There are cookies and then there are cookie bars, those cookie-pie hybrids that have a crust and a filling but are not pie-shaped. And then there are seven layer bars, those oddly magical mish-moshes of basically anything you like or want. There are no limits on what you can and can’t put into them, and they (almost) always come out stupidly delicious.
These sweet and salty seven layer bars are a perfect combination of everything I love–peanut butter chips, marshmallows, pretzels, nuts, chocolate, and a graham cracker crust. I know, I know–that’s only six layers, unless you count the condensed milk that holds it all together. Does it count as its own layer, or is it too dispersed throughout? Does it really matter? Because my stomach doesn’t seem to care whether these things have six layers, seven layers, or negative fourteen layers. They’re tasty, so I could care less what they’re called.
I’ve made (and failed at) seven layer bars enough times that I’ve come up with a list of rules for foolproof seven layer bars. I would call it my seven laws of seven layer bars, but even I have to groan at that, so… yeah, anyway:
1. Pre-bake the crust. Every time I don’t do this and just layer everything on top of the unbaked crust, I get a sticky mush on the bottom of my bars instead of a firm crust. Pre-baking is key!
2. Alternate dry and sticky ingredients. The one thing that every seven layer bar needs is enough stickiness so that they don’t fall apart when you’re cutting them. Layering dry things (like pretzels) in between gooey things (chocolate chips, marshmallows, etc.) helps with the cohesion of the whole bar.
3. Pour condensed milk on top of all ingredients. This ties in with the whole stickiness factor thing. My bars don’t turn out nearly as well when I pour the condensed milk right on top of the crust. Use the condensed milk like a glue and make sure it goes through all your layers for some extra hold factor.
4. Line the bottom of your pan with parchment paper. I found it to be a lot easier to get these out of the pan in one piece when I had some sort of lining on the bottom. This means you won’t need to dig out that one stubborn bar in the corner that just doesn’t want to come out, and increases your chances of having a nice, intact crust.
5. Cool completely before removing and cutting. You want your bars to be as set as possible before you cut them, to avoid that whole falling-apart thing. (Can you tell from this list what my main problem was in my many seven layer bar trials?)
6. Wherever possible, use less sugary ingredients. This is more of a preference thing, but man, these bars can get really sweet, especially with all that condensed milk poured on top. Semi-sweet chocolate chips, nuts, and pretzels really help balance these out for me.
7. Seven layer bars don’t need to have seven layers. I’m sure your tastebuds won’t be opposed to a bar that technically has only 6 layers (or one that has 8! yum).