Saturday, December 8, 2012

LID: #History of the Brownie w/ Recipes

brownies...yawn...boooring by jeffreyw

December 8

National Brownie Day

Who can resist those yummy morsel filled chocolate brownies? Hmm, it makes me hungry just looking at the picture above. Brownies are a small cakes with a rich taste that are often made of chocolate. They can be served as dessert, for breakfast or as an afternoon treat. There are four types of brownies; Fudgelike, Cakelike, Chewy and Blondies. 

History of the Brownie
There are several stories surrounding the story of how the brownie came into existence. The earliest story claims a chef in Boston was making biscuits and mistakenly added chocolate. Another story claims he didn't have enough baking soda to make a cake so out come the brownie instead. 

The Palmer House Brownie was one of the earliest known brownie creations. During the 1893 Colombian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair, Mrs. Bertha Palmer asked her chef to create a ladie's dessert that was "easier to eat than a piece of pie, and a smaller serving than a slice of layer cake." She had wanted it to fit into the lunch boxes she and her friends would be using while visiting the fair. The chief created a brownie with an apricot glaze that is still being served at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. It is one of their most popular desserts. You can see the recipe here:

The first brownie recipe ever to be published was in the 1896 by Fannie Merritt Farmer in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. It was unique in that it called for molasses and not chocolate. Some people argue that this is not a true brownie because it does not contain chocolate. Here is that recipe:

Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896), page 424
Boston, Massachusetts

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup Porto Rico molasses
1 egg, well beaten
7/8 cup flour
1 cup pecan meats cut in pieces
Bake in small, shallow fancy cake tins, garnishing top of each cake with one-half pecan

To view other recipes from the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cookbook click on this link 
The Historical American Cookbook Project has made the entire cookbook available. 

In 1897, Sears Roebuck and Company published a brownie recipe in their catalogue. It was more of a cookie than a cake.  Here is that recipe.

1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) (226 grams) unsalted butter cut into pieces
6 large eggs 
2 cups (400 grams) granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Butter (or spray with a nonstick cooking spray) a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) pan. 
Melt the chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler over simmering water. Set aside. (Can also use a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan with simmering water.)
Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk (can use a hand mixer) together the eggs and sugar. Fold in the melted chocolate mixture and vanilla extract.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then fold into the chocolate and sugar mixture until well combined.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 - 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. These freeze very well. 
Makes 16 large brownies. 

In 1904, Home Cooking, released this brownie recipe, which is one of the first brownie recipes to be published with chocolate. 

Mildred Brown Schrumpf
The Bangor Brownie first made its appearance in the 1907 Lowney’s Cook Book Illustrated and written by Maria Willet Howard. It was published by the Walter M. Lowney Company of Boston. The origin of this type of brownie states that Mildred Brown Schrumpf, a housewife in Bangor, Maine had been baking a chocolate cake when she forgot to add the leavening agent to her cake thus the cake failed to rise. Instead of throwing the cake out she cut into squares and served it. The brownie was born. The recipe became popular and is still know to this day as a Bangor Brownie. Here is that recipe. 

While brownie recipes had been published throughout the early 20th century it wouldn't be until the 1920s when they would rise in popularity. Mass production had made chocolate and cocoa more affordable and available to the general public which allowed for the chocolate brownie growth in popularity. 

Before the chocolate brownie there was the blondie. Blondies are made like brownies except that they are made with butterscotch instead of chocolate. They weren't called blondies but had been called by a wide variety of names. Butterscotch is made by combining brown sugar/molasses and butter. During the19th century, cookbooks had recipes with the ingredients of traditional butterscotch combined with flour and baking soda/powder. Once baked it created a small cake much like our brownies today. 

Here is a link to an old fashion cookbook. You can try these 19th century recipes.

The 19th century may have given rise to our traditional blondie but their recipes are descended from the gingerbread cakes of the Renaissance.
15th century Gingerbread recipe found at

Now that you know a little about the history of brownies why don't you try making one of these earlier recipes. Which one looks delicious to you?

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