After Katharine Hepburn died, eulogies came from every quarter, many including stories about her brownies. In an article sent to me by my friend Bon Appetit editor in chief Barbara Fairchild, Heather Henderson of St. Paul, Minnesota, recalled wanting to quit her studies at Bryn Mawr. Her father managed to get Miss Hepburn, a Bryn Mawr alum and a neighbor, to intervene. The famous Kate invited both the young woman and her father to her home one afternoon. At tea, Ms. Henderson got a taste of the legendary brownies as well as of the actress's views on education.
In her tribute to the actress, Ms. Henderson wrote, "I'll always be grateful to Miss Hepburn for making me stick it out at Bryn Mawr and for giving me these rules to live by: 1. Never quit; 2. Be yourself and 3. Don't put too much flour in your brownies."
This recipe is a play on the one Miss Hepburn is reported to have used. Since a quick search through my cookbooks uncovered two other brownie recipes credited to Kate, and each was different, I decided it would be fine to add my own little touches. I've kept the essence of Miss Hepburn's recipe — these are thin, soft, very chocolaty brownies made without much flour — but I've added a little cinnamon, some coffee and a quarter-pound of chopped fine-quality chocolate. Since the chocolate doesn't firm up much in baking, it makes a soft, gooey brownie even softer and gooier and, to my way of thinking, even yummier. I think Miss Hepburn would approve.
Makes 16 brownies
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons finely ground instant coffee
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup broken or chopped walnuts or pecans
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.
Whisk the flour, cinnamon, if you're using it, and salt together.
Put the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and place the pan over low heat. When the butter starts to melt, sift the cocoa over it and add the instant coffee. Continue to cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the cocoa and coffee are blended into it. Remove from the heat and cool for about 3 minutes.
Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the eggs into the saucepan one at a time. Next, stir in the sugar and vanilla (don't beat anything too vigorously — you don't want to add air to the batter), followed by the dry ingredients, nuts and chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.
Bake for 30 minutes, at which point the brownies will still be gooey but the top will have a dry papery crust. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool for at least 30 minutes. (You can wait longer, if you'd like.) Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the paper and invert onto a cutting board. Cool completely before cutting into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side.
SERVING: These are happy being served in all the typical ways — with whipped cream, ice cream or Hot Fudge Sauce or paired with a glass of milk to allow for dunking. I think they are best at room temperature, when they are at their moistest, but they are also very good chilled.
STORING: Wrapped well, the brownies will keep for 3 days at room temperature or frozen for up to 2 months.
Hot Fudge Sauce
Old-fashioned, dark, smooth and shiny, this hot fudge sauce is the kind that firms the instant it's poured over ice cream.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, put the butter in the bowl, top with the chocolate and heat, stirring once or twice, until the ingredients are melted. Keep the heat very low — you don't want the mixture to get so hot that the butter and chocolate separate. Transfer the bowl to the counter when the mixture is smooth.
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the cream, corn syrup, sugar and salt, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and remove the pan from the heat.
Pour about one-quarter of the hot cream over the chocolate and, with a rubber spatula and starting in the center of the bowl, stir the two mixtures together in ever-widening concentric circles. When it is smooth, pour over the remainder of the cream in 2 additions, stirring gently until the sauce is shiny and smooth again.
Allow the sauce to cool for about 10 minutes before using.
STORING: In a tightly covered jar, the sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Before serving, warm it gently in a microwave oven or in a bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Heat just until the sauce is pourable.