The earliest brownies, like this recipe from Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, contained no chocolate whatsoever.

The name “brownie” was most likely inspired by the illustrations of Palmer Cox, whose brownie comics and books were incredibly popular from the 1880s through the 1910s. “Brownies, like fairies and goblins, are imaginary little sprites, who are supposed to delight in harmless pranks and helpful deeds. They work and sport while weary households sleep, and never allow themselves to be seen by mortal eyes.” – from The Brownies, Their Book by Palmer Cox, 1915.

Illustration from The Brownies: Their Book, by Palmer Cox


  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 7/8 cup bread flour
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
  1. Cream butter and sugar together.
  2. Mix in the egg and molasses.
  3. Add the flour and chopped pecans and mix until just incorporated.
  4. Spoon into muffin tins or cups (I baked mine in fluted brioche cups to get a fancy look) and top each one with a pecan half.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.

Tasting Notes:

These are much more like little molasses muffins than they are like modern brownies. While I do miss the chocolate, these are still pretty good! Pecans and molasses is a great combination.

My only complaint is that they were slightly dry. I think they would be at their best when served alongside tea or coffee. Fannie Merritt Farmer includes this recipe in her cake chapter, but they seem more like breakfast or tea cakes than dessert cakes to me.


Cox, P. (1915). The brownies: Their book. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.

Farmer, F. (1896). The Boston cooking-school cook book. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Zanger, M. (2004). Brownies. In A. F. Smith, (Ed.), The Oxford encyclopedia of food and drink in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, A. F. (2013). Brownies. In Food and Drink in American History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

2 thoughts on “Brownies

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