There’s nothing quite like that moment when you sink your teeth into a warm chocolate brownie and taste the rich, fudgy goodness. Brownies are a form of traybake that can be either cakey or fudgy, depending on their density. Some brownies are made with nuts, cream cheese, frosting or chocolate chips. Everyone has their twist on baking brownies. But whether you like yours with or without nuts, on its own, accompanied by ice cream or topped with whipped cream, brownies are little squares of chocolate heaven.
While we can agree on its deliciousness, how much do you know about the origins of the humble brownie?
Origins of the brownie
Various theories surround the roots of the brownie. Some people believe it was first created in Boston when a woman planning to bake a chocolate cake didn’t add any baking powder to the mixture. As her chocolate cake didn’t rise, she decided to cut it and serve it in small flat pieces.
However, most people believe that the first brownie was created in 1893 when Bertha Palmer asked her chefs at Palmer House Hotel in Chicago to produce a sweet treat for the ladies attending the World Columbian Exposition. She wanted to give her female guests something smaller than a cake that was easier to eat. Her chefs came up with a brownie that contained twice the normal amount of chocolate you usually find in a brownie, along with walnuts and an apricot glaze. The brownies are still made at the hotel today. But while they likely resembled the brownies we know today, there’s no clear evidence to suggest the Palmer House Hotel brownies were called brownies.
So, no one truly knows who it was that first named them…
Early brownie recipes
The first-ever printed brownie recipe was published in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book. She had modified her cookie recipe so that people could bake it in a rectangular pan. But perhaps surprising to us today, Fannie’s version didn’t contain any chocolate, just molasses! At the time, it resembled a tea cake with the slightly chewy, dense texture of a blondie.
A year after Fannie’s recipe book, the 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalogue advertised brownies with an apricot jam glaze among crackers and biscuits. In 1898, the Kansas City Journal advertised chocolate brownies, believed to be the earliest reference to brownies and chocolate together.
Birth of the chocolate brownie
The first chocolate brownie recipe appeared in the Maine community cookbook, ‘Machias Cookbook’ in 1899. The recipe included flour, baking soda, milk, and chocolate, all the essential ingredients to make a brownie. In 1904, a cookbook published by The Club of Chicago featured a recipe for Bangor Brownies (Bangor is a town in Maine). A little while later, in 1906, Fannie Farmer updated her cookbook, which featured a blondie and a brownie recipe called brownies – baked in a 7-inch square tin.
As commercial confectioners were busy adding chocolate to their brownies, a brownie-baking revolution took place across American homes with a brand-new baked item containing chocolate and cut into strips or squares. Brownie recipes began spreading across North America and became a common household treat. Next, brownies eventually came to conquer the rest of the world – although the UK was a little slower to embrace the brownie. Today, you’ll find thousands of brownie recipes, each suggesting a different way to make the universally delicious baked confection!
While we may never entirely know the true origins of the brownie and how it got its name, this delicious chocolatey treat continues to be a favourite everywhere.