Friday, November 30

Hello Dolly Cookies and Memories of Christmas in the Basement

Spending countless hours trapped in a cold, dimly lit basement -- that's what I remember about Christmas.

In fact, it's my favorite memory of Christmas. I don't remember gifts I gave or received (except for my pink Huffy bike in 1979), but I do remember making Christmas cookies with my mom, which we did together for 20 years. Each year, it was a massive project that began in the market, moved to the kitchen, and was completed in the basement.

After numerous trips to the grocery store to buy obscene amounts of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and chocolate, we would bake for 4-5 days straight, making about 2,000 cookies (that is not hyperbole).

Everyone got a tray of our cookies, including the paper boy. It got to the point that people would make special requests of my mom: please put more biscotti or pignoli cookies on their tray.

My mom never complained; she had the patience of a saint. Even when I added baking soda instead of baking powder (which I did) or dropped eggs down the front of the refrigerator (did that too), she never yelled. She always said something like, "That's alright, honey. It can be cleaned up." Then we would start the recipe over again.

By day three we were dwarfed by stacks of cookies. By day four my mom would begin fretting: “How will we ever get them all done?” Somehow we always did.

After we finished whipping and rolling and sprinkling, we took the finished cookies into the basement and started an assembly line on our old air hockey table. I assembled the trays, mom wrapped them in cellophane, then we'd decorate them with ribbons and name tags.

We would laugh and sing Christmas carols along with Bing and Frank and Rosemary on the radio. We did this till our backs ached and our feet swelled, then we did it some more, fueled by eating the occasional defective pepper biscuit or fig bar that did not make the cut.

My mom still bakes Christmas cookies, but on a much smaller scale. She even FedExes our favorites to us when we can't make it home for Christmas.

My all-time favorite Christmas cookie is the chewy, gooey, chocolately, nutty Hello Dolly. They're ridiculously easy to make (about 10 minutes to assemble and 30 to bake) and guaranteed to please.

They are my first entry for Eat Christmas Cookies. You may submit as many holiday cookie recipes as you'd like by December 24th, (preferably before December 17th so others have a chance to make them).

Click here to see the delicious submissions and here for details on how to participate.

Since a decorative tin filled with Hello Dollies beats the heck out of a sweater, consider giving them for a holiday gift. I'm submitting this to Zlamushka's Spoonful of Christmas, a festive event that asks you to share edible holiday gifts.

Hello Dolly Cookies (also known as Magic Bars)
Print recipe only here.

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham crackers (about 8 crackers), ground in a food processor
1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 325 degrees F if you're using a glass baking dish.

Melt butter in a small saucepan on the stove top.

Place graham crackers in a processor and pulse until they become crumbly. Combine them with the melted butter and place in an 8 X 8 baking dish, patting the crumb mixture down evenly with your hands. Layer the chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts on top of the graham cracker mix. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the entire mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is light brown.

Let cool completely before slicing.

Note: To make slicing the cookies easier, put the cooled baking dish into the refrigerator until slightly chilled. (Thanks, Mom!) Cut into bars or small squares (having a ruler isn't a bad idea). For Christmas trays, my mom places them in those miniature tinfoil coated cookie wrappers--they look festive and won't stick together that way.

Hello Dolly cookie bars are wonderfully versatile. Here are some delicious examples:

Valentina's recipe features a custard.
Lisa's includes cinnamon graham crackers and pecans.
Deb's recipe includes butterscotch chips.

By the way, if you haven't seen them yet, check out the editors' favorite holiday cookie recipes at Just seeing those gorgeous pictures gets me in the mood to bake!

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Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Those bars look gorgeous! Scrumptious to please!



T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Those bar cookies are THE BEST! You are the all-time champion Christmas Cookie Elf, Susan!

Andrea said...

Ok, I can't even imagine making thousands of Christmas cookies all at once! You all were a dedicated bunch!

We make these cookies every year because they are easy for my boys to make. My husband calls them Seven Layer Cookies, but I've always known them as Magic Bars.

Patricia Scarpin said...

These are wonderful, Susan!
They sounds easy to put together, look delicious and wrapped in that beautiful box... Irresistible!

Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

What do you suggest for someone who can't find graham crackers?? Substitution?

Scribbit said...

We call these Seven Layer Bars. Unimaginative. I like Hello Dollies better.

Anonymous said...

That's a nice childhood Christmas memory to have. And 2000 cookies? Wow! That's some baking stamina.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Rosa- Ooh, thanks!

T.W.- Aw, shucks. Thanks. I hope Santa sees your comment.

Andrea- Huh, I've never heard them called Seven Layer Cookies before. And they are kid-friendly to make and to eat!

Patricia-Thanks! Like I said, better than a sweater.

Sara- I think crushed gingersnaps or ginger cookies would be good. Or perhaps some type of wafer-cookies, like vanilla or chocolate Wafers. I saw on the internet that digestive biscuits could work too, though I've never eaten them. Hope this helps. And believe it or not, you can bake your own graham crackers--look--

Michelle-I like Hello Dollies better too. :)

Julie-Yeah, we're pretty tough.;)

Nupur said...

