Nov 13, 2014
Let's talk about brownies, y'all.
Did you know that the brownie was invented in Chicago? True story! When the World's Fair was held in Chicago in 1893, The Palmer House hotel was very involved in its production. Bertha Palmer, the hotel owner's wife, was the President of the Board of Lady Managers for the Fair, and she wanted a portable dessert that her guests could enjoy in their boxed lunches. But, since the Fair was all about new inventions, she wanted a new dessert that no one had ever tasted before, so, she charged the chef at The Palmer House to come up with something truly original. She didn't want a cake. Too messy. She didn't want a cookie. Too common. But she did want something chocolatey...and, that's how the brownie was created. They were a hit at the World's Fair and, in 1898, the recipe was published in a Sears-Roebuck catalogue so they could be made in kitchens all over the country. The Palmer House still uses the same recipe today!
Now, how and why do I know the above information?
Well, last weekend, I got to tell that exact story 8 times during The Auditorium Theatre's Family Fun Day. The Auditorium Theatre is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, (holy moly!) and they've been hosting a whole slew of events in celebration. Because The Palmer House is one of their industry partners, I got the chance to meet with their current Executive Chef, Stephen Henry, who told me all about the invention of the brownie and showed me how they're made. We really had a great time talking to each other, and I can't say enough nice things about him. I mean, he even did a silly dance with me at the end of this video. What a good sport, huh?
During Family Fun Day, I had a station out in the lobby of the beautiful Auditorium Theater. Wait, here's a picture of just how amazing it is...
See? Told ya.
Anyway, I had a station out in the lobby, where I told the history of the brownie and explained just how their made. Look at my sweet setup:
I even had a fancy sign!
Now, the recipe for the Palmer House Brownie is all over the web, so I'm not going to break it down here, because I have a little secret...
I really like my brownie recipe.
Now, it's definitely a take on the Palmer House recipe, because, well, it's the original, but the one I use does vary a little, and I think for the best. Ina Garten is really responsible for this whole mess, but she's the culinary queen, so what's one to do? (Shhhh...I still love you, Palmer House Brownies! It's not you. It's me!)
So, here how brownies go down at my tiny kitchen...
1 lbs. unsalted butter (Seriously. One. Whole. Pound.)
1 24 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips (Yes, girl. You read me right. Now is not the time to get shy about ingredients)
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 tbs. vanilla extract
3 tbs. secret ingredient!!! (see below!)
2 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. flour
1 tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
I tend to think about these ingredients as three groups: chocolate, wet, and dry. The first thing you'll want to do is start melting the chocolate and the butter. Never, and I mean, pretty much never, put chocolate on direct heat. It's too temperamental to withstand that amount of heat and it's super hard to keep it from burning, even if you're watching it like a hawk. So, get that double boiler going. I don't have a fancy one, so I just use a heatproof glass mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water. The steam heat from the water will melt the chocolate and the butter together slowly, so that you don't have to worry about it burning. Just make sure that the water isn't actually touching the bottom of the bowl. Also, you'll want to reserve about a cup of the chocolate chips. Don't melt them with the rest of the chocolate. We'll add them back in for texture later.
While the chocolate is melting, you can start getting the rest of your ingredients together. Oh, and pre-heat your oven to 350. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set it aside. In a bigger mixing bowl, gently break the eggs into the bowl and lightly beat them. The yolks just need to be broken up and mixed in a little bit, but you don't have to go into a lot of effort with beating them. Then, you'll add the vanilla extract, the sugar, and, finally, the secret ingredient:
BOOM! Instant coffee!
It a commonly known fact that coffee makes chocolate taste even more like chocolate, and this really works to its advantage in this brownie recipe. Who knew instant coffee was actually good for something?! But, seriously, this is the superstar of this recipe.
Once the chocolate is melted, you'll have assembled your brownie trifecta.
You know what to do next. Combine those bowls...I would say eggs into chocolate first, and then add the flour. Oh, remember those chocolate chips you put aside? Well, we haven't forgotten them! Sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour over them while they're still in the bag, and then shake to coat. Then, pour those into the batter.
Next, pour them into your pan. This amount of batter will fill a full 12 x 18 baking sheet or you can split it between two 9 x 13 pans, like I usually do.
At this point, I usually pop them in the oven and anxiously await for them to bake, but this is also the point where you could get creative. Stir in some peanut butter or a caramel swirl. Whatever floats your boat. Because I was baking these specifically to have a completed pan for my Family Fun Day demo, I decided to Palmer House-ify (just go with it) this batch. So, before going in the oven, I sprinkled the top with chopped walnuts and lightly pressed them in with the palm of my hand, so they really stuck in the batter.
The final element to the Palmer House Brownies is the apricot glaze, so while the brownies baked for the next 30 minutes or so, I made the simple glaze, which is 1 c. apricot preserves, 1 c. water, and 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin boiled together for 2 minutes. Super easy.
Oh, a note about baking these brownies: At 20 minutes into the bake time, I would recommend lighting banging the tray of brownies on the stove top and then popping them back into the oven. This will make sure any air bubbles pop and you'll have evenly baked brownies. If you're working with a full baking sheet, they'll probably need another 15 minutes to bake, putting the total bake time at 35 minutes. If you're using smaller pans, they'll probably only need 5- 10 more minutes. Do not over bake these. I've done it and they get really crunchy...and not in a pleasant way. Like in a "I'm eating a brick" way. They're done as soon as the center is set and a toothpick comes out clean.
If you're making these Palmer House style, you'll want to pour the apricot glaze over the top of the brownies. Listen to that sizzle! It smells amazing! And, then brush the glaze to make sure that it's covered evenly. Yessssssss. Brownie deliciousness!
Yes, I did sample that corner piece, cause the edges are the best.
I know your instinct will be to slice these up and eat them immediately. I mean, as I just said, I couldn't help but sample that little corner piece, but I strongly recommend that you not only let these come to room temperature, but that you put them in the fridge for at least an hour afterwards. If you try to cut them while they're still warm, you'll most likely end up with some crumbly brownie pieces, and you don't want all of your hard work to go to waste. So, hold off, let them chill out, and then cut them into squares and serve. I brought the leftovers from my demo to a rehearsal afterwards, and one of my cast mates took one bite and said, "These are like professional," SCORE!
So, bake away, my friends, and enjoy the history and the sweetness of these brownies!
Oh, and speaking of being professional, check out my business cards...
More information about Honey Baby Baker will be coming soon, but if you're in the Chicagoland area, and you've got a craving for something yummy, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Huzzah!