Necessity is the Mother of … Magic Oat Bars

I’m still in Asheville, North Carolina (and, yes, I am having a blast with my girlfriends!), but I wanted to share this “mainstream” gluten-free recipe—Magic Oat Bars—and how it came to be with you all.

I was driving home from work in semi-robot mode one day. Even though I wasn’t really taking in any of the scenery along the way, my monkey brain was in full effect (i.e., it was jumping around from one thought to the next.) Suddenly one thought jumped out at me and “woke” me up. It was Tuesday. I had promised to make a treat for Mr. GFE to take to his handbell group’s practice. I had completely forgotten. As soon as I entered our house and reached the kitchen, I surveyed the pantry to see what I could possibly make in the 35 minutes I had before Mr. GFE left.

I spied a can of sweetened condensed milk. I didn’t even remember the last time I’d used that ingredient in a recipe. (I think I had purchased it planning to make Dulche de Leche in the slow cooker per Stephanie’s directions.) I took a look at the can, turning it around to read the back of the label. There was the classic recipe for Magic Cookie Bars. I remembered that decadent dessert from years earlier. The first ingredient was graham cracker crumbs. Nope, I didn’t have any gluten-free graham crackers. I looked at the other ingredients in the recipe … butter, condensed milk, chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts. Yes, I had all of those. I scanned the pantry again. I saw my bag of gluten-free oats. Hmmm, I thought … maybe I could use oats instead of graham cracker crumbs. So, I did.

I simply substituted the raw rolled oats, measure for measure, in place of the graham cracker crumbs. Then I followed the rest of the instructions for layering the other ingredients and baking. Running out of time, I finally pulled the dish out of the oven. I had enough time to cut a small bar out of the corner to taste. (I just had to make sure the bars weren’t a total disaster before I sent Mr. GFE off with them.) The one I tried tasted terrific, but it was obvious that the bars still needed to set up more. However, now completely out of time, I handed the hot baking dish with potholders, spatula, and napkins to Mr. GFE and sent him on his way.

I waited for the verdict. When he returned and shared words of high praise and the empty pan to prove them, I breathed a happy sigh of relief. Then for a birthday luncheon at work, I signed on to make dessert and decided to test this recipe again. Again, the oats worked like a charm. Those in attendance raved over these bars and this time I got to enjoy more than a tiny corner bar. With their chewiness and the other ingredients, these bars taste similar to Samoa Girl Scout cookies (which, of course, are not gluten free). I don’t think I’ve met anyone yet who doesn’t love the taste of Samoas. These Magic Oat Bars were enjoyed so much that one of the birthday honorees even took the leftovers home with her.

Magic Oat Bars (also known as “New and Improved” Magic Cookie Bars)
(Click here for a printable version of this recipe.)

1 ½ cups certified gluten-free rolled oats (see notes below)
½ cup butter, melted
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (here’s a great dairy-free, refined sugar free, vegan sweetened condensed milk recipe)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (regular or minis)
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 13 x 9 baking dish.

In small bowl, combine oats and butter; mix well. Press mixture into bottom of baking dish. The results will still be somewhat “loose” and may not seem like a crust at all, but have faith.

Pour sweetened condensed milk over oat mixture.

Sprinkle semi-sweet chocolate chips evenly over all.

Sprinkle flaked coconut evenly over all.

Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over all.

Press down firmly with a spatula across entire surface.

Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

Cut into bars. Store at room temperature.

Adapted from the recipe on back of Borden’s Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk

Shirley’s Notes: I always use GFCO-certified gluten-free rolled oats (like Gifts of Nature or Cream Hill Estates Lara’s Rolled Oats); see additional info on other brands of safe oats in this post with a recipe for flourless oatmeal cookies. I think the rolled oats contribute to the chewiness and “structure” of these bars. I’m not sure if a more refined oat product will work. (If you try steel cut or “quick” oats, let us know how they work out.) I used sweetened coconut flakes because that’s what I had on hand. Using unsweetened coconut flakes will lower the sweetness quotient a bit, but I’m sure the resulting bars would still taste just fine. For nuts in this recipe, I’ve used both walnuts and pecans with success. Last, I’d like to play around with this recipe in the future and try coconut oil and coconut milk to make a healthier and dairy-free version.

While these Magic Oat Bars are not health food by any stretch of the imagination, they are healthier than the traditional ones, and they are—without a doubt—delicious. Please give them a try and see what you think. Oh, and if you do want to try the traditional Magic Cookie Bars recipe that uses graham crackers crumbs, I have a solution for you there, too. Some of my best blogging buddies have successfully made gluten-free graham crackers. Take your pick from the recipes below:

Amy (Simply Sugar & Gluten Free)

Lauren (Celiac Teen)

Alta (Tasty Eats At Home)

Brian (Fire and Salt)

Shauna (Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef)

However you choose to make your bars, enjoy!

Not just gf, but gfe!

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays, Foodie Friday, and Food on Fridays, and Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays.

Not just gf, but gfe!

Full Disclosure/Disclaimer: This post may contain one or more affiliate links. If you purchase through them, your cost will always be the same, but I will receive a small commission. Thanks for the support! Read the full disclaimer here.


53 Responses to “Necessity is the Mother of … Magic Oat Bars”

  1. christina on April 10th, 2010 1:54 am

    Thanks, Shirly! My kids love these bars but I’ve never made them because of the sugar and now gluten. I’m printing the recipe. When I get over this cold, I’ll try them out. I’d like to try the dairy free version too. Any ideas for subing out the condensed milk with coconut milk? Would you just use the cream on top?

    Thanks too for lising all the graham cracker recipes. That is so helpful. I love it when bloggers give lists like that! And lastly, I too played handbells when I was in collage. I think they are so pretty. We don’t have a handbell choir at the church I go to now, but I still enjoy listening to them when I get a chance.

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:28 am

      Hi christina–Oh, you’re welcome, dear. With the sweetened condensed milk in these bars, there’s plenty of “sugar” in them as shown. So it will be fun to try to make this recipe much healthier the next go round. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out the substitutions for the condensed milk yet. I’ll post an updated recipe when I do though.

      Happy to share the genius of my fellow gluten-free bloggers! I love that there are always different recipes among our network so that everyone can find one that suits their particular needs. :-)

      Handbells are really lovely. It’s wonderful that you played and still get to listen to them sometimes. :-) If you ever get an opportunity to hear a professional group play, be sure to do so. They amaze with their talent and repertoire. Mr. GFE and I heard the Raleigh Ringers play once. It was a treat far beyond our expectations. For example, they played Queens’ Bohemian Rhapsody beautifully. Beyond Phenomenal.


      • christina on April 12th, 2010 10:33 am

        I made these yesterday for our church group and they were a hit! I used coconut cream (the top part of the coconut milk in a can) and added a swirl of agave nectar to sweeten. I also used unsweetened coconut flakes. I did use butter because my kids can tolerate that so they weren’t totally dairy free. But they were good!

        • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 11:10 am

          christina–This is fabulous news!!! I’m thrilled that you came back and told us about your success here at gfe! For our dairy-free folks, I think coconut oil or non-dairy butter will work with the oats for the crust. If you post your version on your blog, please let me know so I can update my post and link back to you! Again, great news and thanks so much for sharing. :-)


  2. Erin Elberson on April 10th, 2010 7:07 am

    These sound great Shirley!
    I think I’ll try these in a couple weeks after my show-would be a lovely treat! I’ll give the coconut oil a try. I know I have fat free condensed milk in the pantry for key lime pie, so I’ll use that methinks :)

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:30 am

      Hi Erin–I’ll be looking forward to your rendition! I’m a little behind on what’s happening with you, but all the best for your show. :-)


  3. Aubree Cherie on April 10th, 2010 7:16 am

    These look de-lish! :)

    ~Aubree Cherie

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:30 am

      Hi Aubree–Thank you, my dear! :-) Happy Monday!


