What’s your fancy – brownie points, an old camera, or ugly mythical creatures that love to clean house at night?
They’re all brownies but not the yummy chocolate treat we love today. Americans chow down 1.4 billion edible brownies a year in different flavors, shapes, and sizes.
Where did it begin? In the case of brownies no one knows for sure. Fortunately, fiction is often more fun than fact. Which brings us to the question – were brownies a mistake, an accident, or a special treat for wealthy, turn-of-the-nineteenth-century ladies?
Let’s start with a mistake and an accident.
Chocolate was very popular in the nineteenth century. Many people believe that an absent-minded chef was mixing batter for a cake and mistakenly left out the flour. Oops. Others say a housewife was out of baking powder and accidently ended up with “flattened cakes” that her guests loved. In both cases, the results were delicious, unplanned fudgy confections.
The most popular story comes from celebrated socialite Bertha Palmer (see below). Bertha was married to Potter Palmer, a business tycoon who, on their wedding day, gave her the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago (now a Hilton Hotel). Nice gift.
In 1893 Bertha wanted to do something special for the wealthy ladies attending the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. She asked her pastry chef to make a dessert that could be included in a box lunch. He complied, creating what was called the “Palmer House Brownie” – a sweet, fudgy confection with an apricot jam glaze.
You can still get it today at the hotel – along with Bertha’s Brownie Latte and Brownie Cheesecake. Executive sous chef, Jason Shroeder, described the famous brownie as “pure happiness baked into a fudgy cake.”
Printed recipes and references quickly followed. In 1904 several cookbooks came out with a recipe for “Bangor Brownies” from Maine. The following year Fannie Farmer jumped in with her recipe in the 1896 The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. By the 1920s there were new flavors and additions to what you might call the basic brownie.
The famous Betty Crocker Brownie Mix was introduced in 1954. You know, the one that “goes from bowl to oven in minutes.” Just add water, oil, and eggs to make “mouthwatering brownies.”
Today you get fudgy or cakey brownies. Popular flavors range from chocolate chocolate chip to walnuts, and cookie dough to M&Ms. Strange tastes thrive like fudgy black bean and chocolate chip with ranch dressing. You can find sweet & salty, sweet potato, mushroom, and Fairytale Magic Morsels. Brownies show up in ice cream, whoopie pies, parfaits, and brownie truffle balls. The flavors, additions, and variations are only limited by the chef’s creativity.
Those with special tastes can feast on chocolate-free blondies, gluten-free, keto, and brownie sundaes.
Consider the non-edibles: a vintage 1950s brownie camera, a brownie monkey plush toy, or a pillow that reads “Brownies calories don’t count.” If you’re so inclined, stay up all night to see if there are any mythical brownies coming to clean your house. They’re small, hairy critters that look like little ugly humans dressed in rags. Beware! The legend says that if you see the imps they will never return. After all, who wants to give up free cleaning services?
Perhaps the best choices are to wait for National Brownie Day in December and join the fun or imagine the biggest brownie ever made in Saudi Arabia (2022). It weighed over 335 pounds and was made from 210 boxes of Betty Crocker brownie mix, 504 eggs, over 24 quarts of oil, and 10 quarts of water. Guinness World Records officially recognized it as the largest brownie in the world. The following year Guinness World Records gave the title of the world’s longest brownie to a 700-foot production from India. It took 35 people to make it.
Whatever you prefer – homemade, from a mix, or a local store – for you, your kids, your grandkids, or buddies – do it your way. As one Amazon throw pillow reads, “Brownies are Life.”
You can’t go wrong!