Read // Eat: Palmer House Brownies from ‘The Devil In The White City’

Looking for a recipe from Devil In The White City to impress your book club friends? Click through for a truly amazing browning recipe!

Looking for a recipe from Devil In The White City to impress your book club friends? Well, you’re in luck because Benjamin is about to knock your socks off with these brownies!

In the air there are hints of fried foods, manure, and chafed thighs.

4-H kids around the state are packing up the overnight kits, whispering words of encouragement to their soon to be prized heifer, and working up the courage to ask that cute girl from Beltrami County out for a creamy after the show.

All of that can mean only one thing.  It’s fair season.

And what better book to read this fair season than Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City. This historical work covers the mother of all fairs, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

And added bonus…there’s a serial killer on the loose in Chicago at the same time and NOBODY seems to notice! I’m not spoiling anything by telling you this as there are plenty of high quality documentaries about this killer on Netflix (and by “high” I mean grainy re-enactments a la Unsolved Mysteries).

On a serious note though, it is a great book.

Half of the book covers the point of view of the architects in charge of building a small functioning city on the shores of Lake Michigan in just under three years – everything from the challenges caused by bureaucracy to the fierce Great Lake winds destroying a building overnight.

The other half covers the twisted mind of H. H. Holmes. One of the least-known serial killers in American history. While the world was obsessed with Jack The Ripper, Holmes was terrorizing young women in his elaborate home full of tunnels, gas chambers, and a crematory. But like many serial killers he was a knock-out. So it’s hard to hate him right?

At this point I imagine you’re wondering where the food comes into play? Here’s the answer:

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was a foodie’s dream. Much like state fairs of today, vendors needed to out-sell each other and came up with some genius products along the way.

Notable Foods from the 1893 Expo:

Juicy Fruit Gum

Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix

Cream of Wheat

And The Palmer House Brownie. The very first brownie. Ever. Though the term “brownie” doesn’t show up in cookbooks until a few years later. Many believe The Palmer House Brownie to be the Alpha Brownie.

Bertha Palmer, wife of Potter Palmer, owner of the Chicago luxury hotel, The Palmer House, challenged the hotel chef to create a “ladies” dessert that was smaller than a slice of cake and portable, to be used in box lunches served at the Woman’s Building at the fair. The brownies quickly became a hit and are still served at The Palmer House to this day.

So make a pan. Nestle into the comfy corner of the sofa. And pick up The Devil in the White City. History, a serial killer, and brownies, a perfect weekend.

palmer house brownies

The Palmer House Brownie recipe from The Devil In The White City

(recipe from Epicurious)

1 pound semi-sweet chocolate
1 pound butter
1 pound granulated sugar (3 1/2 cups)
8 oz. cake flour (2 cups)
1 tablespoons 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. Mix dry ingredients except the walnuts– in a large mixer bowl on low speed for 4-5 minutes.

Add the eggs and mix until blended. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking sheet and sprinkle with the walnuts, pressing nuts down lightly into the mixture with the palm of your hand.

Bake in the preheated 300-degree 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 about ¼ 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 mixture.

After removing from the oven, allow to cool at least 30 minutes.

To make glaze: Mix together water, preserves and gelatin in a saucepan, mix thoroughly and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Use while 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 for 3 – 4 hours after glazing, then remove and cut with a serrated knife.

If there are any book/recipe pairing you’d particularly like to see, tell us in the comments!

P.S. teacakes from To Kill A Mockingbird!


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