Sweet Story: Katharine Hepburn Brownies

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

Here is a fantastic and true story about Katharine Hepburn. In the early 1980s, a Bryn Mawr student was considering dropping out to go to Scotland and write screenplays. While home for the holidays in her native NYC, her frantic father wrote a letter to Katharine Hepburn, who had also attended Bryn Mawr, imploring “She's a great admirer of yours, and perhaps she'll listen to you”.

Wait, what? Well, it turns out, this wasn't such a crazy thing to do. Turns out, this distraught father was a neighbor of Miss Hepburn's, and would occasionally exchange pleasantries: not good friends, for sure, but a friendly acquaintance.

Upon receiving this cry for help, the imperious Hepburn didn’t waste any time. She phoned at 7:30 the next morning, demanding to speak with the would-be dropout (who was sleeping at the time of the call but certainly awoke rapidly) admonishing “what a damn stupid thing to do!” , and proceeding to deliver a stern lecture, after which she demanded father and daughter at tea at her home.

On the date of the tea, upon arriving at Hepburn’s Turtle Bay townhome, Hepburn greeted them with “casual hauteur, she provided us with tea and some of her famous brownies”.

While there’s no transcript of the tea party, let’s just say the student remained at Bryn Mawr.

Katharine Hepburn Brownies

 Were the brownies responsible? Perhaps. Because as a woman of principle, Hepburn’s were:

1. Never Quit

2. Be Yourself

3. Don’t put too much flour in your brownies.

As Liz Smith says in “Dishing,” “I suppose you realize already those rules to live by were handed down by Katharine Hepburn.” They first appeared in Ladies home journal in 1975 accompanying an interview with Kate, who called them “the best brownies ever!”. Where Kate got the recipe has always been vague, but the popularity of them has not been vague at all. The recipe was released to the public in that article. Since then, it has taken on a life of its own, proliferating in books, magazines, and with the advent of the internet, it became a much-storied recipe on blogs and food websites.

And there’s a reason why the legend endures. If there are three schools of brownie (cakey, chewy, and fudge-like) these are firmly chewy affairs: thick and slightly gooey while still warm, in that sort of "stick-to-your-front-teeth" sort of way (that is a compliment). They're incredibly easy: a dude friend who made this recipe said it should be rated as "guy-friendly" and "totally easy". So there you go. 


Katharine Hepburn Brownies

Makes one tray, you decide how many brownies to slice it into.


  • 2 (one-ounce) squares unsweetened baker's chocolate

  • 1 stick unsalted butter

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

  • 1/4 cup flour

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Melt chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Stir in flour, salt and walnuts. Mix well. Pour into a buttered 8-inch-square baking pan. Bake at 325° for 40 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.