  4. Iris on April 10th, 2010 12:20 pm

    They taste like samoas?! I miss girl scout cookies! Yum! Way to come up with something in a pinch…

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:32 am

      Hi Iris–I know … I think we all miss GS cookies. There was just something fun about having those cookies once a year … and then being done with them. LOL I think when I come up with the healthier version that you’ll want to give these a try. ;-)


  5. Kim on April 10th, 2010 7:35 pm

    These bars look so yummy!!

    Samoas were my fav Girl Scout Cookie!!


    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:34 am

      Hi Kim–Thank you! :-) You are not alone … I think Samoas came out as the top favorite in the whole country. ;-)


  6. Wheatless Foodie on April 10th, 2010 9:39 pm

    Great idea to use oats. These bars also work well with crushed gluten free cereal for a base.


    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:45 am

      Hi Cindy–Welcome to gfe! :-) Yes, Crushed gf cereal would work well, too, I’m sure. And failed baked goods often make great cookie crumb crusts for pies or treats like these. ;-)

      Not sure if I’ve visited your blog, Wheatless Foodie, before. I’ll check it out!


  7. Anali on April 11th, 2010 12:45 pm

    I’ll be looking forward to hearing more about your trip! I hear a lot about Asheville lately. It seems to be full of all sorts of fun creative types. Have fun! ; )

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:51 am

      Anali–Asheville is a fabulous place! I think this was our best trip yet. The laid-back attitude and creativity in Asheville totally delight! I’ll have a trip report soon. I won’t wait months like I did for my Key West trip report … promise. ;-)


  8. Chaya on April 11th, 2010 8:51 pm

    Hi, I read this delicious recipe and wish hubby ate oats.

    Have a fantastic time. We will visit again, upono your return.

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 7:53 am

      Hey Chaya–As Cindy commented, you could use crushed gf cereal and really any cookie crumbs would work. I always save “failed” cookies or treats in the freezer to make cookie crumbs. I don’t have failures often, but occasionally when I’m experimenting, some recipes don’t make the grade. ;-)


  9. Kelly on April 12th, 2010 11:31 am

    Shirley, What a great story! You go girl! I’m sure you are reading my mind right now, and know that I am thinking, “hmm… would they work with coconut milk?” haha. Also wondering if they would work with quinoa flakes. I may have to try that because I am currently out of oats. Anyway, yours are divine! XOXO, Kelly

    • Shirley on April 12th, 2010 11:36 am

      Hey Kelly!–Thank you, my dear!! Read christina’s comment above … she’s already done the hard work for us! She used the coconut cream from a can of coconut milk and agave. I bet quinoa flakes would be great in place of oats. I really think that once one “takes the plunge” that it’s a very adaptable recipe. ;-) Can’t wait to hear what combination you come up with! :-)

      xoxo …

  10. Alta on April 12th, 2010 3:11 pm

    Oh no, I happen to have ALL of the ingredients on hand. Must…forget…about…magic…oat…bars…! These are one of my favorite goodies (the gluten-y version) and I am excited that you have a GF version too!

    • Shirley on April 13th, 2010 8:43 am

      Hi Alta–I’m wondering if you’ll resist the magic ;-) or succumb, but make a healthier version like Christina and Kelly did. I’ll be waiting to hear. :-)


  11. Chelsey on April 12th, 2010 5:33 pm

    These look really, really good Shirley. I like how you describe your ‘monkey brain” scenario. lol! I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve done the same thing…And look what you manage to produce under pressure! I can see this becoming a go-to recipe: simple, real ingredients, and satisfying!

    • Shirley on April 13th, 2010 8:45 am

      Hi Chelsey–Thanks, dear! Sometimes quieting the monkey brain seems like a full-time job, doesn’t it? That’s when I know I need some quiet time. I’ve become more adventurous in cooking/baking over the years and that experimentation has resulted in some great new recipes (with surprisingly few flops). Hope you’ll enjoy the recipe or your version of it! :-)


  12. Kelly on April 12th, 2010 6:44 pm

    Done, and still licking my lips! ;-) Thank you! Love, Kelly

    • Shirley on April 13th, 2010 10:36 pm

      Hey Kelly–Commented on your blog, but forgot to reply here. What an awesome job you did with your version of gf/cf/sf cookie bars! :-)


  13. Lynn on April 13th, 2010 10:13 pm

    I love this idea. I have made regular magic bars many times, but have not since I have been gluten free. I am going to have to try this by adapting my magic bar recipe. Thank you!