What lovely memories, Susan! I can picture you packing cookies busily, looking carefully for the "defective" one :)
Those bar cookies remind me of "nanaimo bars" that my aunt makes. So delicious.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I'd actually heard the name Hello Dolly Cookies somewhere, but never knew what they were. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

zlamushka said...

2000 cookies just for Christmas every year ? Hats off. You must know a bit about cookies by now...
Thank you so much for participating, I really enjoyed reading your entry. I have also updated my event calender with Eat Christmas Cookie, so you ll hear from me soon :-)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

So many cookies Susan! So much work! So much love!! The perfect formula for an incredible memory.
The cookies look wonderful, the box beautiful. What a treat!

Deeba PAB said...

memories of happy days long gone nice to read about them. It was like a movie as I read it...right from the broken eggs, the paper boy, the stacks of cookies, people with special requests! MAGIC!! Bless your Mom with the patience of a saint. I'm the devil in disguise when I have large numbers of cookies to deal with!! Lovely cookies & sweet name...Hello Dolly!!

Mandy said...

thanks for sharing your Christmas memory. Can I give your mum my address too? ;p

Katie Zeller said...

What a wonderful Christmas memory - and way to celebrate! I used to bake and give away lots but my French neighbors aren't that receptive and they then feel obligated to do something in return (it's a French thing, they can't be 'beholden')...
Anyway, I won't be doing my cookies until the weekend of the 20th...can I submit recipes with no pics?!?!?

Anonymous said...

Hi Food Blogga! This is such a heart warming story. I used to bake with my mom (on the East Coast too) but now live on the West Coast and don't bake much anymore. Thank you for the memories. I'll be back to see all the cookie recipes too!

Ann said...

Oh man... this is still one of my favorite cookie bars in the universe. Great photos and story!

Ann at Redacted Recipes

Anonymous said...

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Eva Maryam

Nora B. said...

Hi Susan,
Aren't moms the best? So patient and understanding. I baked with my mom for the festive season unless I was overseas (which I am now). She can't even post me some cookies because of the quarantine laws in Australia :-(

These cookie do look so yummy and also quick to make. Thanks for sharing.


Susan from Food Blogga said...

Nupur-How did you know I searched for the defective ones? ;)

Lydia-Oh, Lydia, you've got to make these with your grandkids.

Zlamushka-Thanks! I'm excited over receiving your entry too!

Tanna-What a lovely comment. Thank you.

Deeba-Oh, what a sweet comment. Many thanks.

Mandy-Only if you're really, really nice to her. :)

Katiez-You have until the 24th to send them with pics. Of course, I'm happy to accept entries with or without pics. I just asked for the 17th so people could have a chance to make them if they wanted. :)

Anonymous-That's wonderful to hear. Thank you!

Ann-Another woman with good taste. :)

Eva-Your thoughtful comment means so much to me. Thanks for taking the time to let me know how you enjoy my blog.

Nora B-Quarantine laws? I'm glad to hear you have those wonderful memories though.

linda said...

Somehow my rssowl doesn't work ok with your site...only got this one today?! Anyway...
WOW! Your mum is a real baking machine! 1000 cookies! Wow!
Have to try the hello dolly cookies, I love anything with chocolate and/or sweetened condensed milk!

Deborah Dowd said...

With work and shopping and decorating and wrapping, it seems that cookies are the thing that get left till the last minute, but your event and seeing other's traditional cookies have put me in the mood. I am thinking maybe I will make some each weekend and freeze so they will still be here by Christmas week! Thanks for getting me up off my Kitchenaid!

Mishmash ! said...

Oh Susan, how sweet and romantic ...your title got me in and I was picturising each and every details.....I wish I was there with you & ur mom, in ur kitchen....I love preparing X'mas trays....after all that baking and frying, seeing the tray filled with all goodies is a real gratifying feeling.....I will send in my cookies too soon :)


Susan from Food Blogga said...

Linda-I don't know why that keeps happening?! You'll love the Hello Dollies. Trust me.

Deborah-Happy to be of service. :)

Shn-It was gratifying. I'll be awaiting your delicious submission. :)

Julie said...

Great post! I've never made these before (and I'm wondering why it's "Hello Dolly"). I'm definitely planning on contributing some cookies soon.

Meeta K said...

These look spectacular Susan! I love the ingredients you have combined I can imagine them to be chewy and simply delish!

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

Unknown said...

Hi Susan.

I remember the first time I had these cookied - it's like moment frozen in time. I was 19 and at a holiday reception after our Christmas Recital...I stood perfectly still next to the cookie table wondering if anyone would notice if I shoved a whole bunch of them into a napkin, for snacking later!...I told a friend about them, and after the Christmas break, her grandmother sent her back to college with a whole tray of them just for me!

I've been making them for almost 20 years now and always get compliments, except.....the version I'm familiar with is called 7 Layer Cookies and it includes 1 cup of butterscotch chips as well as all the other ingredients you mention. If you've never tried this variation, I highly recommend it!


Susan from Food Blogga said...


What a great friend and grandma! They are addictive, indeed. You know, you're the second person to recommend butterscotch chips, so next year, I'm giving them a try. Thanks for the note, and happy new year!

Nancy Walker said...


My recipe includes mini marshmallows before the sweetened condensed milk.