The Sweet, Mysterious History of Brownies
Brownies are an essential part of almost every American’s dessert menu. Fudgy, cakey, rich, decadent, all characteristics of a great brownie. We enjoy this chocolate delight in all of its modern iterations, with ice cream, in ice cream, and even in cookies. But where did this dessert get its start? Most say brownies made their debut around the end of the nineteenth century. A chocolatier by the name of Walter M. Lowney revealed what is believed to be the first American-made chocolate bars at the Colombian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. Some believe that this was the precursor to the beloved modern brownie. According to ushistroyscene.com, Mrs. Bertha Potter Palmer, a wealthy woman attending the exposition, asked her chef to create a chocolate dessert that could fit into a boxed lunch for people to eat while they were enjoying the exposition. This chef came up with something very similar to what we think of as a brownie today. Rich, fudgy, and full of chocolate, the brownie was born.
Brownies became wildly popular throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and well into the twenty-first century. An early recipe for brownies without using chocolate can be found in the 1896 first edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer:
Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1896, by Fannie Farmer
It could be disputed as to if brownies are really brownies if they have no chocolate, but if we’re going by texture alone, these were indeed brownies. This recipe uses molasses instead of chocolate, a staple of early American confections. In 1904, an unknown housewife in Bangor, Maine, accidentally invented “Bangor Brownies”. It is thought that she made slight error in a cake recipe, creating a denser cake than what was called for. Her accident was, however, a happy one. These signature brownies were branded “Bangor Brownies”, and the rest is history.
Lowney’s Cook Book, 1907
Throughout the twentieth century, bakers experimented with different variations on the brownie recipe. Creating cakey variations as well as dense, moist, and fudgy ones, and even adding other confections to the mix. Here's one from a 1950s economics class, found on browniesfordays.com:
1 cup softened butter
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate bar
1 1/4 cups of sifted all-purpose flour
(measure flour after sifting)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Optional: add 1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts.
dark chocolate can be used
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Use 13″ x 9″ pan, greased and floured
Bake 40-45 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Allow to cool in pan before slicing.
These brownies freeze very well, they will keep for months.
Makes 15 – 2 1/2″ square brownies
and heres a more recent one for a cheesecake brownie, from dinneratthezoo.com
For the brownie layer
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 1 3/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips divided use, do not use Nestle
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- cooking spray
For the cheesecake layer
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
It seems that the basic formula for making sweet, delicious brownies has overall remained the same, with a few tweaks here and there to give the treats a little flare and extra kick, as well as satisfy even the fiercest sweet tooth. Wherever brownies go next, if history teaches us anything, it's that they’re enjoyed by countless people, and they’re here to stay.