It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized that brownies didn't always come out of a cardboard box. I guess that when Mom is raising six children there are times when convenience makes sense, and what could be more convenient than opening a box, adding a couple of eggs and a bit of oil and water, sloshing it all together and shoving it into the oven for half an hour. Better still, let the middle child (the girl who is eight years old and probably won't mess things up too badly) do the work while Mom is doing other chores. That magical box produced reliable brownies that filled the house with the most wonderful chocolate smell and gave six kids a reason to behave, if only for a short period of time. The fact that those brownies were always a little dry did not matter to us at all - they were still the greatest treat in the world and, when Mom decided to add some walnuts into the mix.....WOW!!
Fast forward to some time in my adult life when I came across a letter to the editor of the New York Times from Katherine Hepburn's neighbor in New York City. The story she shared is delightful, and the letter included Miss Hepburn's own brownie recipe. Please google it (it appeared in the N.Y. Times on 7/6/2003) to read the letter and get the exact recipe, which is really quite simple (1 cup of sugar, 1 stick of unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 2 squares of unsweetened baker's chocolate, 1/4 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup of walnuts, some oil, some vanilla extract and a pinch of salt). The instructions say to bake at 325 F for about 40 minutes and warn against overbaking. Needless to say, the brownies come out as promised in the letter...moist, rich and gooey.
During this Covid-19 period of staying at home I (like everyone else) started baking brownies, and tried a couple of variations of my own. In the first one, I substituted sliced almonds for the walnuts and added tart cherries and a couple of tablespoons of cherry liqueur. I increased the flour a little bit too. In the second one, I got really adventurous, and added shredded coconut, chopped pecans and chopped macadamia nuts. In both cases, the flavors of the added ingredients (especially the tart cherries, which become pleasantly mellow when cooked) mingled nicely with the rich flavor of the chocolate.
I have the feeling that, if you start out with Miss Hepburn's recipe and decide to try out different ideas, you can do no wrong. That being said however, my favorite version would have to be the original one as printed in the New York Times back in 2003. With walnuts, of course!