Chicago and The Brownie

brownie chicago

A Taste Of Sweet Chicago – The Invention of the Brownie

The brownie, a beloved and indulgent dessert, holds a special place in the hearts of many. With its rich chocolatey flavor and fudgy texture, it’s hard to resist this delightful treat. But have you ever wondered about the origins of the brownie? Who first thought of combining chocolate and cake to create this iconic dessert? In this article, we’ll take a journey through time to explore the fascinating history of the brownie, with a particular focus on its birth in the vibrant city of Chicago.

The Birth of the Brownie at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

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Bertha Palmer’s Role in the Creation of the Brownie

The story of the brownie begins in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. The Board of Directors of the Exposition sought a delicious and portable dessert that fairgoers could enjoy while strolling through the exhibits. They turned to Bertha Honoré Palmer, the wife of prominent Chicago businessman Potter Palmer, for her culinary expertise. Bertha Palmer, known for her lavish parties and exquisite taste, was the perfect candidate for this task.

The Palmer House Kitchen and the Original Recipe

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Bertha Palmer wasted no time and immediately set to work in the kitchen of the Palmer House, her family’s luxurious hotel in downtown Chicago. After much experimentation and brainstorming, she created what would become known as the original brownie. Unlike later brownie recipes, which called for creaming butter and sugar before adding chocolate, Bertha Palmer’s version utilized over a pound of melted chocolate and butter, giving the brownie its dense and fudgy texture.

The Legacy of the Palmer House Brownie

Changes and Variations Over the Years

As time went on, the Palmer House continued to refine and tweak the original brownie recipe. However, it’s important to note that the exact recipe used at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition is a subject of debate. The Palmer House claims to have preserved the original recipe, but other versions have surfaced over the years. Regardless of the recipe’s exact details, the Palmer House brownie left a lasting impression on the culinary world and paved the way for countless variations and adaptations.

The Brownie’s Popularity and Spread

Brownie Recipes in Cookbooks and Magazines

Following the success of the Palmer House brownie, recipes for this delectable dessert began appearing in cookbooks and magazines across the United States. One notable publication was the “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” by Fannie Farmer, which featured a recipe for “brownies” in its 1906 edition. The popularity of brownies continued to grow, and by the early 20th century, they had become a staple in American homes.

Commercialization and Mass Production

With the increasing demand for brownies, commercial bakeries and food companies started producing pre-packaged brownie mixes, making it easier for home bakers to whip up a batch of these treats. The convenience and popularity of boxed brownie mixes led to further proliferation and solidified the brownie’s status as a beloved dessert.

The Evolution of Brownie Variations

Chocolate Fudge Brownie

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One of the most iconic variations of the brownie is the chocolate fudge brownie. This rich and decadent version features an intense chocolate flavor and a dense, fudgy texture. It often includes additional chocolate chips or chunks for extra indulgence. The chocolate fudge brownie has become a classic choice for chocolate lovers worldwide.


brownie chicago

While chocolate brownies take the spotlight, let’s not forget about their equally delicious counterpart – the blondie. Blondies, also known as “blonde brownies,” are made with brown sugar, butter, and vanilla, giving them a sweet and caramel-like flavor. They lack the cocoa powder or melted chocolate found in traditional brownies, resulting in a lighter color and a distinct taste.

Cheesecake Brownie

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For those craving an extra layer of indulgence, the cheesecake brownie offers a delightful combination of creamy cheesecake and rich chocolate. This variation typically features a layer of cheesecake swirled into the brownie batter, creating a marbled effect. The tanginess of the cheesecake perfectly complements the sweetness of the brownie, making it a crowd-pleasing choice.

Brownie Traditions and Celebrations

National Brownie Day

Every year on December 8th, brownie enthusiasts around the world come together to celebrate National Brownie Day. This special day allows people to indulge in their favorite treat and share their love for brownies with others. Whether enjoyed plain, with a scoop of ice cream, or topped with decadent frosting, brownies continue to be a beloved dessert for all ages.

Brownie Points

The phrase “earning brownie points” has become a common expression in the English language, meaning to gain favor or approval by doing something good or going the extra mile. While the origin of this phrase is not directly linked to the dessert itself, it is believed to have been influenced by the positive associations people have with brownies – a reward for a job well done.

Brownies in Popular Culture

Brownies in Films and TV Shows

Brownies have made appearances in numerous films and TV shows, often symbolizing comfort, indulgence, and a touch of nostalgia. From iconic scenes of characters enjoying a warm brownie with a glass of milk to humorous moments involving messy brownie mishaps, these desserts have become a familiar sight on the screen, evoking feelings of joy and satisfaction.

Brownie References in Literature and Music

Brownies have also made their way into the pages of books and the lyrics of songs. Authors and songwriters often use brownies as a symbol of warmth, home, and simple pleasures. Whether it’s a character baking brownies for a loved one or a musician singing about the joys of indulging in this sweet treat, brownies continue to inspire creativity and evoke a sense of comfort.

Brownie Recipes and Tips

Classic Brownie Recipe

To experience the timeless delight of a classic brownie, try the following recipe:


  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (optional)


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. Add the sugar and stir until well combined.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  5. If desired, fold in the chocolate chips.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread it evenly.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  8. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Gluten-Free and Vegan Brownie Options

For those with dietary restrictions or preferences, there are plenty of gluten-free and vegan brownie recipes available. These recipes often substitute traditional flour with alternatives like almond flour or gluten-free flour blends, and use ingredients like flaxseed or applesauce as egg replacements. Experimenting with different recipes can lead to delicious brownies that cater to individual dietary needs.

Tips for Baking Perfect Brownies

  • Use high-quality chocolate or cocoa powder to enhance the flavor of your brownies.
  • Be careful not to overmix the batter, as this can lead to a denser texture.
  • For fudgier brownies, slightly underbake them and allow them to cool completely before cutting.
  • To achieve clean-cut squares, refrigerate the brownies for a short period before slicing.
  • Don’t forget to let your creativity shine by adding toppings such as nuts, chocolate ganache, or a dusting of powdered sugar.

From its humble beginnings at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to becoming a beloved dessert worldwide, the history of the brownie is a testament to the power of culinary innovation. Bertha Palmer’s original recipe at the Palmer House paved the way for countless variations and adaptations, bringing joy to generations of dessert lovers. Whether you prefer a classic chocolate fudge brownie or enjoy exploring the world of blondies and cheesecake brownies, there’s no denying the timeless allure of this sweet treat. So the next time you savor a brownie, take a moment to appreciate the rich history behind this indulgent delight.

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