Chocolate brownies are cited from at least 1898. There are 1896 and 1897 citations for “brownies,” but these contained molasses and not chocolate.
The name “brownie” was popular in the 1890s from Palmer Cox’s books about the mythical creatures. Various “brownie” plays—on Broadway and elsewhere—helped to popularize the “brownie” name at that time.
See also “blondie" ("blond brownie") and “Broadway brownie.”
Wikipedia: Chocolate Brownie
In American cooking, a chocolate brownie, also known as a brownie or a Boston brownie, is a small, rich, chocolate, baked cake-slice, named after its brown color. It is sometimes covered with fudge and may contain nuts or chips (chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, etc.). The first known mention of a brownie is believed to be in the 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalog. Brownies often have an icing, popular flavors being chocolate icing or a sugar based icing flavored with either vanilla or mint extract.
Wikipedia: Palmer Cox
Palmer Cox (April 28, 1840–July 24, 1924) was a Canadian-born artist and freemason, best known for his series of humorous verse cartoons about the mischievous but kindhearted Brownies. The cartoons were published in several books, such as The Brownies, Their Book (1887). Due to the popularity of Cox’s Brownies, one of the first popular handheld cameras was named after them, the Eastman Kodak Brownie camera.
He was born in Granby, Quebec, son of Michael and Sarah (Miller) Cox, and became a carpenter and car builder. He moved to San Francisco via Panama as a railroad contractor. He lived in San Francisco from 1863 to 1875. In 1874, he began to formally study drawing and contribute illustrated stories to such publications as Golden Era and Alta California. After 1875 lived in New York (Pine View House, East Quogue, Long Island). His Brownie stories appeared in St. Nicholas and the Ladies’ Home Journal.
Cox’s Brownies are little men who have adventures together. Each Brownie has a distinctive physical appearance: for example, one, Cholly Boutonnière, wears a top hat and monocle, another is dressed as a stereotypical Chinese peasant, yet another is dressed as a Red Indian chief in war bonnet. Cox’s text is quite crude, and does not develop individual personalities for the Brownies, aside from the “ethnic” ones speaking in stereotypical dialect. Cox’s illustrations tend to show a crowd of Brownies jumbled together, with specific Brownies recurring from one illustration to the next, but with no Brownie occupying a predictable location in the picture.
Food Timeline: Brownies & Blondies
“Brownie...the name comes from the deep brown color of the confection, and it has been an American favorite since the nineteenth century first appearing in print in 1906 in the “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book,” (Earlier references to “brownies” include Sears, Roebuck Catalog for 1897, although the reference is to mail order chocolate candies named after cartoon elves created by
author Palmer Cox in a series that began with “The Brownies: Their Book” , and in the 1896 edition of the “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” for a browned molasses confection containing no chocolate.)”
--- The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p.44)
“The two earliest recipes I could find for chocolate brownies appear in the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (with 2 squares Baker’s Chocolate, melted) and in Lowney’s Cook Book, written by Maria Willet Howard and published by the Walter M. Lowney Company of Boston in 1907...A note in Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics (1979) says that Bangor Brownies are probably
the original chocolate brownies. Legend has it that a Bangor, Maine, housewife was baking chocolate cake one day and it fell. Instead of pitching it out, this frugal cook cut the collapsed cake into bars and served it, apparently with high marks. Was that the beginning of brownies as we know them today? New York food historian Meryle Evans doubts it, believing this story, like so many others, to be apocryphal. Some say brownies were invented by a woman named Brownie. Others that brownies are an Americanization of Scottish cocoa scones...The real story isn’t known...Whatever their true origin, brownies didn’t become popular until the 1920’s.”
--- The American Century Cookbook, Jean Anderson [Clarkson Potter:New York] 1997 (p. 492)
“The original brownies had no leavening, except for an egg or two, and little flour, but were so rich with butter and melted chocolate that they baked up softer than other cookies...Fannie Merrit Farmer’s first brownie recipe, published in 1896, produced a confection that was colored and flavored with molasses. Each brownie had a nut placed at its center. All early brownies contained chopped nuts as well...The first chocolate brownie recipe was...published by Fannie Farmer in her 1905 revision of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. The proportions are similar to her 1896 chocolate cookie recipe, except that she radically reduced the amount of the flour. In the chocolate recipe she specified a “7-inch square pan.”...[Maria Willett] Howard, who had been trained by Fannie Farmer, was then employed by the Walter Lowney chocolate company. She enriched Farmer’s chocolate brownie recipe with an extra egg, creating Lowney’s Brownies. She then varied the recipe by adding an extra square of chocolate and named the Bangor Brownies. This last recipe apparently started the idea that brownies were invented by housewives in Bangor, Maine. The leading advocate of the Bangor theory of brownie origin was Mildred Brown Schrumpf, aptly nicknamed “Brownie,” born in Bangor in 1903. Unfortunately, Mrs. Schrumpf’s best piece of evidence was a Girl’s Welfare Cook Book published there in 1912. This is not only seven years post-Farmer, but the recipe contributed by Marion Oliver for Chocolate Brownies to that cookbook is almost exactly the same as the two-egg recipe for Lowney’s Brownies, not Bangor Brownies. Oliver also contributed a recipe for Molasses Brownies evidently taken from the Farmer cookbook...Maria Howard may have considered the Bangor Brownies, which were to be baked in a cake pan (unlike her Lowney’s Brownies), to be descended from a recipe for Bangor Cake in Maria Parloa’s Appledore Cook Book (1872), which was a white sheet cake...In fact, the two-egg Lowney’s Brownies was the recipe most often reprinted in new England community cookbooks before 1912.”
