Friday, September 14, 2018

The First-Ever Brownie was invented in Chicago by Bertha Palmer for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Like Twinkies, deep-dish and pan pizzas, brownies were also born in Chicago. Credit for inventing the brownie goes to Bertha Honoré Palmer, Potter Palmer's wife. Here's what happened. The Board of Directors of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition contacted Mrs. Potter to ask her to concoct a delicious and transportable (eat while walking in the heat) dessert. Mrs. Potter went right to work in the Palmer House kitchen, brainstorming. 

Bertha Honoré Palmer
It was named the brownie, perhaps because of the deep dark chocolate color. Unlike other brownie recipes, which started appearing in 1904 and specified that butter and sugar were first creamed before being combined with a small amount of melted chocolate, the Palmer House brownie is made with more than a pound of melted chocolate and a pound of melted butter. The finished brownie is also lightly glazed with apricot jelly. 

A combination of chocolate fudge and brownie, crispy-chewy on the edges, ultra-dense and chocolatey. 

It's best served frozen or very cold… otherwise, gooey things happen.


Over the years, the Palmer House made some tweaks and changes. You can see the differences in the Plamer House online recipe, no matter their claim that they are presenting the original recipe. THIS IS THE ORIGINAL RECIPE, verified via research. To experience what thousands of 1893 Fairgoers actually tasted for the first time in their lives, a chocolate brownie.

WARNING   If you deviate from this recipe the first time you make it, you will not know what it is supposed to taste like. 

The Famous Palmer House Fudge Brownie
A Modern Photograph of how the brownies look by following this ORIGINAL Palmer House Brownie recipe.
YIELD: About 24 brownies

ACTIVE TIME: 20 minutes

Brownie Ingredients
1 lb. plus 2 oz. OR (4 x 3.5-ounce bars) high-quality semi-sweet chocolate
1 lb. butter (1lb  = 2 cups OR 4 sticks)
12 oz. granulated sugar
8 oz. cake flour [1]
1 Tbsp baking powder
4 large whole eggs
1 lb crushed, toasted walnuts

Apricot Glaze Ingredients
1 cup of water
1 cup apricot preserves
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin powder (made from scratch in the Palmer kitchen)

If this is the first time baking this recipe, DO NOT CHANGE A THING or deviate from the recipe. If you make a change, you'll never know how it is meant to taste.

Melt chocolate with butter in a double boiler or heat-proof bowl suspended over very hot water. Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl (except walnuts.) Mix melted chocolate/butter mixture with dry ingredients. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, taking about 5 minutes of continuous whisking from the first egg to the last. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°.F. Toast walnuts for about 15 minutes until fragrant. Lower oven temperature to 300° F. Chop walnuts and set them aside. Spread brownie batter into the prepared pan. It will be very liquid. Sprinkle the surface with the chopped walnuts, pressing down so that they are partly submerged. Bake in a 300° F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the brownies have crisped on the edge of the pan–about 2 inches around the entire edge of the pan. The brownies in the center of the pan will remain slightly jiggly.

When properly baked, these brownies will test "gooey" in the center with a toothpick test due to the richness of the batter. Remove brownies from the oven and cool on a rack for 30 minutes.

The brownies were served near frozen at the Fair, and Sitdown restaurants and cafes sold Mrs. Palmer's Brownies the same way ... ice cold.

Chef Stephen Henry says for the cleanest slices, freeze the brownies for three hours after glazing. Then cut, and serve while very firm and cold.

Mix water, preserves, and unflavored gelatin in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until boiling; heat at boiling for two minutes. While the glaze is still hot, spread a thick layer over the still-warm brownies. Cool completely. 

Place in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours. Slice and serve while very cold and firm.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

[1] What is the difference between "all-purpose flour" and "cake flour?"
Cake flour is a finely milled, delicate flour with a low protein content; it's usually bleached. When used in cakes, it results in a super-tender texture with a fine crumb and a good rise. Chiffon and angel food cake are two great examples of where cake flour really shines. The primary difference between cake flour and all-purpose (AP) flour is the protein content (which becomes gluten). The protein content of cake flour is about 8%, while the protein content of AP flour is slightly higher.


  1. Interesting that they were asked to make a "transportable dessert", and came up with one that is "best served frozen, or very cold… otherwise, gooey things happen."

  2. One of my favorite "food groups" which I rarely get to enjoy. I'm not sure about the apricot jelley, but thanks for the instructions!


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