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

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


Directions

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' 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.

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    Comments

    1. 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.

    2. 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!)

    3. 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!!

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

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