--- The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 1 (p. 136-7)
(Oxford English Dictionary)
A small square of rich, usu. chocolate, cake containing nuts. U.S.
1897 Sears, Roebuck Catal. 17/3 Fancy Crackers, Biscuits, Etc… Brownies, in 1 lb. papers.
31 March 1898, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 12 ad:
Chocolate Brownies, regular price 20c pound, for...15c
Library of Congress - Chronicling America
13 December 1903, Washington (DC) Times, pg. 16 ad:
13 July 1904, Mansfield (OH) News, pg. 5, col. 4:
BREAD and MILK CO.
2 April 1905, Boston Daily Globe, pg. 34:
Cream 1/2 cup butter, add 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 2 squares of chocolate (melted), 1/2 cup broken walnuts meats, 1/2 cup flour. Spread thin in buttered pans. Bake in moderate oven, and cut before cold.
I have never made these myself, but have eaten them many times made by a good cook.
Lowney’s Cook Book
prepared and revised by
Maria Willett Howard
Boston: The Walter M. Lowney Co.
1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 squares chocolate
1/2 to 3/4 cup flour
1 cup nut meats
1/4 teaspoon salt
Put all ingredients in bowl and beat until well mixed. Spread evenly in buttered baking pan. Bake and cut in strips.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 squares Lowney’s Premium Chocolate
1/2 cup nut meats
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream butter, add remaining ingredients, spread on buttered sheets, and bake ten to fifteen minutes. Cut in squares as soon as taken from oven.
3 October 1914, Grand Forks (ND) Daily Herald, pg. 7:
One-half cup butter, one cup sugar, two squares chocolate, two eggs, one cup nutmeats, one-half cup flour.
Directions—Cream butter; add sugar, chocolate (melted), nutmeats (chopped), lastly flour. Mix well and bake in a thin layer, on a buttered pan, for ten minutes. Cut in strips or squares and remove.
Boston Cooking-School Cook Book
by Fannie Merritt Farmer
Boston: Little, Brown and Company
1896 (molasses, not
1/3 cup butter.
1/3 cup powdered sugar.
1/3 cup Porto Rico molasses.
1 egg well beaten.
7/8 cup bread flour.
1 cup pecan meat cut in pieces.
Mix ingredients in order given. Bake in small, shallow fancy cake tins, garnishing top of each cake with one-half pecan.
30 May 1974, Los Angeles Times, “Brownies He Has Known” by James Beard, pg. G8:
Recently, ever since someone asked me what I know about the history of brownies, I’ve been delving into their lore, and I’ve discovered some fascinating sidelights. Consulting my collection of old cookbooks, I found that the first brownie recipes seem to have come from two sections of New England—Boston and Bangor, Me.—and the little cakes were often known as Boston brownies or
Bangor brownies. The first brownie recipes appear to have been published around 1907, in “The Lowney Cookbook” (at that time, Lowney’s sold some of the best chocolate in America). One was for Bangor brownies, another for Lowney’s brownies, a rather different recipe.
The indefatigable Fanny Farmer had an even earlier recipe, in 1896, but hers were not what we would consider brownies, for they were made with butter, powdered sugar, molasses, egg, flour and pecan meats and no chocolate, and cooked in fancy little pans with a pecan atop each one. That was a far cry from the Boston, Bangor or Lowney’s brownies. Just for the fun of it, I’m going to give you a couple of those original old recipes.
23 November 2005, New York Sun, pg. 19:
According to “The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink,” the term “brownies” first appeared in 1896, but it referred to “a browned molasses confection containing no chocolate.” The first cocoa-centric use of the term appears to have come in 1906, which means we’re coming up on brownies’ centennial year.