Brownies can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when the pastry chef at The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago was asked to create a dessert that could be packaged into a lunchbox for ladies, at the request of socialite Bertha Potter Palmer. The first ever brownie, the Palmer House Brownie, was topped with walnuts and apricot glaze, and can still be found on the menu of The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
The word “brownie” first appeared in cookbooks from 1896, in reference to individually baked cakes made with molasses. In 1904, both the Home Cookery and the Service Club Cook Book printed versions of what would become the modern-day cake-like brownie. From then on, brownies became a firm favourite and a stable in the American household.
During and after the Second World War, the brownie was part of a venture to increase the usage of prepared and semi-prepared foods. Pre-packaged brownie mixtures were marketed as efficient and affordable alternatives to cooking with raw ingredients, that produce the same consistent results every time. Shortcuts, such as microwaveable brownies and the famous Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Brownie mix, were a huge part of this movement towards innovative, efficient home cooking.
Typically, brownies have a texture similar to a mixture between cake and cookie. The centre can either be fudgey or cake-like, depending on the recipe, and other condiments, such as nuts, icing, and chocolate bits, can also be added. Variations of the basic recipe can also call for ingredients to provide healthier options, such as beetroots and carrots; changing lifestyles and food technology has also helped produce brownies suitable for a range of dietary requirements, including gluten-free, raw, and vegan recipes.