How often does someone tell you “this recipe is ‘the best ever,'” only to be disappointed by the end result? Fortunately, on this occasion, I most definitely wasn’t disappointed. I don’t think you will be either. This really is the best brownie recipe I have ever tasted – opinion that is endorsed by my children, who know a good chocolate brownie when they see one.
This particular offering comes from the Hummingbird Cafe cookbook. Their café is based in South Kensington, London, and is billed as the home of authentic American muffins and baked goods. But, where does the word ‘brownie’ come from? As you would expect, we have done the full ‘Nosey’ and traced the first use of the word in culinary literature to 1896 and a lady called Fannie Farmer, who was writing in the Boston Cooking School cookbook about a molasses cake baked in individual moulds (which, incidentally, contained no chocolate).
However, it is rumoured that 3 years earlier, a wealthy Chicago hotelier, Bertha Palmer, owner of the Palmer House Hotel asked her pastry chef to make a small cake-like confection suitable for packed meals. Palmer was the president of the Ladies’ Board of Management for the 1893 Exposition – a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival Christopher Columbus in the New World – and she needed a little snack for the genteel ladies to nibble on during the show. The recipe contained walnuts and was served with an apricot glaze. This became known as the ‘Palmer House Brownie’ and remains on the Palmer House menu to this day.
We have to fast forward to 1904 for the earliest published recipe for the modern version of the chocolate brownie as we know it. This was an adaptation of Farmer’s original recipe, and this time it did contain chocolate. To confuse matters a little, in 1907 Marie Willet Howard – the author of Lowney’s Cook Book – included a recipe that was an adaptation of something called the ‘Bangor Brownie.’ Food columnist for the Bangor Daily News Mildred Brown Schrumpf received widespread acclaim in 1951 for her theory that the brownie had been invented by a housewife in the city of Bangor in the state of Maine. However, in 2007 The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink refuted Schrumpf’s claim, in favour of the Fannie Farmer recipe published in 1896. But, in its second edition The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Food and Drink in America (2013) it states that a number of cook books have been discovered from 1904 onward that support Schrumpf’s hypothesis.
Perhaps there is yet more to be discovered about the origins of this ubiquitous sticky chocolate treat.
- 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- 175g unsalted butter
- 325g caster sugar
- 130g plain flour
- 3 eggs
- Icing sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 170ºC.
Line a 33x23x5cm brownie tin with baking parchment. Melt the chocolate and butter using a double boiler. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until fully incorporated. Add the flour, ensuring it is evenly mixed. Finally add the eggs and stir until thick and smooth.
Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 mins. When done it should have a flaky, shiny crust whilst still soft in the centre. Careful not to over bake, otherwise the edges will be hard.
Leave to cool in the tin. Cut into square and dust with icing sugar if desired.