Ahh…brownies. Chocolatey, fudgy, soft and chewy, cakey, it really doesn't matter. There's just something irresistible about brownies. Some prefer crispy edges so much that there are special pans that create edges on every brownie. Others cut the edges off so that they're left with pure, gooey goodness.
But I've yet to meet someone who really doesn't like brownies at all. And there's nothing better after a slice or two of pizza than a square or stick of chocolatey nirvana in the form of a brownie. Now that I am pondering the magical deliciousness that is a brownie, I wonder who first thought of this little slice of heaven.
The Early Days of Brownies
Born in the US in the early 20th century, the origins of the brownie are as dark and deep as their fudgy taste and gooey texture. There are myths and legends of all sorts. There's the one about the housewife who forgot to add baking flour to her cake (I've done that, and the result was definitely NOT a brownie). Or how about the one where the chef accidentally melted chocolate into some biscuits? I've never accidentally melted chocolate when baking, but I suppose it could happen.
Most evidence points to Bertha Palmer, wife of Potter Palmer, owner of the Palmer Hotel. Mrs. Palmer needed a dessert for the boxed lunches at the Women's Pavilion so she went to the hotel's pastry chefs and tasked them with creating a dessert that was smaller than a cake, easy to eat with your fingers, and the right size to serve in boxed lunches. And Voila! The brownies that we know and love were born.
The Plot Thickens
So, here's where it gets convoluted. There is no evidence that Mrs. Palmer's boxed lunch treats were named brownies and who gets the credit for naming the delectable delicacy is unclear. The first cookbook to feature a "brownie" recipe was the Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer in 1896. Fannie Farmer adapted a cookie recipe so that it could be baked in a rectangular pan. But there's a catch. This recipe contained no chocolate.
Wait, what? No chocolate? That's just wrong. That situation was soon rectified, and in the late 1890s an advertisement in the Kansas City Journal featured chocolate brownies—the first documented appearance of chocolate and brownies together.
Eventually, in 1906, Fanny Farmer published a revised edition of her cookbook that contained a blondie recipe (the original brownie recipe) and a chocolate brownie recipe, both named brownies. From there, brownies conquered the world.
Brownies Come of Age
With the gourmet trend sweeping the nation, I feared for the humble brownie. Don't misunderstand me, I enjoy new flavors as much as, or probably more than, the next person. Hawaiian pizza? I'm in. Cajun-flavored crust? Delicious. Sriracha sauce? Why not. But, there are some things that you really shouldn't gourmet-up.
Never fear; the brownie has survived the gourmet tide and come out the better for it. With flavors such as salted caramel smothered in caramel sauce, or a regular brownie made extra chocolatey with a topping of chocolate sauce — my fears were unfounded.
Whether fudgy, cakey, filled with nuts, spiced with cinnamon, or topped with chocolate sauce, the brownie is still a treat that easily travels anywhere. And when you can order chocolate brownies delivery along with your pizza? It doesn't get much better than that.