    • Shirley on April 13th, 2010 10:39 pm

      Hi Lynn–So many former favorites can still be enjoyed gluten free … sometimes we just have to think about them differently. And, sometimes they turn out even better than the original, as is the case for this recipe IMHO. Can’t wait to see and read about your upcoming version! :-)


  14. Jenn on April 14th, 2010 4:24 pm

    OMG these look like the most perfect candy. I have not been able to find gluten free oats yet, I wonder if I could use quinoa flakes if that would work ok too?

    • Shirley on April 14th, 2010 4:54 pm

      Hey Jenn–Thanks! :-) If you read the comments above, you’ll see that Kelly made an awesome gf/df/sf version using quinoa flakes instead of oats here. So you should be good to go! I’ll keep my fingers crossed … please report back.


  15. Linda on April 15th, 2010 9:48 pm

    Your bars look delicious. I haven’t made these in a while, but I think now I’m might put them on my short list of things to make. Thanks for linking up.

    • Shirley on April 16th, 2010 7:07 am

      Hi Linda–Thanks! They really are scrumptious. We have another birthday luncheon on Monday at work and I’m thinking that they were so well received last time, that I’ll make them again … or maybe a new variation. ;-) Love Gluten-Free Wednesdays … thanks so much for hosting! :-)


  16. Nancy on July 2nd, 2010 7:18 pm

    I have been trying to find a recipe that is good like a granola bar – but without a lot of fat.
    I like this recipe, but I think I will try cooked GF steel oats with coconut oil to hold the crust together. I have been using a lot of almond meal instead of gf flours. I may use both oatmeals and some almond meal with the other ingredients.
    I find things don’t set unless I freeze them…

    • Shirley on July 2nd, 2010 7:23 pm

      Hi Nancy–Welcome to gfe! As I’m trying to eat dairy free all the time, I love your coconut oil idea. :-) I’m not sure about using cooked oats as I’m wondering if they’ll be too dry from being cooked twice in effect. I like the idea of oatmeal and almond meal. And, as far as freezing, I know that a lot of folks have to at least refrigerate when using coconut oil. All that said, I’ll really look forward to your version—keep us posted and best of luck! :-)


  17. Meghan on August 23rd, 2010 3:11 pm

    These were wonderful! Other than the oats, butter, and milk, I simply sprinkled the rest of the toppings on, adding less than the recipe provided (so I can pretend they are “better” for me) and they turned out perfect. Crispy around the edges, creamy and chewy in the center. Perfect for my sugar fix (which is…always). I would love to try them with butterscotch chips–I imagine them tasting like oatmeal scotchies.

    • Shirley on August 23rd, 2010 3:45 pm

      Hi Meghan–It looks like you are new here–welcome! :-) And, thanks so much for the feedback! I like your “better for you” variation … most of us need that sugar fix and a “better for us” variation. ;-)

      I agree on the idea of oatmeal scotchie bars; they would certainly be tasty! Just be sure to verify the gluten-free status of your butterscotch chips. Last I checked, the Nestle butterscotch chips were not gluten free (they contain barley).

      Thanks so much for the great feedback! Please let us know if you find some gluten-free butterscotch chip and try the oatmeal scotchie version. :-)


  18. Meghan on August 23rd, 2010 5:21 pm

    Hershey’s butterscotch chips are gluten free, thank goodness! I will let you all know how they are :)

    • Shirley on August 23rd, 2010 5:42 pm

      Hi again, Meghan–I thought I had heard that a while back, but couldn’t remember for sure. Thanks so much for confirming! Look forward to your future OSB report. ;-)


  19. Traycie Mitchell on October 5th, 2011 11:05 pm

    I just made these bars but substituted boxed GF Brownie mix for the Oats. I cooked the brownies for 10 minutes then followed the rest of directions. They are AMAZING!!!!

