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.

“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 Rossi

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

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

4.75 / 72 votes
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.
David Leite
CourseDessert
CuisineAmerican
Servings9 brownies
Calories233 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time50 minutes
Total Time1 hour

Ingredients 

  • 1 stick (4 oz) 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, (optional)

Instructions 

  • 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.

Notes

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.
Saveur: The New Comfort Food

Adapted From

Saveur: The New Comfort Food

Buy On Amazon

Nutrition

Serving: 1 brownieCalories: 233 kcalCarbohydrates: 29 gProtein: 5 gFat: 13 gSaturated Fat: 3 gMonounsaturated Fat: 3 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 42 mgSodium: 82 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 23 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2011 Laurie Colwin. Photo © 2011 Todd Coleman. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

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.




About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


Hungry For More?


4.75 from 72 votes (46 ratings without comment)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




77 Comments

  1. Hi
    Mine came out very flat and wet from the bottom. Don’t know what went wrong. 1/4 cup flour in all this batter,is it correct??

    1. Aqeela, this is meant to be a thin, fudgy brownie, so it doesn’t sound like anything went wrong. Perhaps they could have used a few more minutes in the oven, but otherwise, it sounds like you made them correctly.

  2. This is the same recipe as the one found in the Joy of Cooking called Saucepan Brownies. It’s the only recipe I’ve used since 1972.

    1. We believe it has been featured in a few places over the years, Cathleen. Obviously, it has become a classic for good reason.