A chocolate brownie is a flat, baked dessert square that was developed in the United States at the end of the 19th century and popularized in both the U.S. and Canada during the first half of the 20th century. It is a cross between a cake and a soft cookie in texture and comes in a variety of forms. Depending on its density, it may be either fudgy or cakey and may include nuts, icing, chocolate chips, or other ingredients. A variation made with brown sugar and chocolate bits but without melted chocolate in the batter is called a blonde brownie.
Brownies are typically eaten by hand, often accompanied by milk or coffee. They are sometimes served warm with ice cream (à la mode), topped with whipped cream, or sprinkled with powdered sugar. Common lunchbox fare, they are also popular in restaurants.
In spite of common myths about the brownie's creation (involving melted chocolate spilled into biscuit dough, lack of baking powder, and so on), its actual origin appears well established. A prominent Chicago socialite, Bertha Palmer, whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel there, asked a pastry chef for a dessert suitable for ladies attending the Chicago 1893 World Fair. She requested a confection smaller than a piece of cake, though still retaining cake-like characteristics, easily eaten from boxed lunches. The first brownies featured an apricot glaze and walnuts, and are still made at the hotel according to the original recipe.
The first known printed use of the word "brownie" appeared in the 1896 version of the The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer, in reference to molasses cakes baked individually in tin molds. The earliest known published recipes for a modern style brownie appeared in the Home Cookery (1904, Laconia, NH), Service Club Cook Book (1904, Chicago, IL), The Boston Globe (April 2, 1905 p. 34), and the 1906 edition of Farmer cookbook. These recipes produced a relatively mild and cake-like brownie.
By 1907 the "brownie" was well established in a recognizable form, appearing in Lowney’s Cook Book by Maria Willet Howard (pub. Walter M. Lowney Company, Boston) as an adaptation of the Boston Cooking School recipe for a "Bangor Brownie". It added an extra egg and an additional square of chocolate, creating a richer, fudgier dessert. The Bangor Brownie, which appears to have gotten its name from the home town of its creator, Bangor, Maine, went on to be rated third in the top 10 snacks a few years later.