There is one thing that I truly associate with the holidays. It’s not eggnog or peppermint or gingerbread, although all of those things carry their holiday nostalgia as well. No; for me, the most Christmasy thing I can imagine is my late grandmother’s Hello Dollies.
Once a year, every year, when Christmas rolls around, I break out her handwritten recipe on a faded note card and bake up a batch of these nostalgic treats. Like most handed-down recipes, the instructions are rather vague. And yet, I’ve never once messed them up. It’s almost as if I have her spirit to guide me through.
It’s strange how that little note card seems so fragile. It is from another time and place entirely, and to hold it in my hands feels slightly surreal. It is as if I must handle it with the greatest care or risk it shattering in the palm of my hands. Every time I look at it, I envy my grandmother’s perfect, dainty handwriting (mine is all over the place). Unlike a recipe from a random cookbook or website, it feels as if she’s actually speaking to me. I can see her in her kitchen, many years ago, preparing these beloved cookies for my father and his brother, who to this day cannot get enough of them. It’s slightly eerie, but a special experience indeed. No matter how fancy or impressive a cookbook is, it will never come close to the special feeling of following a hand-written family recipe.
I have written the recipe more coherently below for your benefit, but I hope you’ll remember to thank my late grandmother when you taste these. A Hello Dolly, in the most simple terms, is a layered bar cookie. But, my little cookies, it is so much more than that. You begin with a buttery graham cracker crust and build upon it with shredded coconut, milk chocolate chips, and walnuts. Then, a blanket of indulgent sweetened condensed milk tucks in all the delicious layers, acting as a sweet binder. Finally, you bake these beauteous bars until golden brown. After you let ’em cool and slice ’em up, you’re left with ooey gooey, chocolaty, nutty heaven like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.
Although this recipe yields such impressive results, it is about as basic as basic gets. You use two of everything: two cups of coconut, two cups of walnuts, two cups of graham cracker crumbs, two sticks of butter, two cans of sweetened condensed milk, and two cups of chocolate chips (although I usually wind up using about three cups when it come to the chocolate). And you really don’t have to put forth much effort; you just layer it up and toss it in the oven. Allow me to channel my inner Ina Garten and inquire, “How easy is that?”
These bars are cosmically good; they’re out of this world. It’s one of those deals where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (although the sum of its parts is pretty bangin’ to begin with). If you make these chewy, chocolaty, coconuty treats, I guarantee they’ll become apart of your family Christmas too.
Say “hello” to the Hello Dolly, and you will never, ever want to say goodbye.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- If we’re being completely honest, you really don’t need measurements for this. All you have to do is cover the pan in an even layer with each component, and you are golden.
- These freeze fabulously. 3-4 weeks is the norm, but my uncle claims to still have some in his freezer from last Christmas, which are supposedly fine.
- You can use dark or semi-sweet chocolate if you wish, but I think milk chocolate is so luscious, creamy, and perfect in these bars.
- Don’t leave out the nuts. My sister always forces me to make a nut-free batch for her, and they don’t come out the same. They overcook and the texture is different. Plus, you’re missing a whole layer!
Recipe by The Smart Cookie Cook
- Two sticks of butter (1 cup), melted
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 2 cups shredded coconut
- 2-2 ½ cups milk chocolate chips (depending on how chocolaty you want it)
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- 2 14-oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Pour the butter into a baking sheet. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs in an even layer over top, followed by the coconut, the chocolate chips, and the walnuts.
- Evenly drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over top, making sure to reach the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the temperate down to 325 and bake for an addition 10-15 min. or until golden brown and bubbling.
- Let cool. Before completely set, cut into squares and refrigerate.
Hello Dollies are very near and dear to me. They’re my father’s favorite, dating all the way back to when he was a kid, and continuing to be delicious to this day. If there’s one cookie you should make this Christmas, it’s a Hello Dolly!