Chicago, Birthplace of the Brownie Celebrates 130 Years of Sweet Indulgence at the Palmer House

Chicago, Birthplace of the Brownie Celebrates 130 Years of Sweet Indulgence at the Palmer HouseSource: Palmer House Chicago
Damon R. Sheffield
Published on December 08, 2023

Chicago's rich culinary history has a sweet spot as the birthplace of the brownie, a treat that turns 130 this year and still seduces dessert lovers at its origin point, the Palmer House. Chicago Sun-Times reports that back in the day, it was Bertha Honore Palmer who had the vision for a chocolate confection that could be easily boxed and transported for the 1893 World's Fair—an instruction that led to the invention of the first brownie by the talented hands of pastry chef Joseph Sehl. While Honore, a Chicago socialite, sought convenience, little did she know that her request would birth an enduring epicurean legacy.

Not just any brownie, the Palmer House Brownie stands out with its unique twist of walnuts and apricot glaze. And for those chasing the vintage taste of the original, they can indulge in "Bertha's Brownie" at the Palmer House’s Lockwood restaurant or turn a cheeky page on tradition at Potter’s Chicago Burger Bar, where a brownie cheesecake beckons with apricots and candied walnuts for $12, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Delving into the stats, Tastewise reveals that a staggering 21.35% of restaurants globally feature brownies in some form on their menus. That's one testament to their ubiquity and the foundational role the Palmer House brownie played in launching a trend that, even after 130 years, continues to make waves in both sweet and savory kitchens. Last year, beer emerged as a trendy ingredient, suggesting this classic dessert is still pushing boundaries and reinventing itself in the contemporary culinary theatre.

But for purists, there's nothing quite like the original, and this is where the Palmer House Hilton Hotel keeps history alive. Following the legendary recipe to a T, this notable establishment delights visitors with the genuine article—a brownie that rightly should be enshrined in a dessert hall of fame. As stated by Tasting Table, those who can't make it to Chicago needn't despair; the Palmer House Hilton Hotel generously shares its celebrated brownie recipe, allowing fans worldwide to recreate a piece of sweet history in their home kitchens.

Interestingly, the first print mention of a "brownie" came five years post-fair, in a Sears Roebuck catalog, as the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out. From those humble, albeit high-class beginnings, the brownie's rise to the status of a global phenomenon showcases a love affair that’s strong enough to withstand the test of time and the twist of new trends—beer-infused or be-dazzled with espresso, the ultimate comfort in the form of a chocolate square seems here to stay.