Posted by: Kath Usitalo | January 9, 2012

Recipe File: Palmer House Brownies

"Bertha's Famous Brownie" is on the menu at Chicago's Palmer House Hotel

How are those New Year’s resolutions working out for you?

If you’re ready to break your promise about sticking with healthier foods—or perhaps, to practice the vow you made to indulge in more sweet treats—I’ve got a brownie recipe for you.

TJ’s cousin Fred made these in December when he entertained us with a dinner that honored two Great Lakes institutions. The main course was J.L. Hudson’s Maurice Salad, an entree so revered at the late, great Detroit department store that Macy’s, the current incarnation of the emporium, sells its dressing in bottles.

Fred topped that with the confection created by the chef at Chicago’s famed Palmer House Hotel during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in the Windy City.

Postcard of the Women's Building,

Mrs. Potter Palmer (Bertha) supposedly requested a “ladies dessert” for the box lunches at the fair’s Women’s Building. She wanted something easier to eat than pie and smaller than a slice of cake.

The result was this decadent, fudgy chocolate bar. Or a version of it. I’ve seen some recipes that use bittersweet chocolate, but when Paige and I made them the other day we stuck with the semi-sweet (chocolate chips) in the adaptation found at Epicurious. And yes, it really does call for a pound of each of those ingredients.

We did not top it with the apricot glaze. New Year’s resolution to cut calories, you know.

Palmer House Brownies

Makes 24 or more brownies

1 pound semi-sweet chocolate
1 pound butter
1 pound granulated sugar (3-1/2 cups)
8 oz. cake flour (2 cups)
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 whole eggs
1 pound crushed walnuts

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Melt chocolate with the butter in a double boiler or in a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until well blended. Stir in melted butter and sugar mixture, cooled to lukewarm. Add flour and baking powder and stir or fold to blend well.

Pour into a greased 9×13 baking pan and sprinkle with the walnuts, pressing nuts down lightly into the mixture with the palm of your hand.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. You will know when it is done because the edges start to become a little crispy and the brownie has raised slightly above the pan.

Even when the brownie is properly baked, it will test “gooey” with a toothpick in the middle due to the richness of the mixture.
(NOTE: I think there’s a difference between “gooey” and runny. It took over 60 minutes for the mixture to resemble more than a soupy batter; some versions of the recipe call for a 350 degree oven. Next time I’ll crank up the oven a bit.)

Remove brownies from the oven and allow to cool one hour. Do not cut.

To make glaze: Mix together the water, preserves and gelatin in a saucepan.
(Note: some versions just use the heated preserves, no water or gelatin.) Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. While the mixture is hot, spread the glaze in a thin layer over the brownies using a pastry brush.

Place the entire pan in the freezer for 3-4 hours after glazing. Remove, allow to soften a bit and then cut.

Visitor Info Click: Chicago



  1. Pretty tempting Kath!~ I think I’ll give it a try soon. THANKS!

  2. Incredibly delicious. Use the apricot jam. It gives it a wonderous flavor. Paint the plate lightly with Chocolate syrup. Cut the brownie slice in1/2 and place each triangle, one flat and the other upright. Beautiful presentation. The pastry chef did a light dusting of powder sugar over all. Making it for Valentines day with a large fanned cut strawberry. Cant wait. Yes I will freeze it so the cutting is smooth and solid.
    Best ever elegant dessert. To special to be called just a brownie, but that’s exactly what it is!

    • Jo…this is wild. I was just thinking of making these again. Thanks for the tips.

  3. […] eat and transport—very different from the denser and gooier (but also yummy) Chicago’s Palmer House hotel brownie we indulged in earlier this […]

  4. Do you know where to get the recipe for the Famous Palmer House Salad dressing that used to be served during the 1970’s

  5. Sounds good. I think I’ll mix it up myself. 😉

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