What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.Katherine Hepburn
My mother loved Katharine Hepburn. She was enthusiastic enough about her to wake me up after I’d gone to bed on an elementary school night to watch The Philadelphia Story. In those days, catching a beloved movie on television was a hit or miss proposition. What a thrill.
Later I realized that her infatuation was in part about Hepburn’s distinctive style. She was fascinated with the nonchalance in Hepburn’s manner, further defined I believe, by unruffled even composed which all point to a characteristic that I would assign to the part my Mother wanted to play.
So sadly even though I cannot return the favor and wake my mother to report this stellar tidbit, I’ll let you in. She and Hepburn shared a brownie recipe. The New York Times documented the star’s ingredient combination identical to that which was dished into an indispensable tool of the McKnight scullery – the 8 by 8 pan.
Who owns a recipe anyway? I had to laugh. Brownies are one of those recipes that I gave chase to for my entire culinary life. The sources were varied: church suppers, bookclubs, luncheons, cookbooks and non profit events. They were shared on napkins, clipped newsprint and recipe cards. I even placed a long-distanced call to a friend’s great aunt to introduce myself and request her unique take.
How about another round? Maybe the addition of icing or some caramel, how about a marshmallow smear? I was ever after the gold standard primarily defined by crusty casing and gooey insides. Alas, more times than not the brownie recipe was a bad actor.
For a time when my bunch was in college, inside their Troopers, I stowed away dress boxes of brownies, a necessary lure for new friends and enthusiastic study habits. I was waylaid for a time by God bless Ina Garten.
Her unflappable combinations win stomaches and hearts everywhere particularly when it comes to her Outrageous Brownie receipt. And they are exactly that. Still her instructions involve refrigeration and a peculiar “rapping the pan against the oven shelf” which unnerved my sense of a weekend treat.
So when I identified that Hepburn’s and Mother’s takes were the same, I gave it a test run to sublime concurrence. What was I thinking? The entire exposition reminded me of the ruby slippers and the yellow brick road. Within my Mother’s collection of do-again recipes, I had the power all along.
A taste memory surfaced as I bit into the test kitchen remake. As a preschooler, my Mother and I often tootled over to Mr. Wren’s grocery where he patrolled his premises with Tootsie Roll indoctrinations. Twisting off segments and slowing chewing the chocolate awarded me with an early love. Cocoa produces the best flavor sensation that I’ve known. I’m still committed.
Cocoa also brightens a cache of first time experiences in the kitchen. Chill supper at our house included brownies for dessert. The thought of stirring the bowl and then cutting the squares to serve on a platter was an adult like rite of passage.
With time, I’ve learned something that my Mother or Hepburn could not know in their day of kitchen duty. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients. We honor the cocoa with a brand like Divine and we honor vanilla with bottles from schleps to Mexico.
While this brownie recipe produces crusty cased, gooey goodness; an essential to their specialness is the nutty. My preference are Billie’s Pecans which I order each year from Mississippi knowing that many cup-fulls will quell my cravings for a certain ritual.
When cutting the 12 pieces for the brownie platter, somehow Mother and Hepburn materialize before me. We take a bite together. “Cheers,” says Hepburn.
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup butter (1 stick )
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup regular flour (even gluten free and almond will work)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Heat oven to 325.
Melt butter in pan with cocoa.
Stir until smooth.
Cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a large bowl.
Whisk in eggs, one at a time.
Stir in vanilla.
In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, nuts and salt.
Add to the cocoa/butter mixture.
Stir until just combined.
Pour into a greased 8 x 8 inch square pan. Bake 30 minutes.
Do not over bake.
Cool before cutting and then allow your sous-chef to cut into squares.