When it comes to brownie recipes, one would usually expect to hear ingredients such as flour, sugar, eggs and chocolate. But one woman dished out a most unusual addition – a heavy serving of infidelity. It all started when The New York Times published Katharine Hepburn's Brownies Recipe two years ago.
As usual, the comments section filled up with complaints, recipe tweaks, flops and personal success stories. But then came the bombshell — a comment spiced with all the delectable elements of storytelling: drama, humor, love, heartbreak and most of all, suspense.
The commenter described sharing the brownies with an acquaintance in Germany back in the '80s, "who considered herself a great cook, asked for the recipe but was never able to get it to work. She kept asking me what she was doing wrong and I was never able to solve her problem. Eventually, she moved to the US and stole my husband!"
That comment went viral and was deemed then by one Twitter user as "written by the greatest living short story writer." This summer, The Times published an article noting that of the more than 16 million comments ever reviewed by its moderators, the brownie infidelity comment is considered their all-time favorite.
Since then, the comment once again has been making the rounds on the Internet. And this past week, an online publication, The Cut, tracked down the woman behind it to confirm its veracity and find out the backstory to the "husband thief." The commenter's name is Sydne Newberry.
As The Cut put it:
"She wrote that she first met the acquaintance when her then-husband of eight years was on temporary duty for the Air Force in Germany (their husbands at the time knew each other). Newberry brought them the brownies and after the acquaintance — described as 'a gorgeous Italian woman who was very proud of her cooking and was a real food snob' — asked her for the recipe, they went back and forth in the mail trying to get it to work. When it didn't take, she insinuated that I'd purposely left something out of the recipe.' "
Newberry added that three years later, the woman came to visit from Germany and a couple of weeks into her stay, she was fooling around with Newberry's husband.
NPR spoke with Newberry for further details on the bittersweet saga and of course, to get her recipe for these talk-of-the-town brownies.
She said she doesn't remember the details of The Times' article but thought, "I'm going to post a comment about Katharine Hepburn's brownies because I've been making them for so long.' I mean, it's like the only brownie recipe I ever use. And I started to type my comment about the recipe, and it popped into my head that I had brought these brownies to Germany and that this woman had tried to make the recipe and then ended up coming in the United States and marrying my ex, or stealing him and then marrying him. So I'll just throw that in. Maybe it'll put this recipe in perspective."
Newberry said she appreciates humor and irony and figured these elements complemented her true story. But she never expected any response. "I've never seen any of them because I never went back to look," she said. "When I post comments, I hardly ever read subsequent comments."
She doesn't usually check Twitter either, so when a friend told her back then that her comment had gone viral, she replied, "Oh my God, this is insane. Somebody is tweeting about my comment about the brownie!"
So on a hot July afternoon this past summer, when Newberry got a text while running errands in her Los Angeles neighborhood, the furthest thing from her mind was that brownie comment from two years ago.
"Hi, Sydne! Do you know you're mentioned in today's NYT? It's on page 2 in a small article called The Approval Matrix. I have a hard copy clipping of it which I'll bring to work on Wednesday if you'd like it," the text said.
Newberry, a nutritionist and writer, says her first thoughts were, "I really haven't done any research that's that newsworthy in a few years. I figured maybe they dredged up something about probiotics or omega-3 fatty acids. I'm working on a really controversial report right now, so I was a little afraid something got leaked but didn't think that was very likely."
Needless to say, Newberry's curiosity got the better of her, so she raced home to get a look at her own copy of The New York Times.
The Times moderators had declared:
"Katharine Hepburn's brownies recipe in The New York Times's Cooking section holds a particular honor: A comment left on the article is the Times moderating team's all-time favorite."
"I was pretty shocked," Newberry says. "I thought, 'What? It was just an offhand comment I made.' "
Newberry says she still regularly makes Katharine Hepburn's Brownies, although she has tweaked the recipe a tad since sharing it with the woman she said stole her ex-husband — and is still currently married to him. But Newberry insists that the original recipe worked, so her alterations to it don't account for why that woman never got it right.
"I have a degree in baking," she says, adding, "I've actually thought about what could have gone wrong. ... Maybe it had something to do with some difference between ingredients in Germany and ingredients here. It could have been the size of the egg. It could have been something about the grain of the fineness of the sugar. I don't know."
What Newberry does know is that her current husband of 21 years absolutely loves her brownies. Still, she says she can't help but see the irony of a brownie recipe by Katharine Hepburn being connected to marital infidelity. Hepburn famously carried on a 25-year love affair with actor Spencer Tracy — who was married to someone else throughout the relationship — until his death in 1967.
"If you want to steal somebody's husband," Newberry muses, "you should screw up a brownie recipe."
Sydne Newberry's Spin On Katharine Hepburn's Brownies
* This recipe is based on Katharine Hepburn's original, with modifications made by Newberry.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 stick butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup broken up walnut or pecan pieces (for better flavor, toast the nuts at 350 F for about 5 minutes)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- Preheat oven to 325F.
- Grease an 8-inch-square pan. (Line it with aluminum foil, overhanging on all sides.)
- Melt butter in a saucepan with cocoa and stir until smooth.
- Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
- Whisk in eggs, one at a time.
- Stir in vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, nuts and salt.
- Add to the cocoa-butter mixture. Stir until just combined.
- Pour into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes. (Do not overbake: Center should still be a little gooey.)
- Let cool completely before cutting into squares. If foil lining is used, lift from pan and cut into 16 squares on a cutting board.