Chocolate brownies are a type of dense, rich chocolate cake, baked square and sliced into bars, but classified as a bar cookie rather than a cake. The brownie gets its name from its dark brown color that comes from chocolate.
Depending on their density, they're either fudgy or cakey, and they may contain nuts, frosting, cream cheese, chocolate chips, or other ingredients.
("Fudge Brownies" are dense brownies that contain more cocoa than cake-like brownies, are slightly more bitter, and have a dark chocolate taste.)
There is a non-chocolate brownie variety called a "Blondie". But, even this type almost always contains chocolate chips.
Chocolate brownies are a relatively recent entry on the cuisine time line...
Their existence first appeared in print in the early 20th century in New England.
Unlike the renown accorded to Ruth Wakefield, who invented chocolate chip cookies in the early 1930s, the creator of brownies will probably never be known.
A couple of myths surround the origin of chocolate brownies:
The favorite tells of an anonymous housewife (or, some sources say, home economist Mildred Schrumpf) 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.
According to another story, chocolate brownies first appeared in Chicago during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. A chef at the hotel created the confection after Bertha Palmer requested a dessert that would be smaller than a piece of cake, and easily eaten from boxed lunches. These brownies feature an apricot glaze and walnuts, and are still being made at the hotel according to the original recipe.
The earliest published recipes for brownies appear in Boston-based cookbooks:
In 1896, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, written by Fannie Merritt Farmer, featured a recipe for "brownies", but that was for a cookie-type molasses confection baked individually in tin molds.
In 1906, a recipe for chocolate brownies like those of today appeared in an updated edition of the same cookbook. This recipe utilized only two squares of melted Baker’s chocolate, which produced a relatively mild and cake-like brownie. It's unknown how Fannie Farmer obtained the recipe.
In 1907, a second, modified recipe appeared in Lowney’s Cook Book, written by Maria Willet Howard and published by the Walter M. Lowney Company of Boston. Ms. Howard was a protégé of Ms. Farmer. This recipe, named Bangor Brownies, added an extra egg and extra square of chocolate to the Boston Cooking School recipe. These additions produced a richer, fudgier brownie.
Even though the first chocolate brownies appeared and began to evolve in the early years of the 20th century, it wasn't until the Roaring ‘20s that brownies to become a favorite of baked chocolate treats, a position they maintain today.