Local Pastry Heavyweights Weigh In On Katharine Hepburn's Brownie Recipe

September 7, 2016

If you want a brownie recipe, open just about any cookbook or food blog. But if you want to know what local pastry chefs think about Katharine Hepburn’s brownie recipe, look no further. 

Danielle DeSiato
Local Pastry Heavyweights Weigh In On Katharine Hepburn's Brownie Recipe | WGBH | CRAVING BOSTON

There’s certainly no shortage of brownie recipes in the world. In fact, one simple Pinterest search produces about a million results – everything from “ultimate brownies” to “s’mores brownies” (I can get on board with that) to “healthy zucchini brownies” (huh?) to “red velvet brownies with cream cheese frosting” (not brownies, if you ask me).

The variety is so overwhelming that you just might decide not to make brownies after all. That would be a shame, because really good brownies are really easy to make – and supremely satisfying.

Earlier this week, we published Katharine Hepburn’s brownie recipe, along with an updated variation with bourbon! The really fun thing about brownies (besides eating them) is that there are endless interpretations to suit every imaginable taste, and everyone has their closely held personal preferences, even professional chefs.

Sure, pastry chefs have the skills and creativity to produce the most unique brownie you’ve ever tasted, but they also appreciate the unfussy straightforwardness of a simple recipe — if it’s really good.

So when I asked the 2015 Best of Boston Pastry Chef, Rachel Sundet of State Park, what she thought of Katharine Hepburn’s brownie recipe, her first reaction wasn’t super surprising. “I really like the simplicity of the recipe — the longer that I bake, the more I am drawn to recipes that are streamlined and focused. I also prefer a fudgy-sticky brownie rather than a cakey one, and this is that.”

If you want some of the best baked goods in Boston, Flour Bakery is top of mind. It’s founder, James Beard-award winning chef, Joanne Chang, has her own brownie recipe in Flour’s original cookbook. It features both bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate, unlike Hepburn’s which uses only bittersweet, but other than that is just as simple. When I asked Chang what she thought of Hepburn’s recipe, she said “The best thing about this recipe is that it really highlights the chocolate. A brownie should not be very complicated. It's really just an excuse to get as much chocolate as you can in a bar or cake form, when you don't want a chocolate bar.”Local Pastry Heavyweights Weigh In On Katharine Hepburn's Brownie Recipe | WGBH | Craving BostonHepburn's brownies tend toward the sweeter side, so Sundet suggested swapping out the bittersweet chocolate for unsweetened, or reducing the sugar if you like a less-sweet brownie. In my last go-around, I reduced the sugar to ¾ of a cup, and the brownies were not only a little less sweet, but just a slight bit more chocolatey, which is always welcome.

The amount of chocolate in the recipe is also a bit contentious, as it’s on the lesser side than most recipes. Of course, there are extremes. Ina Garten has a brownie recipe that packs in approximately 8 times more chocolate than this recipe (yep, 8 TIMES!). Granted, it’s probably called Outrageous Brownies for a reason, but it illustrates the enormous range in the amount of chocolate that goes into a brownie recipe. Cocoa powder is another common ingredient, which Sundet said she would consider adding if she made Hepburn’s recipe again, “to really bump up the chocolate.”

That’s not to say that every good brownie recipe needs to OD on chocolate. Everyone’s favorite food blogger, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, has a simple brownie recipe that she touts as her all-time favorite, and it uses just 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate. (She even has a variation that maximizes the highly coveted brownie edges by baking them in mini muffin tins. Win!) Perelman’s recipe underscores what Chang also feels is the most important component – the quality of the chocolate. “For me, I would simply make sure that the chocolate is the very best chocolate I can find.” said Chang.

The one alteration both Sundet and Chang said they would make to Hepburn’s recipe was to omit the nuts. Sundet explained, “Nuts or no nuts always comes down to personal preference in the end. I'm a bit of a purist and like a plain brownie, but walnuts are also good.” Chang took a bit of a harder line, saying “I always think nuts are optional when it comes to chocolate desserts — I myself prefer just getting the chocolate flavor without the distraction of walnuts.”

Whether you choose to bake your brownies with nuts, bourbon, cocoa powder, espresso powder, or just straight up unsweetened chocolate, you can rest assured that there’s someone out there — possibly even a pastry chef — who shares your particular brownie preference. 

  • September 7, 2016