A brief history of the humble brownie

Brownies are one of the favourite sweet treats within the UK and beyond, with no other sweet treat quite managing to hit the spot that a decadent, gooey, slab of brownie can. But where did they originate from? As with most food history, their exact basis is contested, but fascinating.

What is certain is that the modern day brownie as we know it was born in the USA. The real question is who on earth decided to make such a flat, unconventional cake for the first time?! Well there are a number of brownie theories, which make for delicious reading.


Brownie theory #1

One of our favourite myths is detailed in Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics, where it is claimed that a housewife in Maine was making a chocolate cake and forgot to add the baking powder. Stressed and short of time, it is claimed that she simply cut the flat chocolate cake up and served to her guests regardless. Whilst this is a great story, it is probably unlikely, given the difference between a cake and a brownie is more than simply a lack of baking powder!

Brownie theory #2

This theory is also based in the USA, in the Palmer House Hotel. The owner of the hotel was called Potter Palmer, and his wife was Bertha Palmer. They were hosting a women’s board meeting in 1893 and needed a sweet item that would be ideal for the visitors lunchboxes. Bertha went to the chef and asked him to create something delicious, and thus the humble brownie was born. These brownies would have had double the chocolate to most brownies today- they must have been a real chocolate hit! We love this idea, because the fact that brownies travel well in the post is one of our favourite things about them!!

 Brownie theory #3

 The most likely origin of the brownie. The recipe was printed into a cookbook in 1896 by Fannie Farmer, as a variation on a cookie bar, and thus reached a far wider audience.


Wherever brownies originally came from, and it was most likely a combination of all sources, they didn’t become popular until the roaring 20’s when they became the desirable sweet treat of the era, and haven’t really lost this popularity to date!

In any case, we would love to give the inventor of the brownie a big old hug, and a prize for services to humanity! Now after reading about the history of a brownie, who’s feeling a little hungry?!