Katharine Hepburn Brownies

Katharine Hepburn brownies are an American classic and so easy to make with everyday pantry ingredients. Turns out dark, rich, intense, chewy fudge brownies. One of our most popular chocolate desserts. Here’s the original recipe.

A slab of Katharine Hepburn brownies cut into 9 pieces, on parchment paper, with a knife nearby

We first happened upon the Katharine Hepburn brownie recipe—a 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. Rumor has it the brownie recipe 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 countless other places, including 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 seeming 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 highly 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 who simply must have their ingredient list separate from their cooking instructions, the more conventional—and arguably less soulful—rendition of the recipe that appeared in Saveur follows Colwin’s original recipe.

Katharine Hepburn 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 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

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

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  • (25)
  • 10 M
  • 1 H
  • Makes 9 brownies
4.8/5 - 25 reviews
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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.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until combined.

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.

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. Originally published June 4, 2010.

Print RecipeBuy the Saveur: The New Comfort Food cookbook

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    Brownies With Walnuts

    • It’s sorta interesting to us that Colwin clearly 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.

    Recipe Testers' Tips

    In my opinion, these Katharine Hepburn brownies are perfect brownies. They're dark and fudgy with a little edge of bitter flavor. The fact that you can make this recipe in one saucepan only increases its appeal.

    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).

    These are 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 in the saucepan and 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’ll make a double batch, half with and half without, since these terrific Katharine Hepburn brownies are so easy to prepare.

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

    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 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 Katharine Hepburn brownies.

    This Katharine Hepburn brownies 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.

    These Katharine Hepburn brownies 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.

    These brownies could not be simpler to make. The recipe yields light, moist, fudgy, somewhat thin brownies with a slightly cake-like texture. I love that this recipe does not call for a lot of flour. All the ingredients were already in my pantry except for the unsweetened chocolate. I ended up using Valrhona bittersweet (70%) and added just shy of 1 cup sugar. The recipe was right on in terms of baking time and the brownies were enjoyed by all. I will definitely make this recipe again. I lined my pan with parchment so clean up was a breeze.


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    1. These come out perfectly every time. I do temper the egg yolks with some of the warm batter out of fear (of scrambling the eggs, which I have done in other recipes). Also like to add just a pinch of instant espresso powder. Brings out the chocolate even more. Thank you for the very best website! Marcella’s bolognese is bubbling away on my stovetop. The brownies are cooling.

      1. It looks like you have a fabulous meal in your future, Ellen! Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know how much you love these brownies, and we love the tip about the espresso. Can’t wait to hear how the bolognese turns out.

    2. Don’t bother with a box mix. This is an easy and delicious recipe for brownies. They are thin, but that’s okay because they’re fudgy and delicious. Next time, I’m going to add a pinch of espresso or coffee powder to the chocolate/butter mix, because coffee always elevates the flavor of chocolate.

    3. Very good brownies, but they fall apart pretty easy with the straight up recipe. Maybe add an extra couple tablespoons of flour for structure, or switch to bread flour. Not a nut fan, so didn’t add those either.

      1. Thanks so much, Bear. Greatly appreciate you sharing your experience with us.

      1. We’re delighted to hear this, Melissa! Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know.

    4. Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe. I think that I will be able to cook, although I am a beginner culinary specialist. It looks amazingly delicious!

      1. While these were delicious, they were so thin, about 1/2 inch, more like bars. Is that how they’re supposed to be?

        1. Yes, Rusty, they’re meant to be a thin, dense, fudgy brownie. With no baking powder or soda in the recipe, you’re not going to see any real rise.

    5. My family absolutely loves this recipe. I add pecans to these and they turn out delicious, plus they are very easy to make.

    6. I like a chewy brownie, so instead of all-purpose, I opted for a bread flour. Added Heath Bar crumble to the top 20 minutes in, covered with foil and baked for the rest of the time. Excellent recipe.

      1. Thanks, Osk! We really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with us.

    7. Very yummy!!! And a fraction of the calories from other recipes… I added shredded coconut and dried raspberries. Was awesome!

      1. Wonderful, Jorge! Fantastic additions. Can’t wait to hear what you try next.

    8. These are by far the best brownies on the planet. I found the recipe several years ago and have not baked another brownie since.

    9. Easy to make! Very delicious but very chocolatey. I didn’t add the walnuts but they were great without them. Highly recommend baking these delicious brownies

    10. I’ve made these brownies since 1982. Simple and delicious. I dare you to let them cool before eating. Delicious!!!!

    11. I thought these Katharine Hepburn 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.

    12. This recipe has been a favorite for years. I also loved Laurie Colwin’s writing, especially her two food books. (Her recipe for mustard chicken is fantastic – I think. My husband says it’s “too mustardy,” although I don’t think there can be such a thing!)

    13. Definitely our go-to brownies. Regardless of what other dessert I make for a gathering…these must also be on the table!! I started adding a bit of instant espresso powder…which is also tasty…but not so much that the brownie taste like coffee. Super easy too!!

    14. This recipe invokes memories. I have a nearly identical recipe, given to me in the early 1960’s from a lady, originally from Boston, who brought this recipe with her when she moved west to Oregon. She was in her 80s by the time I received this recipe, and she still made several large wool braided rugs for my mother, which I am using today. I remember going to her house where we always had these brownies as a little snack with our tea.

      Back to the recipe. Mine also includes frosting, which is like including fudge as a topper for these fantastic brownies. Thanks for reminding me of this memory.

      1. Laurie, thank you for sharing your story. We love living vicariously through others’ food memories. So profound how food can calm and comfort and please us decades after we experienced it.

    15. My daughter who is a pastry chef told me that she was taught to ALWAYS cut brownies with a serrated plastic knife. I made these brownies and she was visiting from Florida. I complained that I could never cut brownies so they looked nice. Now I can, every time.

    16. Thanks so much for this recipe.

      These sound exactly like the brownies I grew up with in the 50s. I’ve been looking for this recipe for decades!

      I can remember baking them. I remember melting the chocolate over a double boiler and constructing the batter in the bowl the chocolate was melted in. I remember the spare amount of flour. And I remember that thin cracked surface that was half the allure.

      I am so grateful for the simple perfection of this recipe. I’ve had lots of variations but never anything that improved on what my mother baked.

        1. Thanks once again for this recipe.

          I just made them to include in the filling of this gorgeous bread using the technique David Leibovitz describes for filling this babka. The bread is intended as a gift and I will present it with special pride and a warm spot in my heart for the special provenance of these brownies.

    17. Can semi sweet chocolate be used in place unsweetened chocolate. And if so do I measure everything the same or do I have too add or take away from the recipe. Really love to know.

      1. Diane, baking is a pretty exact science. We haven’t tested this recipe with semisweet chocolate in place of unsweetened so I can’t recommend that approach. The difference in fat content and sweetness would require a lot of tweaking in terms of butter and sugar and I don’t want to guess and lead you wrong. Trust me, the original recipe is so wonderful it’s well worth finding some unsweetened chocolate.

    18. At first I was surprised by how little flour these brownies have. Super delicious and chewy — Because these brownies were so sugary, they were kind of like the espresso of coffee — an intense zap of chocolate and sugar. As a chocoholic, it was an efficient and tasty way to shock my sweet tooth into remission for a little while.

    19. 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.

      1. 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!

    20. 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!

    21. 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!

      1. 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…

    22. 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!

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

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

    25. 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.

    26. 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.

    27. 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.

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