There is deep, dark and dangerous knowledge that comes from knowing how easy it is to make brownies.
A few standard ingredients, a pot and spatula, a bit of time and you are rewarded with deep, dark, chocolate goodness.
Late-night cravings for something a little bit sweet and decadent no longer need go unanswered. At least not in my house. Nor mid-afternoon cravings. Or even morning ones. (Don’t tell me you’ve never craved something deliciously chocolate in the middle of the morning.)
The trick, though, is to find the right brownie recipe.
By and large, they’re all easy — though the grades of difficulty increase when adding things like peanut butter or cheesecake swirls — because it’s a simple matter of melting butter with chocolate, adding sugar, eggs and flour, then baking the entire thing. No forethought is required because there’s not even a need to wait for the butter to soften.
Depending on the ratios of eggs, flour and butter, though, some brownies will come out cakey, while others dense and fudgy.
My ideal brownie is on the fudgy end of the spectrum, with that crackle-like top that hides the rich, dark bar below.
In my search for just such a brownie, I stumbled onto numerous posts extolling the virtues of the recipe from famed film actress Katharine Hepburn.
She may be better known for her film roles and assertive, unapologetic personality, but among baking circles, the woman who starred in The Philadelphia Story and the African Queen is also known for her brownies.
How the recipe first came to be part of the public realm varies as widely as the number of brownie recipes found on the Internet.
Some say she was persuaded to give it up to gossip columnist Liz Smith; others report a neighbour secured the recipe after bringing over a batch of brownies to the actress who declared they had too much flour and had been overbaked before she listed off her own recipe.
The story, though, is far less important than the recipe results; gooey and rich, fudgy with the requisite crackled top, these are the decadent brownies that do prompt cravings.
A scant amount of flour keeps them dense and chewy, the richness cut only by the chunks of toasted walnuts littered throughout.
Although easy enough, I wanted to simplify the recipe even further. With all due respect to Ms. Hepburn, if I can avoid washing additional dishes, I will. So, I skipped the step of using a double boiler to melt the butter and chocolate in favour of a one-pot method that doubles as a mixing bowl. Within just a few minutes, and with very little effort on my part, I was pouring the finished batter into the pan and putting the whole thing in the oven. The hardest part, truthfully, was waiting for the brownies to cool before slicing. (It’s possible I didn’t actually wait as long as I should have.)
With the craving answered — and a new favourite brownie recipe in hand — life could go back to normal.
But I know that when it comes again, it won’t take much to appease it. And that is dangerous.
Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies
Take caution not to overbake these as that will cause them to dry out. Swap the walnuts for other nuts, or omit entirely, as desired.
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
- 2 oz (60 g) unsweetened chocolate
- 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
- 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
- 1 cup (250 mL) walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) flour
Preheat oven to 325F (160C).
Butter an 8×8-inch (20×20-cm) pan and line with parchment paper, letting a few inches hang over each side, like a sling.
In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, then eggs and vanilla. Switch to a spatula to fold in the salt, walnuts and then the flour, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs on it, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool completely before using the sling to remove the brownies from the pan and cutting into squares.
Makes 1 8×8-inch pan of bars.