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
- 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
- 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.
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Testers ChoiceTesters Choice
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Katharine Hepburn's Brownies Recipe © 1992 Laurie Cowin. Photo © 2011 Todd Coleman. All rights reserved.