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Which historic hotel is credited as the birthplace of the brownie?
Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois

Bertha Honoré Palmer was an American businesswoman and philanthropist. Her life became entwined with the historic Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel when she married Potter Palmer, who built the hotel for her as a wedding present in 1871. In 1893, Bertha Palmer served as the President of the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Palmer’s work included the creation of the Exposition’s Women’s Building, which showcased the historical achievements of American women over the past century, and famously proclaimed there, “even more important than the discovery of Columbus is the fact that the government has just discovered women.”

Pastry Chef Joseph Sehl was charged by Bertha Palmer to create a chocolate confection that could be easily boxed up and transported to the women’s luncheon of the Exposition. Sehl invented the chocolate brownie: a dense chocolate square, somewhere between fudge and cake, topped with sugary walnuts and glazed. And just like that, an American dessert staple was invented.

However, the dessert was not originally called a “brownie” by the Palmer House staff. The first reference to the brownie appeared in the Sears Roebuck Catalog published in Chicago in 1898, five years after its invention. It remains one of the hotel’s most popular desserts, and the hotel still crafts their brownies according to its original recipe. Home chefs today can try their hand at the original recipe and take a bite out of history.

To make the Palmer House Brownie, follow the recipe below:

5.25 oz 60% dark couverture chocolate
9.75 oz butter
12.75 oz granulated sugar
5 eggs
3.5 oz all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
8 oz chopped walnuts
1 cup water
1 cup apricot preserves
1 tsp unflavored gelatin

Brownie Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 °F .

2.Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Mix the baking powder, sugar, and flour together in a bowl. Combine chocolate and flour mixtures. Stir for 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs and continue mixing.

3. Pour the mixture into a 9x12 baking sheet. Sprinkle walnuts on top, pressing down slightly into the mixture with your hand. Bake for approximately 35 minutes.

4.Brownies are done when the edges begin to crisp and rise about 1/4 of an inch.

Glaze Directions:

1. Mix water, apricot preserves, and unflavored gelatin in a saucepan.

2. Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil for two minutes.

3. Brush hot glaze on brownies while still warm.

Note: When the brownie is properly baked, it will remain “gooey” with a toothpick in the middle due to the richness of the mixture.

Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel built in 1871 and a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2007, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel celebrates National Brownie Day every year on December 8, and offers special brownie-themed culinary options in the hotel's restaurant for guests to enjoy year-round. The hotel also offers beautifully packaged takeaway brownies for guests to enjoy in their guestroom or on a Chicago adventure. Book a stay at the Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel.

This has been a Historic Hotels History Mystery.

For more fun facts, trivia, and historic highlights, check out our History Mystery pages for Historic Hotels of AmericaandHistoric Hotels Worldwide.

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