    • Shirley on October 5th, 2011 11:40 pm

      Hi Traycie–It looks like you are new here—welcome to gfe! :-) I’m so excited that you were able to adapt my bars and had such wonderful results! Thanks for taking the time to share your success! Hope to see you here again, and hope that you will find more great recipes that you enjoy.


  20. Shannon Brown on November 20th, 2011 6:03 pm

    My husband has been asking for these so I was happy to find this recipe. (People call them Hello Dolly Bars here for some reason.)I made them with GF quick cooking oats because that’s what I had and it worked fine. The look on his face when he took the first bit said it all. I took those he let out of his sight to a church potluck and they were happily eaten.

    • Shirley on November 27th, 2011 7:45 pm

      Hi Shannon–Yikes, I just found your comment … so sorry! I’m thrilled that you made your husband happy with these bars. :-) They’re one of our faves for sure. ;-) Now that you mention it, I think I have heard them called Hello Dolly bars. There are so many names for all of our favorites, it seems. It’s always fun to be reminded of the ones we don’t use ourselves. I’m happy that your hubby let you take some to the church potluck anyway.

      Thanks for the review, Shannon! It’s much appreciated. :-)

  21. Kassia on October 15th, 2012 4:22 pm

    I know this recipe was posted awhile ago, but I just popped it in the oven so I wanted to comment. I made the bars with coconut oil and coconut milk. I cooked down a can of coconut milk until it measured about a cup, then I added a tablespoon of honey to the milk before I poured it over the oats. I also used unsweetened coconut, so I sprinkled the coconut with about a tablespoon of coconut sugar before I put the nuts on (I used slivered almonds). I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

    • Shirley on October 16th, 2012 11:00 am

      Hey there, Kassia!–I love your changes. I’d use an alternative to condensed milk now myself, so I really like reading about how you made these bars dairy free. ;-) Please share your taste test results with us!


      • Kassia on October 28th, 2012 9:41 pm

        I forgot to come back to tell you how the bars turned out! They were really good! They were a little soft if I kept them at room temperature,we had to eat them with a fork, but they still tasted great that way! ;) When I refrigerated them they held together so we could pick them up and eat them as a bar.

        • Shirley on October 29th, 2012 6:12 pm

          Hey Kassia–Thanks so much for coming back to let us know about your experience. I’m glad they were good either way! I wonder if adding a tiny bit of coconut flour would make a difference. It might just absorb enough moisture to make them firmer. Will have to remember to try that for one of my support group meetings, so I’ll have folks around to help me eat them. ;-)

          Thanks again, dear!

  22. Marge on September 10th, 2013 9:54 am

    This sounds wonderful!! I have been trying to find a replacement for graham cracker crumbs in my bar recipe. I will make them today and let you know how they turn out.

    • Shirley on September 10th, 2013 12:31 pm

      Hi Marge–Welcome to gfe! :-) I’m so happy my substitution ingredient might be the answer for you as well. ;-) I look forward to your follow-up report! Fingers crossed! ;-)


  23. Janet Staten on September 15th, 2013 12:38 pm

    I’d like to make these and substitute canned coconut milk instead of sweetened condensed milk that has so much sugar in it. Who knows, it might work!

    • Shirley on September 15th, 2013 12:51 pm

      Hi Janet–Welcome to gfe! :-) Nice to see you come over from my gfe Facebook page! Unfortunately, I don’t think that canned coconut milk will work unless you open a can (or use a can opener to make holes in the top) and leave it a few hours in the fridge to thicken to a consistency of sweetened condensed milk (but not as thick as coconut cream). A better option would be to use a recipe for sweetened condensed milk that uses non-refined sugar. I’ve updated the recipe to include the link to a really great recipe for homemade sweetened condensed milk that uses coconut milk and non-refined sugar. Whatever you try, good luck though! And please report back, of course. :-)


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