The 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition was a truly wild scene. In addition to being one of the first large events powered by electricity, it featured all of the following: the first Ferris wheel; the wide debut of both Juicy Fruit and Pabst Blue Ribbon; a big honking gun that could allegedly shoot a 2000-pound projectile through a three-foot thick iron plate that was over a mile away; and performances by both Harry Houdini (invited, inside the fair) and Buffalo Bill Cody (not invited, in the parking lot outside the fair). Most importantly, thanks to a very wealthy woman named Bertha Palmer who instructed the pastry chef at her husband’s hotel to make a small little cake that was “suitable for ladies” and could be served in boxed lunches, it featured the first brownie.
Please do take a second and get a good picture in your head here. Really get a grasp on it, close your eyes and everything. You walk in and see the whole thing illuminated by powerful bulbs that harness the power of the sun. Buffalo Bill was just shooting bottles in the parking lot. The Ferris Wheel fills the night sky. And as you’re taking it all in, the glowing light and the rowdy energy and the freaking future of it all, you bite into your first — the world’s first! — brownie. You feel that dense chocolate-y wave of flavor bounce around your taste buds as Harry Houdini straps on a straightjacket and heaves himself into a tank of water. We’re used to information overload now because it’s just the world we live in, but this was 1893. They were still two years away from the invention of radio. It must have been almost too much to comprehend. I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot.
Who doesn’t love a brownie? I’m asking, honestly. Raise your hands. Identify yourselves. I promise I won’t yell at you. I’m just curious. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who truly, honestly dislikes brownies. They’re about as close to a perfect food as you can create, at least in the dessert division. They’re sweet and dense and chocolately. You can eat them plain or load them with chocolate chips and/or various nuts. You can cover them in ice cream and hot fudge and make a whole sundae out of them. You can even, if you want, swap out the chocolate for vanilla and make a blondie bar. Throw some M&Ms in there. Get wild.
They’re just good, all the time, in almost any form. They’re great made from scratch. They’re great made from a box. They can even be great if they’ve been sitting on a counter for a while, provided they were fudgy and gooey enough when they were first made, and yes, this is the point where we launch into the Cakey v. Fudgy debate.
It is my position, generally, that you should prepare your food however you like it because it’s your food and you should enjoy it. Put ketchup on your hot dog, order your steak well-done, put ketchup on your well-done steak. I do not care. But I do have opinions about the Cakey v. Fudgy debate. Very firm opinions. One opinion, actually, which is that cakey brownies are trash. Why? Why would you ever choose — choose, by choice! — to eat a dry and crumbly piece of chocolate cake with no icing? Why would you do this when you have the option to eat the same thing but with a moist, gooey center? Even just as a texture thing, it is madness to me. Enjoy yourselves for one moment in your stupid lives, people. Make your brownies so moist that you could wring chocolate liquid out of them and drink the concentrated brownie juice. You deserve it.
Or keep punishing yourself with tightly packed chocolate dust. Again, your call.
Ugh, I want a brownie so bad right now. Just typing this is setting off all kinds of bells and whistles in my stomach and brain, to whatever degree the two are separate entities at this point. I can almost smell them cooking in the oven, a dangerous proposition because a) it means I might need a brownie very soon, and b) it means there is no way I’m going to be patient enough to let them cool off. I am going to absolutely scorch the roof of my mouth on a brownie, possibly as soon as 45 minutes from now. I can see it coming. I’m okay with it.
I’ll close with this. Remember a few years ago when giant cupcakes were a big deal? When bakeries all over the country were making cupcakes the size of softballs for some reason? Hoo boy, did this ever make me angry. Angry in a way that was so irrational that I had circled all the way back around to believing it was actually perfectly rational. I had two reasons for this rage.
REASON NUMBER ONE: Cupcakes are a silly and impractical food even at their normal size. They’re a piece of light and fluffy cake that has been globbed with a mountain of heavy icing and people expect you to eat it with your fingers. It’s madness. Every bite of a cupcake invites peril. One wrong angle, one too-firm squeeze for stability and the whole operation self-destructs in your hand. Making them bigger than a person’s mouth is just cruel. It’s more of a prank than a snack. The only reasonable option is to sit down and eat it with a fork — possibly even a spoon? — and I have juuuuuust barely enough respect for myself that I refuse to let people see me eat a cupcake in public with a whole utensil like some sort of out-of-touch 18th-century monarch who doesn’t realize the shiny new guillotine in the town square is actually for him.
REASON NUMBER TWO: I considered it disrespectful to brownies, the far superior baked dessert snack.
In hindsight, though, I’ve decided this was all probably for the best. Let the fancy people have their structurally unsound confections. Let them wait in long lines for a $12 grandiose money pit that will turn into a mess of crumbs and icing on their fingers by the second bite. Brownies don’t need all of that. Brownies are already great, in almost every form, with or without nuts, covered in decadent dairy products, plain and piping hot out of the oven. They’re not a dish you’ll find on the dessert tray at a restaurant that has an actual dessert tray. It’s better that way. Just make a batch yourself, at home, as fudgy as you can without turning them into brownie soup. Enjoy the simple pleasure of a delicious brownie. Sure, they might have been invented by the fabulously wealthy as a snack to nibble on at a futuristic fluorescent carnival, but time and good sense have changed all that. Brownies are for you and me. Brownies are for everyone.
Brownies are for the people.