Desserts, Recipes

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies


There are few books I’ve read more times than Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Any time I have a rough day or just find myself in need of reading material before bed, I pick up one of her two collections of food essays and get transported back to her world in 1980s- and early-1990s- New York.

She wrote about the best ways to do the classics, including roast chicken, shortbread, and biscuits. She wrote about surviving dinner parties, in an age when everyone has food allergies. She wrote about organic food a decade before the organic movement took off in the U.S. She wrote about being a coffee addict who collected leftover brew from other people’s cups to make iced coffee, and being a salt fiend who “if nothing salty was around…simply ate salt.” And she did it all with warmth and humor.

So needless to say, her recipes all seem enticing, and my copies of her books are all dog-eared and flagged with Post-Its. One recipe from her books I decided to try this past weekend was Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies, for Oscar Night at my friend Barb‘s apartment. (Wasn’t the theme of this year’s Oscars classic Hollywood anyway?)

Laurie writes:

“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.”

Good enough for me! (The magazine was a 1975 issue of Ladies Home Journal.) I had yet to find a brownie recipe that was amazing enough to be a go-to, to make me stop trying others, so I whipped up a batch. If I had had enough time on Sunday, I would have rewatched The Philadelphia StoryAdam’s Rib, or the kooky and underrated Desk Set while baking and eating these brownies.

As it turns out, yes, this really is the best brownie recipe ever. And I have tried many. It’s slightly crisp on the outside, yet moist and almost fudgy on the inside, the best of both worlds. Just a scant 1/4 cup of flour is used, and there is no baking soda, so what you get is dense chocolately goodness. Buttering and flouring of the pan also allowed the bottoms and sides to get a crisp, almost cookie-like texture.

We devoured the more photogenic squares last night, but I still have some of the large crumbly pieces left. Now onward to Netflix, to see whether any of Ms. Hepburn’s movies are currently on Instant.


Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, plus extra for buttering the pan
  • 2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (add an extra 2 tablespoons for a cakier brownie)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Melt together the butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the flour and salt. Stir until well-combined. Stir in the walnuts if using.
  4. Pour the batter into the buttered and floured pan. Bake the brownies for 35 to 40 minutes. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Wait about 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and transferring to a cooling rack, since they fall apart easily when piping hot. These are good at room temp but best served warm, preferably with a tall, icy cold glass of milk

Adapted from More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin