Our son Reid recently returned from a United Airlines General Manager’s meeting in Chicago and stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, the nation’s oldest hotel in continual operation, and one of the world’s last remaining Grand Hotels. He had to order their famous brownie, with a rich history of being the first brownie ever created. “This dessert was created in the kitchen of the Palmer House Hotel during the 1893 Columbian Exposition when Mrs. Bertha Palmer requested the chef make a ‘ladies dessert’ that would be easier to eat than a piece of pie, and a smaller serving that a slice of layer cake, which could be used in box lunches at the Women’s Building at the Fair. The first reference to this dessert as a ‘Brownie’ is in a Sears Roebuck catalog published in Chicago in 1898.”
One of the most famous confections in Chicago, with a pound of chocolate and butter, an apricot glaze on top, this brownie is rich, not only in taste but in history too!
The Palmer House Brownie
Makes 24 brownies
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a double boiler or a bowl over barley simmering water melt:
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate
1 pound butter
In a large bowl of standing mixer, mix together:
1 pound sugar (3-1/2 cups)
8 ounces cake flour (2 cups
1 tablespoon baking powder
Add and mix until blended:
4 large eggs
Pour into a greased 9 X 13 baking sheet and sprinkle with:
1 pound crushed walnuts
Press down nut lightly into the mixture with the palm of your hand.
Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 40 minutes. The edges should become a little crispy and the brownie has raised about 1/4 inch.
Note that even when the brownie is properly baked, it will test “gooey” with a toothpick in the middle due to the richness of the brownie.
After removing from the oven, allow to cool at least 30 minutes.
Make the glaze. Mix together in a saucepan:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. While still hot, spread the glaze in a thin layer over the brownies using a pastry brush.
The brownies are easiest to cut if you can place the whole pan into the freezer fro 3-4 hours after glazing, then remove and cut with a serrated knife.
The Palmer House was built as a wedding gift from business magnate Potter Palmer to his wife Bertha in 1871, just thirteen days before the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed the original building. Determined to rebuild, Potter Palmer built a second hotel across the street from the original location, and opened its doors on Nov. 8, 1873.
Palmer House installed the first elevator in Chicago, with advertisements claiming: “a perpendicular railroad connects
floor to floor, rendering passage by the stairs unnecessary.”
In 2006, the Palmer House was named a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America (HHA) for maintaining its historic integrity, architecture, and ambiance. The hotel’s Tiffany 24-karat gold chandeliers and “Winged Angels”, weighing 1.25 tons each, along with Tiffany brass door handles, wood hinges, and hardware throughout the hotel, and Bertha Palmer’s signature French Havilland bone china are just some of the must-see items.
When I think of Chicago food, I immediately think of my idol, Chef Grant Achatz, a leader of molecular gastronomy. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hype Park, Grant went to California and worked at Charlie Trotters, and under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. He then moved to Chicago and became the executive chef at Trio.
In 2003, Chef Achatz was names The Rising Star Chef of the Year, in 2008, The Best Chef in the United States, and in 2012, Who’s Who Inductee from the James Beard Foundation.
Chef Achatz opened Alinea and on July 23, 2007, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. That is a chef’s worst nightmare as the usual treatment would be removal of his tongue, where all the taste buds are located. That would mean the end of his promising career. Through aggressive protocol of chemotherapy and radiations at the University of Chicago Medical Center, in December 2007, he was cancer-free.
In an interview with Food and Wine Magazine, one of his most requested items is his black truffle explosion. Grant says “It look like an ordinary ravioli, so when people bite down they expect to taste a creamy pureed filling, when all of a sudden, it explodes like a soup dumpling and all this intense black truffle stock comes out in their mouth.”
The other most requested recipe is for his Hot Potato Cold Potato, which is a chilled black truffle vichyssoise soup served in an oyster-shell-size paraffin-wax bowl.