We Made Katharine Hepburn’s Favorite Brownies

The classy, strong, no-nonsense beauty was also famous for her soft spot for chocolate. When I saw that Katharine Hepburn's brownies use just 1/4 cup flour, I knew I had to taste them!

Katharine Hepburn quipped in her biography, Me, “I can eat a pound of chocolates with joy.”

I kinda get it. To me, a go-to brownie recipe made with pantry ingredients is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. My fave is one I adapted from a newspaper clipping years ago. I jettisoned the nuts called for in the original, I deleted the frosting, and I shrank the batch down to bake in a tiny pie pan that lasts me a sitting or two, then is just a happy memory.

So when I came across the four-time Oscar winner’s brownie recipe, I took notice. Turns out Ms. Hepburn didn’t see the need for gunky frosting, mint chips, peanut butter or any other “enhancements” that might interfere with a good, unadulterated chocolate experience. And because her recipe called for a shockingly low amount of flour, I knew it meant one thing: These babies were gonna be oh, so gooey.

The Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans

brownie ingredientsChristine Rukavena / Taste of Home

According to some sources I found online, Ms. Hepburn’s original recipe that appeared in the August 1975 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal called for 2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate instead of cocoa. But because I’m partial to cocoa brownies (and I always have cocoa on hand for whipping up  Favorite Hot Chocolate), I stuck with that ingredient instead.

One great thing about this recipe is that it uses staples any home baker typically has on hand.

The Method

I have to admit, I took some liberties here. The version I referenced in The New York Times dirtied a pan and two mixing bowls. Ever the economist, I mixed the Kate Hepburn Brownies like I do my own: using just one saucepan and a rubber spatula for stirring. Here’s my shortcut way to put ’em together:

Step 1: Melt butter and cocoa in a small pan over medium-low heat.

Step 2: Stir in sugar until smooth (that’s it, captured below).

brownie batterChristine Rukavena / Taste of Home

Step 3: Off of the heat, stir in eggs and vanilla. (Do this quickly—don’t let the eggs stand after adding to the mixture, or they may begin to scramble.)

Step 4: Next comes the flour and salt. Then, when they’re fully incorporated, fold in the nuts.

Step 5: Spread in a greased 8-in. square pan.

brownie batter in a panChristine Rukavena / Taste of Home

Step 6: Bake at 325º for 30 minutes, then live happily ever after (be careful not to overbake, or brownies will become dry). “They should be moist, not cakey!” Kate reputedly told her neighbor.

k_hepburns browniesChristine Rukavena / Taste of Home

The Verdict(s)

The chocolaty treats weren’t long for this world. They were as soft and gooey as I’d imagined—so much so, they were a bit hard to get out of the pan without falling apart. This didn’t deter me. In fact, I ate a shocking amount of the brownies trying to decide whether I liked them! So that was a yes. Here’s what my co-workers at the Taste of Home office had to say:

  • “They smell divine!”
  • “I wouldn’t kick them out of bed.”
  • “Delicious, soft, chewy. Lots of chocolate flavor. Maybe use smaller nuts.”
  • “Good! They taste like a boxed mix with added nuts.”
  • “Yummy!”
  • “Very smooth, perfect texture!”

Oh, Nuts…

Extravagant, I know, but I used pecan halves instead of chopped. (I recently scored four pounds on closeout…for a price way cheaper than humble chopped pecans. Here are 11 ways to save money immediately at the grocery store.)  I started out breaking up the pecan halves so there’d be lots of distribution, but I quit. After all, I reasoned, large pieces are fancier and provide a more satisfying bite.

Although that was true, not everyone liked the big pieces of nuts. And they made the brownie-cutting even more tricky.

Next Time I’d…

Being a trained chef (and a fastidious editor), I’m a big believer in creating the perfect recipe. So if I venture this recipe again, here are the steps I’d take to make Katharine Hepburn’s brownies even more delightful the second time around:

1. Load up these brownies with buttery walnuts made irresistible with this secret trick.

2. Line the pan with parchment so brownies are neater to lift and cut.

3. Spring for a fancier cocoa.

Or, I’ll just reach for my old go-to recipe, which uses a bit more flour, a little baking powder, and a little less butter and sugar. And makes a batch I don’t have to share.

Photo by Bob Coburn/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885904y) Katharine Hepburn Katharine Hepburn PortraitBob Coburn/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

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Christine Rukavena
Christine loves to read, curate, sample and develop new recipes as a book editor at Taste of Home. A CIA alumna with honors, she creates cookbooks and food-related content. A favorite part of the job is taste-testing dishes. Previous positions include pastry chef at a AAA Five Diamond property. Christine moonlights at a boutique wine shop, where she edits marketing pieces and samples wine far higher than her pay grade.