Friday, April 22, 2016

Katharine Hepburn Brownie Pie

There's a photo of me from the fourth grade: I have my hair curled (it was then in its pre-pubescent stick straight stage) and piled high on top of my head. I'm wearing a blue blazer and turtleneck, and holding a wooden tennis racquet, with over-sized sunglasses completing the look. The occasion was a class biography project in which we were to impersonate one of our heroes and I, in case you haven't guessed from my surely obvious costuming, was Katharine Hepburn.

At some point prior I had graduated from Shirley Temple movies to those of Hepburn and Grant, Hepburn and Tracy, Hepburn, Hepburn, Hepburn. This little obsession was perhaps prompted by my mother and grandmother, who presented Kate as the feisty, whip smart, and athletic alternative to the other silver screen starlets my classmates were ogling over (likely via a certain "classic movie" issue of the very '90s pre-teen rag, American Girl).

Me as Katharine Hepburn, 4th grade
I admired Katharine for all of those reasons my elders saw her as an alternative role model. As a nerdy tomboy, I identified with Kate's Bringing up Baby shenanigans, leopard in tow, her cunning smarts that bested Spencer Tracy in Desk Set, and her take no guff attitude in Pat and Mike. I also just found her hilarious. Subsequently, I devoured her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, with abandon, and upon learning that as a child, she lived as a boy for the summer, with her parent's buy-in, considered doing the same. Six or so years later, then a sophomore in high school, I got in a heated argument with my honors English teacher who insisted that Katharine and that other Hepburn, Audrey, were sisters. I told her she was wrong, exclaiming, " I know for a fact-- I've read Me!," "So have I," she countered. Well, someone was lying and it wasn't me. 

Later in college, my older friend Ben who worked at Houghton Mifflin for his first job out of school, sent a spare copy of Ruth Reichl's bright yellow Gourmet Cookbook to my group house in Ann Arbor. The first recipe I discovered and ever made from there was Katharine Hepburn's brownies, sourced allegedly from the Hepburn family by a friend of food writer Laurie Colwin's. I've worn that page (688) out, so much that the cookbook now opens directly to it.

The recipe makes the best brownies-- fudgy and dense, they're the only ones I ever make. They're also incredibly simple-- fitting I think, for Kate-- a woman who appreciated luxuries, no doubt, but wouldn't let her get to carried away about them, always tempering her approach with that stubborn blue-blooded New England practicality.

Here, I have Hepburn's brownies the pie treatment, altering the recipe just slightly (I reduced the sugar by 1/4th of a cup) and using it as the filling in a pie crust. It's a Chocolate Chess Pie, essentially, but the richest one you ever had. The added salt and bite of the crust balances that out a bit, and of that, I think Kate would approve.

Katharine Hepburn Brownie Pie

Nothing in the house pie crust, halved
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Prepare half of Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions, reserving the leftover egg for an egg wash and saving other half of the recipe in the freezer for a future pie. Chill dough at least one hour before rolling and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to use. 

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter with chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla, beating until well mixed. Stir in flour and salt just until combined.

3. Pour filling into chilled pie crust and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, then serve just warm or at room temperature. 

Related recipes:
Berger Cookie Pie
Chocolate Almond Cake
Chocolate Chess Pie
Cranberry Chocolate Chess Pie

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