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Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

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.
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