How Hello Dolly Bars Got Their Funny and Magical Name
One of the first items to sell out at my school’s bake sale were the Hello Dollys. I always figured they were so popular because they had something for everyone—chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, graham crackers, sometimes a pecans or walnuts, but they aren’t necessary. The ingredients are all layered in a pan, doused in sweetened condensed milk, and baked to gooey perfection. All those sugary delights combined into one gloriously tasty bite making them the perfect way to sate a sweet tooth.
It wasn’t until years later, at a different bake sale that I realized not everyone called them Hello Dollys. Some people call them coconut dream bars, others opt for magic bars, which I thought was due to their magic flavor, but is perhaps because of their nearly effortless recipe. Other people call them seven layer bars as a reference to their seven layers of flavor. Sweetened Condensed Milk maker Eagle Brand gives them the rather long but inclusive name of Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars. Truth be told, those names all make a lot more sense than Hello Dollys, a name that admittedly has nothing to do with the bars themselves. So where did that name come from?
Turns out that it’s a bit of a mystery, but there’s one origin story that gets passed around the internet quite a bit. That story says that the recipe became popular in the mid-1960s around the same time as when Carol Channing was starring in the musical Hello Dolly! on Broadway. According to the website of Barry Popik, who is a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary and is considered an expert on the origin of words, the name was inspired by the Broadway show.
Popik and a blogger-turned-internet sleuth both seem to agree that the recipe with the Hello Dolly name attached was introduced to the public in Clementine Paddleford’s food column in The Week magazine on September 19, 1965. Paddleford featured a recipe shared by 11-year-old Alecia Leigh Couch, of Dallas, which she had learned from her grandmother. The recipe included the now familiar combination of graham cracker crumbs, flaked coconut, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and condensed milk. The name was reportedly Alecia’s idea.
Popik notes, however, that the Evening News of Ada, Oklahoma, may have beat them to the punch, though, by publishing a similar recipe for Hello Dolly Cookies on July 22, 1965. Or perhaps it was all thanks to Gail Borden, whose company put a magic bar recipe on the back of its Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, the Kentucky News Enterprise reports. What either cookie or cake had to do with the Broadway musical is a mystery.
Whatever name these magical bars go by, they are delicious. So, call them anything you want, just don’t call them sold out.