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. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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!

    5. 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!

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