The approach of Valentine’s Day has me thinking of Golden Age couples with great screen chemistry: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson and Doris Day … there are lists and lists, which you you can find everywhere online. Most of these lists,if they’re really complete, include the great Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who made nine pictures together, from Woman of the Year (1942) to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).
The gruff, earthy Tracy and the refined, nervy Hepburn were great together onscreen and were also rumored to have carried on a long-term offscreen affair though Tracy was married. Like many such stories in Hollywood, there are conflicting stories about whether there really was an affair at all or whether the rumors were just a convenient distraction from their real personal lives.
Personal lives are usually so messy and hard to pin down and that’s one reason that I usually find stories about actors’ and directors’ work much more interesting than gossip about their private lives. Usually the work is more interesting than their private lives (unless they have adventures like Frankie Franklin’s). To my mind, what’s up there on the screen is all they owe us.
But Hepburn left us something else besides the wonderful characters she embodied in the pictures (my favorite of which is Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter). She left us this wonderful brownie recipe, bold in its simplicity. I copied it years and years (and years) ago from, I think, Good Housekeeping magazine. I’ve found other versions online but not written in quite the same way, and often using ½ cup unsweetened cocoa instead of baking chocolate. Memory fails, and the original is lost, but something about this version — which accompanied a story about her — makes me think it was in her own words.
These are my favorite quick thing to make for when I want that bit of chocolate after dinner that’s more than just a square from a Trader Joe’s darkest bar. (You know the feeling?) They’re great by themselves, or with a scoop of vanilla (or dulce de leche) ice cream.
KATHARINE HEPBURN’S BROWNIES
Makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan
Melt 2 squares unsweetened chocolate and 1 stick butter in heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Beat like mad. Stir in ¼ cup flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 cup chopped walnuts. Mix. Pour into buttered 8-by-8-inch pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 40 minutes. Let cool, cut into 1½-inch squares.
Instructions can sometimes be vague, especially in older recipes. Here we’re talking about 1-ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate — 2 ounces total for the recipe.
Since I have a microwave, I never use a saucepan for this one. Stick the chocolate in a Pyrex measuring bowl, put the butter on top and melt for about 2 minutes on High. The butter keeps the chocolate from seizing up, so don’t worry about that. Then mix the rest of the recipe right in the bowl.
The pan size isn’t critical either. My best small baking pan right now is 9×9 inches and they come out fine, just a little thinner — and if you use a pan that size, start checking for doneness at 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean.
This recipe takes well to all kinds of variations. You can try it with cocoa powder. You can add a couple of tablespoons cocoa powder. Use half white and half brown sugar. Substitute pecans or almonds or hazelnuts for the walnuts. Add chocolate chips. Add white chocolate chips.