Looking for the perfect Memorial Day BBQ dessert?  The chocolate brownie is the answer!

Just like the chocolate chip cookie, the brownie is another “All American” dessert conceived right here in these United States.  There are several accounts of who indeed was its mastermind.  But all roads lead to the fact that it originated right here in the USA.

The earliest account takes us back to 1893 to the kitchen of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago.  The Columbian Exposition was being held in the windy city at that time.  Bertha Palmer herself asked that her chef compose a dessert that would not require a fork, yet still be ladylike to eat as part of a lunchbox meal for women at the exposition. He answered with chocolate treat very similar to today’s brownie but with less chocolate, more sugar and an apricot glaze.  It was an instant crowd pleaser and it is called “The Palmer House Brownie” to this day.

The word brownie represented a pixie like creature popular in Scottish and English folklore.  It seemed vogue at that time for people to name things after the brownie. There were teams dubbed browns or brownies, social groups named after brownies, and in 1900, Kodak debuted the brownie camera, utilizing the elfin image. So why not a dessert - if one reflects upon it, what better name for the short little chocolate cake than one that conjures up the adorable little brownie elf?

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there are advertisements of “Brownies for Sale” in a number of newspapers, but some may have been molasses candies.  The brownie is also credited to the famous Fannie Merritt Farmer.  A recipe appears in “The 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book”.  The recipe contained no chocolate but rather molasses that gave it its brown color and hence the name “brownie”.

Then, simultaneously very similar recipes for brownies appear in 1904 in a cookbook in Laconia, New Hampshire and Chicago, Illinois and then again in the Boston Globe in 1905. The dessert recipe emanating from Chicago was printed with the name “The Bangor Brownie”.  All the recipes added chocolate and walnuts.

To add to the riddle, there was one Walter M. Lowney who owned a successful chocolate shop in Boston since 1897. He was born in Bangor Maine.  In 1907 the Walter M. Lowney Chocolate Company published a cookbook with a recipe for a brownie composed by Maria Willet Howard who had been trained by Fannie Farmer.  Howard added more chocolate to her recipe and her cakes were also called the Bangor Brownies.  Perhaps the brownie made from Lowney cookbook recipe had been in existence at the sweet shop before 1905, but compiled into their cookbook only after the Chicago Bangor Brownie recipe gained notoriety.

The roaring twenties was the time that the very chocolaty dense brownie we know today was developed.  The feel good factor of chocolate was certainly appropriate for the climate of the flapper era.  As the twentieth century progressed, people took liberties with the brownie and began adding different nuts, chocolate bits, marshmallows and the like.

Here at The Chocolate Goddess we take a moment to pay tribute to the ingenious American pastry chefs who devised and developed the brownie and to those who continue to reinvent this decadent and glorious dessert.

Later this week, one of our own chocolate brownie recipes just in time for your Memorial Day celebration!

-Barbara Esatto, The Chocolate Goddess