Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

brownies, small squares of rich chocolate cake, originally contained no chocolate. Molasses-based recipes for individual cakes called brownies appeared in both The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896) and The Sears, Roebuck Catalogue (1897). In 1893 the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago featured a chocolate bar cookie with apricot glaze for the Columbian Exposition, and it is this cookie that the Palmer House claims was the first chocolate brownie. This brownie was envisioned as a smaller, lighter dessert to appeal to women; it is still served at the Palmer House today. Little evidence exists for the folklore that brownies were a culinary accident, resulting from missing baking powder in a fudge cake recipe. The origin of the cake’s name is similarly uncertain, though the color of the bars may account for it, or they may have been named after a popular 1887 children’s book about elves (aka brownies).