Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies Recipe

We first happened upon this charmingly old-fashioned brownie recipe in the article “A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food” by Laurie Colwin, which appeared in the February 1992 issue of Gourmet magazine. It had actually appeared in print prior to that, in August 1975, when it was featured in The Ladies’ Home Journal. Since then we’ve also happened upon it in Saveur magazine as well as, quite frankly, too many blogs to count. In the compilation of Saveur recipes known as The New Comfort Food, editor James Oseland describes the brownies as “incredibly chewy bars with a full but mellow chocolate flavor.”  We concur—and, seeing as this simple one-pan recipe has charmed its way into the hearts, recipe collections, and bellies of countless Americans, it seems that you do, too.

Colwin’s original recipe is a rather prosaic piece of stream of consciousness, informally written in a blissfully no-nonsense, unpatronizing manner that’s unfettered by a distinction between ingredient list and instructions. It lacks the stylized, precise formula common to most contemporary recipes, which only makes us—well, some of us—love it all the more. For those of you, dear readers, who simply must have their ingredient list separate from their cooking instructions, the more conventional—and arguably less soulful—rendition of the recipe, the one that later appeared in Saveur, follows Colwin’s original.

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Laurie Colwin | Gourmet | February, 1992 | Makes about 12 brownies

“The best recipe I have for brownies comes from a friend who got it from a magazine article about Katharine Hepburn. It is, apparently, her family’s recipe. If there were no other reason to admire Katharine Hepburn, this pan of brownies would be enough to make you worship her.”—Laurie Colwin

1. Melt together 1 stick butter and 2 squares unsweetened chocolate and take the saucepan off the heat. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This hearkens back to the day when “baking” chocolate—all two or so brands—came in large bars that were scored into squares. Use whatever your preferred brand—squares or otherwise—knowing that each square equaled one ounce.]

2. Stir in 1 cup sugar, add 2 eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and beat the mixture well.

3. Stir in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. (In Hepburn’s original recipe, 1 cup of chopped walnuts is added here as well.)

4. Bake the brownies in a buttered and floured 8-inch-square pan at 325°F for about 40 minutes. You can cut these brownies into squares, once they have cooled, and eat them out of the pan, but it is so much nicer to pile them onto a fancy plate.–Renee Schettler Rossi

LC Obscuring Chocolate-y Goodness Note

Clearly, Colwin was not a fan of anything obscuring the chocolate in these gooey brownies, as she omitted the handful of walnuts that appeared in Katharine Hepburn’s original recipe. Given our druthers, we’d add ‘em back in.

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 1 H
  • Makes 9 brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and butter the paper.
  • 2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the flour, salt, and walnuts and stir until incorporated.
  • 3. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Kim Graham

Jun 04, 2010

In my opinion, this is the perfect brownie. It’s dark and fudgy with a little edge of bitter flavor. I’ll admit I was impatient and tried cutting into them while they were still warm. But they were too soft to remove from the pan neatly, and their flavor was also too sweet. Wait until they’re completely cool, because that’s when they transform into the perfect balance of bitter and sweet (and, they’re much easier to handle). The fact that you can make them in one saucepan only increases their appeal.

Testers Choice
Victoria Filippi

Jun 04, 2010

Incredible. These are super easy, one-sauce pan brownies. The baking time was right on, and they were absolutely delicious. Though nuts are optional, as far as I’m concerned, they make them even more heavenly. I shared them with family, and our rating is unanimous: Chewy, chocolaty, and absolutely wonderful. I think I’ll make another batch tonight. Do try them. You won’t be disappointed.

Testers Choice
Tamiko Lagerwaard

Jun 04, 2010

This is an easy, basic, no-frills, old-fashioned recipe—perfect for those who love sweet, uncomplicated brownies. They’re chewy on the edges, moist and fudgy in the middle, and while baking, they form the hallmark of a good brownie: That thin, crispy layer on top. As the chocolate is really the star here, make sure to use the best quality unsweetened you can find. With a dollop of vanilla ice cream, the sweet tooth of both young and old should be sated with these.

Testers Choice
Eydie Desser

Jun 04, 2010

This recipe is easy and absolutely delicious. It took about 5 minutes to mix and 40 minutes to bake. I might have underbaked the brownies just a bit, as they are very chewy and fudgy. This makes them delicious, but very difficult to cut into neat squares. A few more minutes in the oven wouldn’t have compromised moistness, but would’ve made it easier for a beautiful presentation of perfectly cut squares.

Testers Choice
Leanne Abe

Jun 04, 2010

These are nice, chewy brownies. I’m not a fan of nuts in brownies, so I like that the basic recipe calls for no additions (they’re just optional). I love that the recipe comes together so quickly, too. There weren’t any left in the pan to take to work the next day.

Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Jun 04, 2010

The absolute best brownies I’ve ever made! While I respect Kate, it was the note about the recipe coming from a Laurie Colwin article that had me squeeze in some time to make these great brownies. And, having made them, my passion for Colwin continues on unabated. I could’ve eaten the entire batch myself, in one sitting, or standing—as I found myself next to the counter, slicing off one bite after another, until I’d eaten a full quarter-batch. If “old-fashioned” translates to “uncomplicated, straightforward and easy,” then this recipe is certainly the best of old-fashioned. Everything mixes into the saucepan, then transfers into a baking pan. Because Colwin’s preference was for plain (no nuts), I made them this way. However, I do like nuts in my brownies and will make them next time with the optional walnuts. Or, I’d make a double batch, half with and half without, since these terrific brownies are so easy to prepare.

Testers Choice
Elina N.

Jun 04, 2010

I thought these brownies were phenomenal! They were very rich and moist, and very chocolaty. I usually don’t like supersweet desserts, and I found the amount of sugar in this recipe was perfect. The top was nice and crackly, and everyone who tried them at my Memorial Day picnic loved them. You don’t need to invest in expensive chocolate for the brownies to have a great flavor. I’d also add some notes to the recipe: The brownies should cool for 5 to 8 minutes, at least. Also, cut the brownies with a very sharp paring knife and wet and rewet the knife constantly before cutting the next block. Cool the squares on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. You can store them with pieces of wax paper between layers, so the warm brownies don’t stick to each other. And instead of flouring the pan, I’d use cocoa powder on top of the butter in the pan, just so there are no unsightly white spots on the bottom. This recipe is a definite keeper, and is going into my recipe file.

Comments
Comments
  1. Louise says:

    I’ve been baking these wonderful brownies for more years than I can remember having gotten the recipe originally in a Liz Smith column in The Daily News. It has to be 30+ years because I used to send them to my daughter who graduated from college 20+ years ago and we were eating them at home for years before. They will never be replaced by any of the thousands of recipes for brownies that have appeared over the years, even the ones called “Adult Brownies” and I have to admit having tried a good number of them and always reverting to Kate’s Brownies as we familiarly call them.

  2. Raye Tiedemann says:

    This has been my go to Brownie recipe for years, it always amazed me to get all the compliments when I served them, the are nice and moist, and they disapper really fast. Why buy brownies from a box mix when you can make this wonderful recipe.They are amazing.

  3. Tiffany says:

    Funny that I came upon this recipe in my Leite’s newsletter. I was just thinking about making a batch of these brownies, however, the one I was looking at is from Dorie Greenspan’s Home Baking book. Has anyone tried Dorie’s recipe for Katherine’s brownies? I’m interested in knowing about the taste and textural difference. I was thinking about combining certain elements from each of the recipes, but I may end up trying the one posted here because I’m not sure about the cinnamon called for in Dorie’s version. I like my brownies pure in terms of chocolate taste.

  4. Rose says:

    I have been making these brownies for years! I think they are the best. I got my recipe from the Pittsburgh Press.

  5. Diane says:

    These are really delicious. Do not try to make a double batch, however. Also, try baking in a pie plate and cutting in wedges.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Many thanks, Diane. Love the pie plate approach. And yes, when baking, best not to ever double a recipe. Science can be weird like that….

  6. Bianca says:

    Wonderfully delicious and EASY! I like the pie plate suggestion. Thanks!!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Exactly, Bianca. Methinks you’ll not find an easier or more enticing brownie recipe. Ever.

  7. Candace says:

    Love that you are referencing Laurie Colwin — miss her wonderful food writing and lovely spirit.

    • David Leite says:

      Candace, yes, she was a special woman and a lovely writer. Gotta keep the spirit of these wonderful folks alive.

  8. Patti says:

    I have actually been making these since the Ladies’ Home Journal article came out–not surprised it was way back in 1975! As I recall, the recipe wasn’t in the article, but in the editor’s column at the beginning of the magazine. Always loved Hepburn–even spelled my daughter Katharine’s name like hers! By far the best brownie recipe around. A sprinkling of powdered sugar is nice, and sometimes I add a quarter teaspoon almond extract and a few crushed amarettini cookies–delish! These brownies never disappoint!

  9. Patti says:

    I know!–makes me sound ancient, but I started baking when I was 2!…lol … Your blog sent me in search to learn more about Laurie Colwin, and I’m eagerly awaiting arrival of “Home Cooking” via Amazon tomorrow! Thanks!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Ooooooh, for some reason, I think you’re really going to thrill to Laurie’s sass and class. Her writings are timeless. You’re so very welcome, Patti. Looking forward to hearing which recipe from the site you try next…

  10. NRS says:

    These are so so so so so amazing! Chewy edges and corners, and gooey fudgy interior. My son declared these the best plain brownies he has ever had (i omitted the nuts). And we have tried tons of recipes in search of our favorite. Thanks!

  11. Kellie Cruickshank says:

    This was the exclusive brownie recipe of our home when I was a child. One of Katherine Hepburn’s instructions in the recipe I remember from the clipping, that is omitted above, is after adding the eggs and vanilla, to “Beat like Mad!” A testament to her brilliant humor! Thanks for bringing this recipe back to life.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      How terrific, Kellie! Thanks for taking the time to let us know. I’d never seen that in any of the versions of the recipe that are attributed to her, but that certainly sounds like her. I shall think those words each time I make this recipe from here on!

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