Palmer House Brownies

A few years ago, we inherited a box of genealogical data, old letters, newspaper clippings and photos. The box belonged to my great grandmother, who gave it to my grandmother who passed it to me. There are a lot of interesting articles in the box, but the one that’s been on my mind is a list of all my great grandmother’s possessions handwritten on stationary from The Palmer House in Chicago. What was she doing at The Palmer House and why she was writing this list? I like to make up scenarios, and thanks to Bon Appetit, in the next one my grandmother will be eating a brownie.

According to a reader who wrote to Bon Appetit (March 2009) requesting the recipe, the Palmer House Hilton serves fabulous brownies. Apparently, they are known for them and the recipe is said to be something Bertha Palmer (wife of the hotel owner) requested the hotel chef to make for the World’s Fair. So while the current issue of BA has quite a few enticing desserts, you can guess the first one on my list are the brownies. Two interesting things stand out – they are made with cake flour and glazed with apricot preserves.

I found a post with the original recipe on Travel Channel’s Forum (no longer there) so you can see it. When it’s posted on Epicurious (Here it is), I will link there. I think the Bon Appetit/Epicurious version looks a little better.


Here’s my review and post of Palmer House Brownies.

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  1. says

    Hi Anna!
    I’ve been pretty quiet lately, but I’ve been reading along. I have to respond to this though. About eighteen years ago or so my husband and I stayed at a hotel in downtown Chicago called the Palmer House Hotel. It was a lovely place. I wonder if it used to be the Palmer House Hilton?
    Your box of family history sounds like a treasure. My Grandma made a list similar to your Grandma’s, but her intent was to make sure that certain family members got certain things after she passed.
    Your brownies sound great! Can’t wait to read about them.

  2. says

    Sue, it’s definitely the same one. I am used to thinking about it as Hilton because Hilton has owned it for a while, but it used to be Palmer House.

  3. Louise says

    I just looked in the Feb 2009 issue and don’t see the brownie request so I guess I must wait for the March issue. Are you talking about the 1893 or 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. I think you like movies and you’d probably enjoy seeing “Expo: Magic of the White City” a documentary about the 1893 fair. Electricity, street lights, and the Otis elevator were new things. Oh, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. And there was a giant ferris wheel, built by George Ferris. Fuel for the imagination —
    Yesterday I made a mini-batch of Bacon Bourbon Brownies and upped the quantities of bourbon, bacon, and pecans. I think next time I’ll add a touch of chipotle.

  4. says

    Louise, it’s in the March issue. I just added that so people will know. I’m still waiting for it to appear on Epicurious.

    I am going to email you re: soldier packages. You can definitely send something!

  5. Louise says

    Katrina’s right. That recipe looks screwed up. In addition to all that sugar and a pound of butter, it’s using all semi-sweet chocolate and a pound of walnuts. Is the Bon Appetit one the same?

  6. says

    I think the one in the link is just not really geared for modern home cooks. BA’s measurements are almost the same as the original with slight changes.

    –They halved the recipe and baked it in an 8 inch square pan

    –They called for unsalted butter and added salt to the recipe.

    –They called for bittersweet chocolate

    –They reduced the baking powder.

    They also changed the heat setting to 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes.

    Oh, and they omitted the gelatin from the topping.

  7. Therese B. says

    So cool Anna!

    I am so intrigued with old stories….wow, and from your ggm…how cool is that?
    I will have to ask my mom, because I believe she went to the Palmer House/Chicago with my dad at some point.

    Very cool…can’t wait for the March issue!


    I am intruiged with the bacon/bourbon/pecan brownies as well. There is such an interest with bacon and chocolate lately…has anyone else noticed that trend?

  8. Louise says

    Theresa B — Bacon, it’s not just for breakfast anymore. 🙂 There are lots of recipes on the web for bacon and chocolate, sugared bacon, and bacon brittle.
    Anna — The March issue of Food & Wine has a grilled Salmon Club Sandwich which uses “agave” and a rub. Now that we all have agave, here’s another use. It’s not on their website yet.

  9. pam shank says

    Oh my gosh that box sounds so wonderful. I love things like that. I need to start a box for my grandchildren. Everyone has so many special things in their life and all should be passed on thru stories and keepsakes. I always think of It’s A Wonderful Life nd how many lives each of us really do touch. I always enjoy your blog so much. The recipes are so great but the stories you add in are so down to earth and we can identify with them. Wish you could mail us all one of those brownies…guess we will have to make them.

  10. says

    Its fun to look at recipes from the past and see how tastes have changed. Regarding the modern trend of putting bacon in desserts, I have to confess that I really don’t get that one. 🙂

  11. Louise says

    Lisa Ernst – The ground up bacon in the brownies added a smokey salted taste, not unlike the salted caramel that’s also popular. Another food fad, but I do want to try Pig Candy, brittle with bacon and peanuts. 😉

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