Evolution of the Brownie

So then, we know the first “brownies” (the ones without chocolate) were made in the years just preceding 1900. Fannie Farmer’s original Boston Cooking-School Cook Book contained a recipe for them, and the Sears catalog of 1897 featured them. But then when did chocolate enter the picture?

That bit of the story is rather hazy, however what is known for certain is that brownies were originally made with bar-style “eating” chocolate, not cocoa powder. That sets them apart from chocolate cakes, and blows the whole “brownies are fallen cakes” theory that’s gained currency among bakers over the years, both here in the States and in Europe. Chocolate layer cakes were popular among home bakers at least twenty years before Fannie Farmer published the first true chocolate brownie recipe in her updated edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in 1905. Thousands of chocolate cakes had certainly fallen across the nation by then. Were Americans especially inclined toward fallen cake as a dessert, it would have had plenty of time to enter the home baking canon.

That it didn’t is quite telling. But what happened around the turn of the century that inspired home bakers to start adding bar chocolate to their cookies? The answer: the wide availability of bar chocolate. For before the year 1900 there wasn’t much of it around. Milk chocolate that could be eaten in solid, bar form wasn’t invented until 1875 in Switzerland. It took many more years for the technology to spread to the States and for bar chocolate to become popular as a confection. Milton Hershey didn’t get his chocolate factory up and running in Pennsylvania until 1900. Of course shortly after he did, Americans were mad for chocolate bars, and in typical American fashion, started putting them into everything. Chocolate brownies were one of the early results.

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