All About Brownies
The Origin of The BrownieThe brownie, one of America’s favorite baked treats, was created in the United States, though no one is quite sure of exactly where. Evidence points to New England at the beginning of the 20th century. Although cake-like and baked in a cake pan, it is classified as a bar cookie rather than a cake. There are thousands of recipes, both "cake" style and "fudge" style. Both kinds are perfectly correct and delicious... and Ruth’s Brownie Kitchen bakes both and offers you a choice of either style.
Where Did The Word Brownie Originate?It’s easy to see that the brownie got its name from its dark brown color. But as with most foods, its origin is shrouded in myth. The "bar cookie" is a relatively recent entry to the food pantheon, first appearing in print in the early 20th century. The legends are told that a chef mistakenly added melted chocolate to a batch of biscuits...or that a cook was making a cake but didn’t have enough flour.
The most popular legend, cited in Betty Crocker's “Baking Classics” and John Mariani’s “The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink,” tells of a housewife in Bangor, Maine, who was making a chocolate cake but forgot to add baking powder. When her cake didn’t rise properly, instead of tossing it out, she cut and served the flat pieces. Alas, that theory relies on a cookbook published in Bangor in 1912, six years after the first chocolate brownie recipe was published by one of America’s most famous cookbook authors, Fannie Merritt Farmer, in 1906 (the Bangor version was almost identical to the 1906 Fanny Farmer recipe).
Was Fannie Merritt The First?Quite a few sources cite the first-known recipe as the 1897 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, but this was a recipe for a molasses candy merely called brownies. The name honored the elfin characters featured in popular books, stories, cartoons and verses at the time by Palmer Cox. (The Eastman Kodak Brownie camera was also named after these elves.)
Larousse Gastronomique, regarded by many as the ultimate cooking reference, states that a recipe for brownies first appeared in the 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, written by Fannie Farmer, but that was for a cookie-type confection that was colored and flavored with molasses and made in fluted marguerite molds. However, as verified by Jean Anderson in “The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes Of The 20th Century,” the two earliest published recipes for chocolate brownies appear in Boston-based cookbooks: the first in a later edition of “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.”
The First RecipeCulinary historians have traced the first "brownie" to the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer. This recipe is an early, less rich and chocolaty version than what we know today, utilizing two squares of melted Baker’s chocolate. We don’t know if Fanny Farmer obtained the recipe from another source, printed it as is or adapted it, or provided the name.
The Second RecipeThe second recipe, appearing in 1907, was in Lowney’s Cook Book, written by Maria Willet Howard and published by the Walter M. Lowney Company of Boston. Ms. Howard, a protégé of Ms. Farmer, added an extra egg and an extra square of chocolate to the Boston Cooking-School recipe, creating a richer, more chocolatey brownie. She named the recipe Bangor Brownies though we don’t know why. Perhaps the original brownie recipe, published by Ms. Farmer, was submitted by a housewife in Bangor; or that housewife improved upon that recipe and this was the one published by Ms. Howard. This is discussed thoroughly in “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America,” which is 1500 pages on the history, manufacturing and marketing of food in the United States.
The Nation’s FavoriteWhile the first brownie recipes were published and variations began to evolve in the first years of the 20th century, it took until the Roaring ‘20s for the brownie to become the country’s absolute favorite baked chocolate treat, a position it still maintains today.