You have a Chicago socialite, a hotel pastry chef and the 1893 World’s Fair to thank for the existence of the brownie.
Or that’s at least what legend says.
Like many classic desserts, the brownie has mythical origins. And in honor of National Brownie Day, here’s Chicago’s claim to the brownie.
Bertha Honore was the wife of Potter Palmer, a wealthy Chicago businessman who built the Palmer House in the Loop in 1871, the hotel’s website says.
Honore chaired the Board of Lady Managers for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The board had 117 members and marked the first time women served in any official capacity at a world’s fair, according to the National Park Service.
She wanted to create a special treat for the fair so she went to the Palmer House’s pastry chef, Joseph Sehl. She tasked Sehl with creating a “chocolate cake-like treat” that could be easily boxed and transported, the website says.
Sehl’s final product was the Palmer House Brownie, a chocolatey treat made with walnuts and an apricot glaze.
Five years after the exposition, according to the National Park Service, a Sears Roebuck catalog published the first mention of the “brownie” by name.
A brownie is still on the menu at Palmer House’s Lockwood restaurant. It’s now called Bertha’s Brownie and comes with a chocolate ganache-berry coulie and brownie crumble for $13.
A brownie cheesecake is also offered at the Potter’s Chicago Burger Bar in the hotel. The dish is served with apricots, candied walnuts, brownie crumble and whipped cream for $12.