To celebrate my birthday, I tried a new recipe for brownies — “Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies.” I followed the recipe straight from The Gourmet Cookbook, an encyclopedia-sized book, by Gourmet’s editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl. This sunny yellow publication with its crimson title pulled across the page like satin ribbon, is one of my prized culinary possessions. I simply love its heft and its promise of elegant dinner parties yet to come.
I already have a very, very good recipe for brownies, ironically by Ruth Reichl, but I was in the mood to try something new and since my mother named me after her favorite actress, I felt it was serendipity to come across Ms. Hepburn’s recipe on my birthday.
First thing I noticed was that she uses a mere two ounces of unsweetened chocolate and only 1/4 cup of flour as opposed to the five ounces of unsweetened chocolate and one cup of flour in Ruth’s Artpark Brownies (recipe appears in her memoir, Tender at the Bone, Growing Up at the Table).
Although both recipes deliver rich, chewy, fudgy results, I could not get Ms. Hepburn’s brownies neatly out of the pan! They were so moist that any attempt to carve a nice square ended up as a scoop of brownie.
It was late and my husband and children were seated around our cozy kitchen table waiting patiently for me to serve the brownies, mine with a pink and white birthday candle on top. Feeling their anticipation, I tried even harder to gently cut a perfect square of brownie and release it perfectly onto each dessert plate. The harder I tried — the more I forced these brownies to behave, well, like brownies, the more I failed. This chocolatey dessert wished to keep a much looser, fudgy form.
This is the point in the story where I wish I could tell you that my first instinct was to be calm and in control of the renegade brownies. But instead I can only describe my behavior as an adult temper tantrum. I dropped the knife, used an explicative to describe the mess I had created and sunk my head down into my folded arms that I had flung onto the counter.
My family, aware of my proximity to the garbage can and fearing, I’m sure, for the life of the gooey brownies, grew quiet. And I guess it was this thought that sent me into a sudden fit of laughter, which grew louder as they joined in. I had given up! Just like that, I relented. If these brownies wanted to be scooped, well then, let’s get out the really big spoon and dig in!
This moment of letting go has shown me that in order to grow as a great cook one doesn’t need to turn out perfectly executed techniques and recipes all the time. One needs a sense of humor!
Ruth Reichl’s Artpark Brownies
2/3 cup butter
5 ounces unsweetened, best quality French chocolate
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup sifted flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan. Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler, over boiling water. When melted, add vanilla and set aside. Beat eggs and salt in mixer. Add sugar and beat at high speed for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is quite white.
Add chocolate and butter mixture and beat at low speed, just until mixed. Add flour and combine quickly, until there are no white streaks.
Pour batter into baking pan and put in oven. Immediately turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes. (The normal toothpick test will not work on these brownies, but if you want to try pricking them with a toothpick, it should come out not quite clean.) Do not over bake; these brownies should be fudgy. Makes 12 brownies.