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Exploring the Brownie vs Blondie Iceberg

2022-06-10   ◆   3 minutes read

By exploring the many levels of brownie and blondie differences, you’ll slowly realise they’re almost like an iceberg. On the surface level, blondies are just look-alike brownies for people who aren’t a fan of chocolate. This level covers the basics; you can imagine what that dessert tastes like. However, like the underwater levels of an iceberg, there is so much more to explore about brownies and blondies. Layers like: which of the two sweets came first? What type of dessert are they? And what do nocturnal trolls in my house have to do with it? Let’s explore this brownie vs blondie iceberg together! And check out the similarities and differences between some beloved treats.

Brownies vs Blondie Iceberg

Brownie vs. Blondie

So, what is a brownie? They’re almost indescribable in their deliciousness. Brownies are rich and chocolatey confections. Sometimes they’ll contain fun chunks like nuts, candy, or if you’re lucky, more chocolate. You’ll frequently see them at potlucks because they’re pretty easy to make, and you can buy them almost everywhere. In terms of their consistency? It lies somewhere between a cake and a cookie, so they usually come in a bar form. Brownies are packed with flavour, and if you like chocolate, they’re the ultimate finger food. Brownies are a classic snack!

Stacks of delicious-looking Blondies and Brownies in front of a wooden wall. Des tas de blondies et de brownies devant un mur en bois
Brownie vs blondie, take your pick at Baked

Blondies have a very similar texture to brownies; they’re super moist and super rich. As we mentioned earlier, many people would describe blondies as ‘brownies without chocolate.’ But sorry to disappoint you, while dipping our toes in the iceberg water we found out that the first brownie in a cookbook had no chocolate! That’s right; the first brownie recipe was actually a blondie! So really, today’s brownies are blondies with chocolate. That original “blondie” recipe had molasses, which was eventually simplified and replaced with brown sugar. Butterscotch and caramel are the defining flavours of blondies, and they’re absolutely delicious, unique, and heavenly treats. If you haven’t tried them, we highly recommend them.

Rows of blondies topped with zig-zagging pink rose icing. Des rangées de blondes surmontées de glaçage rose zigzaguant.
Blondies with buttercream icing from Wild Rose Cakes

Brownie/Blondie: What Type of Dessert is it?

Now let’s get fully submerged in the underwater levels of this iceberg. There’s been quite a debate at Dessert Advisor regarding the classification of the brownie vs blondie. And as it turns out, many people are in the same boat. So, we deep-dived to settle this once and for all. 

One of the legends about the mysterious origin of brownies is that someone was baking a chocolate cake and forgot to put in the baking powder. This accident made the resulting dessert denser than a cake but just as delicious. Although this story is unconfirmed, it definitely lends to the conviction that brownies are “cakes.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Cakes tend to rise and be airy, and there are many varieties of them. They’re also the centre of attention in a gathering and have a particular assembly and decoration. Brownies and blondies are much lower maintenance and do not follow any of the cake rules. You also cannot eat cake with your fingers as comfortably as you can brownies and blondies.

A few scattered blondies with swirls of chocolate brownie in them. Quelques blondes éparpillées avec des tourbillons de brownie au chocolat dedans.
The best of both worlds (Browned Butter Blondie)

Cookies, on the other hand, you can certainly eat with your fingers. Also, there are different subsections of cookies. Mirriam Webster describes one of these, the bar cookie, as “a sweetened baked good that is made from a dough, is typically denser than cake, and is cut into a rectangular or square shape.” That really sounds like brownies and blondies. Besides the structural similarity, cookies tend to have chunks, just like the nuts and chocolate of brownies. And their optional icing is more similar to brownies and blondies as well. Another more recent similarity is the easy portioning that cookies, brownies, and blondies facilitate as weed edibles. So, after much research, the consensus seems to be that brownies and blondies are, indeed, a “snack” or “bar cookies.” Sorry to ruffle anyone’s feathers!

Vegan brownie with an aesthetic array of its ingredients. ingredients Brownie végétalien avec un éventail esthétique de ses ingrédients
Vegan brownie from Edible Flours

The Name: Where Does “Brownie” Come From?

The answer to where brownies got their name may seem obvious – they’re brown! However, the origins of blondies are much more entangled in that answer than it may seem. The first recorded use of the term “brownie” was in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook, Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. But there wasn’t any chocolate listed in the original publishing of this book. Again, it was more of a blondie recipe. So then why would they be called “brownies” if they weren’t brown?

Although there isn’t a definitive reason for the name “brownie,” there is a theory. And this is where we get into the deep layers of our iceberg. In the late 19th century, Quebecois illustrator Palmer Cox had a very popular comic strip. It was about mischievous little sprites who come out at night to either help with chores or wreak havoc. And he named the characters after the same creatures that The Girl Guides named one of their positions after; Brownies! In Scottish mythology, you could appease the nocturnal Brownies of your house by offering them milk and cookies. We’ve explored these tiny, temperamental Santa Clauses in our fudgy brownies blog if you want to learn more. Although it is just a theory, it would make sense to name a new type of cookie in homage to these little cookie monsters.

Art piece of little sprites working together to carry barrels much larger than them. “Brownies in the orchard” by Palmer Cox. Oeuvre d’art de petits sprites travaillant ensemble pour transporter des barils beaucoup plus grands qu’eux.
“Brownies in the orchard” by Palmer Cox (The Met)

Another support to the Palmer Cox theory is the first record of chocolate added to brownies. A few years after Fannie’s cookbook, in 1899, a local fundraising effort gathered recipes and published the Machias Cook Book. Marie Kelly submitted the recipe in question and called them “Brownie’s Food.” That phrasing sounds an awful lot like it was food that belonged to Brownies. And Marie could not have been referring to The Girl Guides because that organisation only began in England in the early 20th century.

A closeup of the result of making the first brownie recipe containing chocolate, dolloped with whipped cream. Un gros plan du résultat de la première recette de brownies contenant du chocolat, dolloped avec de la crème fouettée.
Kitchen Historic’s making of the first ever brownie recipe to include chocolate

Whatever their names and differences, these desserts are entangled all the way down the brownie vs blondie debate. And although brownies were once blondies, today, blondies are frequently overshadowed by their brownie counterparts. But there’s no need to choose when they’re both so delicious! Let’s celebrate the similarities and differences. Give them a taste test this weekend, and find some brownies and blondies near you!

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