Now this, this is a holiday. Who doesn’t love brownies? Communists, that’s who! Other than that, everyone loves this not-a-cake, not-a-cookie chocolatey treat that has found a spot of importance on any good dessert table. I’m a fan and as Lola will tell you, I make a damn good one (at least me and my ol’ pal Betty Crocker do).
The legend of the creation of the brownie brings us to Chicago in 1893 where the Windy City was still trying to rise itself out of the ashes of the great fire. To bring business to their city, they played host to the World Columbian Exposition (or World Fair) to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. It was quite the scene and it is where the first Ferris Wheel made it’s appearance, a whopping 264 feet high. It also saw the debut of some great culinary treasures too including Juicy Fruit Gum and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer (which makes Chicago the original hipster city). During the Fair, a woman by the name of Bertha Palmer, whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel (which is still open today), was president of the Ladies Board for Managers for Exposition. When organizers of the event asked her to create a dessert especially for the boxed lunches at the Women’s Pavilion, Palmer went to her hotel’s pastry chefs and gave them the task of creating a dessert that was easier to eat than a piece of pie and smaller than a layer cake that could easily be served in boxed lunches. The result was a brownie made with chocolate, walnuts, and an apricot glaze. That was Bertha’s gift to the World Fair and to the world in general. Of course like any food origin story, this all gets disputed. Some people feel that a brownie was created in Bangor, ME by a housewife that forgot to add baking powder to her chocolate cake. A happy accident. The name brownie is attributed to the cookbook maven Fanny Farmer from Boston who included a recipe for her cookies cooked in a rectangular pan that she called brownies. However, despite the name, her creations were not what we generally consider a brownie to be. The first recipe for a chocolate brownie (what we consider a brownie to be) comes from the small town of Machias, ME where a community-sourced cookbook in 1899 published a brownie recipe from a contributor from Wisconsin. On a side note, Lola and I have a funny story about Machias, ME where we ventured one day in search of the best blueberry pie. I’ll save that tale for another day. Little did we know Machias had such a tradition of fine desserts.
That’s my short history lesson for the day (which I should notate as being from Wikipedia and this article from Mental Floss). Good food always has an interesting and hotly debated origin story.
I should note that my Mom was a good brownie maker. She too would use the assistance of Betty Crocker, but she started adding in chocolate chips to the recipe which I feel really makes it something special. My mom was never a big baker but she could always whip together a good brownie. She will still make them for family get togethers. She’ll pack them neatly in Tupperware and keep them on the kitchen counter on the side of the microwave until needed. If she brings them to my sister’s house, she will secure them in a plastic bag which will then go inside a reusable grocery bag. She’ll break them out immediately after the plates are cleared. She will also not leave until she gets the Tupperware back. My mom is a bit of a creature of habit, but still, she makes a good brownie.
I cooked my brownies early today (before noon). I had picked up a box of Betty Crocker Supreme Original Brownie Mix at Clement’s yesterday. I like a mix that has a fudge packet that you have to squeeze into the batter and this one does. I also like saying fudge packet, but that’s just me. All you do is add two eggs, some water and some vegetable oil to the mix along with the fudge packet and mix it all together. Then you fold in some chocolate chips, probably about 10 oz. My secrets, if you can call them that, is to use the 8″ x 8″ pan directions so you get a thicker, cakelike brownie and to always pull them out of the oven a bit early. (The ones I made today were supposed to cook 55 minutes. I pulled them out at 53.) Then let them cool. This is the hardest part because they smell so good and you just want to bury your face in the hole pan. But wait, and good things will come. They have to keep their shape to be good eating.
We had the brownies after dinner tonight. I opted for mine slightly warmed in the microwave with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. That is actually one of my all-time favorite desserts. The combination of the warm chocolate brownie with the cool refreshment of the vanilla ice cream just makes a party in my mouth. Lola prefers her on a plate at room temperature with a glass of cold milk. She loves these brownies. She has actually bragged to people about my brownies and I kind of feel silly because they are from a box, but she is a huge fan. I think its because I pull them out early and there is a slight underdone texture to them, like you are getting brownie batter. Let’s not overlook the chocolate chip too because that just adds a crunch texture and more chocolate taste. The brownies were a success indeed. Lola was going over to spend some time with our niece Molly tonight who was home alone and she brought along some brownies for Molly to enjoy. But before she left, Lola made sure that we still had more on hand for when she wants some tomorrow. She’s probably savor one with her afternoon tea.
Finally, after a few days of apricot glazed Austrian cakes, cold tomato soup and festival candy poofs, we got to celebrate something awesome today. I could have gone a bit more fancier here. I could have made the original brownie recipe from the Palmer House Hotel to recreate Bertha’s vision. There’s no shortage of fancy brownie recipes on the internet either, especially these days. But no, I wanted to keep with what I know. Stick with the brownie that my wife boasts about. That’s always good advice and you know what? They’re just a damn good brownie. Cheers!
Up Next: National Pastry Day