ACCORDING TO Merriam-Webster’s, it is hardly a brownie — “a short, square piece of rich, chocolate cake that often contains nuts” — at all. But at a recent party featuring four baked apple goods, our version of Nancy Black’s School Brownies was the first to go.
Brownies have a strong New England history, yet chefs at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel are credited with first making what eventually came to be called brownies, in 1893. Bertha Palmer, wife of hotel owner Potter Palmer, was asked to create a dessert for boxed lunches at the women’s pavilion at that year’s World Columbian Exposition. She had the hotel’s pastry chefs create a dessert that was smaller than a cake and easier to eat than pie. The result was a brownie-like confection made with chocolate and walnuts, topped with an apricot glaze.
The first published recipe for brownies was by Fanny Farmer in the 1896 The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. It contained no chocolate; Farmer’s recipe was more like a blonde brownie. So are apple brownies, with pleasing bites of apple.
(The chocolate brownie also has New England origins: a recipe for Brownie’s Food first appeared in a Machias, Maine, community cookbook in 1899. It calls for chocolate, flour, milk, and baking soda.)
The recipe for Apple Brownies was adapted from Olwen Woodier’s 1984 classic Apple Cookbook. Woodier writes that she got the recipe from her daughter’s first-grade teacher.
1 c sugar
½ c butter, softened
¾ c flour
¼ c whole-wheat flour
1½ t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
1 large Cortland or other sweet-tart New England apple, unpeeled, cored and diced
1 t vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square pan.
Cream butter and sugar together in medium bowl.
Beat in the egg.
In separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Stir into batter.
Add apple and vanilla.
Pour into baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares.
The original recipe called for ¾ c walnuts, mixed in with the apples. I did not have any on hand, so made the recipe without. The brownies were moist, soft, and chewy, and the lack of nuts did not appear to diminish their popularity.