There are different stories relating to how the brownie first came about. One version is that the original brownie was created by chefs at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition.
Poster for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition
The hotel owner's wife requested a dessert suitable to be served in boxed lunches at the women’s pavilion. It had to be smaller than a slice of cake and easier to eat. The resulting brownie was a smaller bite sized item with double the chocolate of a normal cake, baked with walnuts and an apricot glaze. Sounds delicious, right?
Now even though many believe the Palmer House Hotel dessert was the first brownie, it seems that they didn’t call it a brownie at the time. A recipe published by Fannie Farmer in the 1896 book “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook” had a recipe for a “brownie” although it didn’t contain any chocolate. This was essentially a blondie as many would define it today.
Fannie Farmer's 1896 The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook
It’s important at this point to clarify how I define a blondie when creating recipes for Just Another Slice, which differs from the commonly accepted definition. Generally speaking, a blondie recipe substitutes cocoa with vanilla and often contains brown sugar. Therefore, if it’s baked with white chocolate it’s technically a brownie. This is not how I define a blondie. I know from my experience at various food markets around London that customers eat with their eyes before they choose to make a purchase decision. Seeing a delicious looking white dessert labelled as a brownie often confuses people and they ask if there was a labelling mistake. Now I could be a bore and proudly impart that information upon them with the hope that their lives are forever improved by my never-ending wisdom. I could also just go with the flow, learn from customer feedback and give products names that suit their appearance and taste. So, in my recipes, blondies are defined very simply; they are made with white chocolate, whereas the brownies are made with dark chocolate. All the Just Another Slice recipes are made with chocolate in one form or another, because chocolate makes (most) people happy.
So back to the brief and vague history of the brownie...
“Machias Cookbook” published in 1899 in Maine had a recipe called “Brownie’s Food”. This recipe involved baking two layers, separating the chocolate layer from the batter then covering it with a cream frosting.
A recipe for “Bangor Brownies” appeared in either 1904 or 1905 and was published in various places including the Boston Daily Globe. This is in my opinion the closest recipe to the brownie we know today. It contains “nut meats” which is an old-fashioned term for the raw inside of shelled nuts.
The origins of the blondie go back to the 1896 Fannie Farmer recipe mentioned previously. The brownie got its colour from the molasses or dark brown sugar that was often used at the time. Chocolate wasn’t so commonly used in household baking until the early 1900’s. You could just say then, that the first brownie was actually a blondie. Fine, but it didn’t taste like a blondie. It tasted much more deep, dark and almost chocolaty in flavour. Modern blondies made with lighter, sweet ingredients like maple syrup, brown sugar and golden syrup have a light caramel flavour and can be more accurately defined as a blondie. In 1906 Fannie Farmer published an updated version of “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook” which contained a recipe for “Blonde Brownies”. This recipe used a combination of light brown sugar and dark brown sugar which gave it a much lighter butterscotch flavour. Modern interpretations of the recipe often substitute the dark brown sugar with granulated sugar, lightening the colour and flavour even further.
So, that’s how brownies and blondies were believed to have come about. And as if to disrespectfully slap history and convention in the face, all brownies and blondies in made by Just Another Slice are defined by one ingredient alone; we make brownies with dark chocolate and blondies with white chocolate. This might seem like a minor difference (apart from the obvious colour change) but you will find that a batter made with white chocolate will taste completely different, bake to a different density and pair with different ingredients to a batter cooked with dark chocolate.