Katharine Hepburn’s legacy is that of an intelligent, progressively minded, and unapologetically outspoken American stage and film actress who could dominate a room as easily as she could the silver screen.

Fewer are aware of her other, sweeter legacy: the secret trick to the gooiest, fudgiest chocolate brownies. Hepburn's New York neighbor, Heather Henderson, recorded the recipe and shared it with The New York Times in 2003, shortly after Hepburn's death.

The Secret to Hepburn-Approved Brownies

Plate of brownies on towel
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Henderson wrote that her father once dropped off brownies to Hepburn’s home after hearing she had been in a serious car accident. “Too much flour! They should be moist, not cakey!” The actress barked in her signature New England accent. Again—unapologetically outspoken.

Henderson’s father quickly jotted the recipe down as Hepburn rattled off ingredients from memory. The secret to the rich, moist, Hepburn-approved consistency was using only one-quarter cup of flour and lots of butter.

After devouring our fair share of these irresistible brownies, we’ve added a few extra ingredients and doubled Hepburn’s original recipe to take these brownies from delectable to heavenly.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 6 squares unsweetened baker's chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter, cocoa powder, and baker's chocolate on low. Stir constantly until thoroughly combined and smooth, then remove from heat. Let the chocolate cool and thicken for 2-3 minutes while you do step #2.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, nuts, and salt. Whisk, and set aside.

  3. Transfer cooled chocolate to another large mixing bowl. Whisk eggs into chocolate mixture one at a time. Stir in vanilla and orange zest.

  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Add nuts, stir.

  5. Pour into a greased 9x13" baking pan. Use the spoon to spread the batter evenly. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

  6. Let the brownies cool for 5-10 minutes (easily the hardest part), then cut into squares.

Supplies

  • 2 large mixing bowls
  • Heavy saucepan
  • Whisk
  • Spoon
  • Zester
  • 9x13" baking pan

Recipe Notes

Sheet of chocolate brownies in baking pan
Melanie Davis/Oola

Katharine Hepburn’s recipe is proof that a good brownie is timeless, simple, and versatile. The recipe is generally straightforward and easy to follow, but be cautious of the first step.

Keep It Slow and Low

Melted butter and chocolate in small saucepan
Melanie Davis/Oola

The temperature of the butter-chocolate mixture is critical. Adding eggs to the chocolate while it’s too hot can cook the eggs, resulting in a scrambled egg catastrophe that absolutely no one wants.

Melt your butter and chocolate slow and low. Dicing the butter helps it melt quicker if you’re short on time. Remove the chocolate from heat as soon as it’s completely smooth with no big butter lumps.

Be patient while the chocolate cools. Gathering the dry ingredients should give it just enough time to reach the right temperature, but if the saucepan still feels hot by the time you’re ready to pour the chocolate, let it sit for another 2-3 minutes.

Perfecting Your New Favorite Brownie

Raw brownie batter in baking sheet
Melanie Davis/Oola

To tweak this recipe to your exact tastes, try any of these omissions or substitutions.

  • Using cocoa powder and baker’s chocolate creates a rich, full-flavored, “grown-up” chocolate brownie. The original recipe only called for cocoa powder. Feel free to use one or the other depending on tastes or available ingredients.
  • Substituting white sugar for coconut sugar gives the brownies a warm, molasses-y flavor that’s slightly reminiscent of a Samoa Girl Scout cookie. Yum!
  • Orange zest adds a bright citrus flavor to the decadent chocolate, but if you’re a cocoa-only type of brownie-eater, feel free to skip it.
  • If you’re in the mood to get experimental, try adding ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder to your brownie mix. Then, before slicing, top the brownies with a sweet orange icing glaze. The sugary glaze leans into the chocolate-orange combo, while the pleasantly mild heat from the cayenne powder keeps it from becoming too sickly sweet.
  • Roughly chopped pecans, almonds, peanuts, or hazelnuts are all delicious substitutions for walnuts. However, we recommend omitting the orange zest if you plan on using peanuts or hazelnuts to avoid a not-great flavor overload.
  • For a shorter, denser brownie, omit the baking powder.
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