)

  • 1/2 cup

    dried tart cherries or cranberries (about 3 ounces)

  • 1/2 cup

    coarsely chopped candied orange peel (about 4 ounces)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or softened butter. Line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper that covers the bottom and extends up past the 2 long sides to form a sling.

  2. Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in the microwave, on the stovetop, or in the warming oven. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add 2 cups Biscoff, gingersnap, or cinnamon graham cracker crumbs, 1 tablespoon ground coffee or espresso (not instant), and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine.

  3. Transfer to the baking pan. Top with a sheet of parchment paper and firmly and evenly press into the bottom. Remove the parchment and set aside.

  4. Pour 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk over the crust and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with 1 1/2 cups roasted, salted pistachios, 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup dried tart cherries or cranberries, and 1/2 cup coarsely chopped candied orange peel. Cover with the reserved parchment paper and press down firmly so the toppings stick to the condensed milk. Remove the parchment paper.

  5. Bake until the top is lightly golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool completely, about 2 hours. If time allows, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, which helps create smoother cuts and a gooier texture.

  6. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the bars. Grasping the excess parchment, lift the slab out of the pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into 24 pieces (5 cuts lengthwise, 3 cuts crosswise), or into any size squares, diamonds or rectangles you like. The bars will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for a few days, but they are especially delicious right from the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for up to 1 week.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: The salted nuts provide important balance, so if you use unsalted, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt over the toppings.

Storage: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2 months. Let the bars thaw at room temperature.