In my cookbook collection, my vintage Maida Heatter cookbooks don’t stick out when you view them from the spine. