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Friday, August 26, 2011

Katharine Hepburn's Brownie Recipe

I love old movies. Those old black and white classics from the 30s and 40s, like It Happened One Night or Sabrina.  No movie stars of today come close to being as suave and magical as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and of course Katharine Hepburn.  So, when I happened across Katharine Hepburn's brownie recipe, which first appeared in The Ladies Home Journal in 1975, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to make these brownies.    

Until I found this recipe, in my world, there were only two brownies I would ever make and no reason to ever stray from them.  The first is, of course, Betty Crocker's Fudge Brownie Mix.  Betty has a monopoly on fudgy brownies.  She got it absolutely right.  Easy to make and fantastic to eat!  Why even try to bake up something better?  The second recipe, is the healthy brownie recipe I make when I really want brownies but less of the guilt associated from pigging out on those wonderfully fattening treats.  These two types of brownies can answer any brownie occasion. 

And yet, upon discovering this recipe, I stumbled on the world of from-scratch brownies, a world I look forward to exploring.  Katharine Hepburn's brownies are certainly the moistest brownies I've ever had.  They are truly amazing.  I can't imagine how she kept her figure eating brownies like this.  Seriously, this recipe is basically just chocolately, sugary butter.  I mean, how can that not be good?  In fact, these brownies deserve just as much fame as Kate, herself.  ...And the Oscar goes to Katharine Hepburn's brownie recipe!   (Applause)  

As I made these very special brownies, I had one of my favorite Katharine Hepburn movies on, Holiday.  Kate plays the down-to-earth sister of the girl that the happy-go-lucky Cary Grant character is engaged to.  When Cary meets Kate, it's kismet, and suddenly the spoiled sister is not the apple of his eye.  To catch my favorite line from that movie click here and go to 0:06.   

And so, it seems my brownie universe has expanded.  My list of two brownies recipes has expanded to three, and I'm eager to explore other recipes to try.

My recommendation to you is to find a copy of a great Hepburn flick (Holiday, Bringing up Baby, or The Philadelphia Story are my favorites) and make these brownies.  You'll be in Katharine Hepburn heaven!

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies

In 1975, Katharine Hepburn gave her family brownie recipe to gossip columnist Liz Smith to publish in her column.  And that’s how The Ladies Home Journal first introduced the world to these delicious brownies.

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (I opted not to put these in)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Butter and flour an 8 inch (20 cm) square baking pan. 

Melt the chocolate and butter in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Next, stir in the vanilla extract and eggs.

Finally, stir in the flour, salt and chopped nuts (if using).

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 - 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled. These freeze very well.

Makes 16 brownies.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Strawberry Summer Cake

Summer.  We, here in the chilly north, try to take full advantage of this extraordinary season.  As far as seasons go, winter is our star player.  It lasts about six months, stealing as much time as it can from it's neighbors, autumn, and sometimes completely obliterating spring, which are both beautiful seasons up here but much too short.  Summer, however, is when everything happens.  There are outdoor concerts, festivals galore, restaurants with outdoor seating, and vacations and day trips planned for every household.  In my family, we go to Keuka Lake, to a special spot that has seen generations of us enjoying the healing waters of Keuka.

One of my favorite weeks on Keuka Lake is the one that brings a week-long visit from my aunt and uncle and cousins.  Spending time with this family is like spending time at a mental health spa.  They're all so open and easy.  (4 out of 5 of them either work in, worked in, or aspire to work in the mental health field, so you get the picture.)  They all talk about stuff and make you feel good about yourself.  It's really very refreshing.

These are the cousins I grew up with.  We are the fab four.  Brett, who is a year younger than me, creamed me at my very first snowball war when we were kids.  He's fascinating, has visited parts of the world I didn't even know existed, and always knows how to be goofy enough to get me to laugh.  Lorelei is my soul sister.  Even though she cut all the hair off my favorite Barbie doll when she was 4, I have forgiven her, and there's nothing we can't say to each other.  Evan is the youngest, but could very well be the most mature of us all and is the easiest person to be around.  He and I have had the most interesting and memorable discussions during our long car rides home from the university we both attended.  And together we have formed a dynamic bocce team (family tournaments only), and even though we've pretty much lost every game we've played, I wouldn't change it.

Since it was my cousins' week at the cottage, I wanted to bring a special dessert.  Inspired by the summer berries in the supermarket, I decided to try
this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

I decided since strawberries are healthy, this should be considered a health food (like my logic?), so I went ahead and made it with half whole wheat flour.  I also followed Smitten Kitchen's advice and used a smidge less sugar than called for.  It turned out delightful.  (But it would have been even better with whipped cream or powdered sugar on top!)

As soon as I brought this summer cake the lake, I went right to work photographing it.  Here is my lovely picture:

Now, I suspected that one of my family members would lend their creative talents to the photo shoot and I was not disappointed.  My dear aunt, AJ, came to my rescue with this lovely setup: 

Beautiful!  We're done, right?  Wrong.  She had even more great ideas:

Now doesn't this look tempting?  But you don't have to take my word for it.  Here's what my family had to say:

Maverick (my uncle):  "Scrumptious with a light fruity taste."
Evan:  "I keep looking at it and telling myself 'No, Evan no.'"
A.J.: "Sweet strawberry season...Mmm.  It's good."
Mom: "A dessert you can eat."  (Thanks, Mom.)

So, go ahead and make a Strawberry Summer Cake for yourselves before it's too late!!!

Strawberry Summer Cake

From Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it, only slightly, from Martha Stewart

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour  (I used a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (I used about 7/8 of a cup) plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar  
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.  

Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer.   Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack.  Serve with whipped cream or powdered sugar on top.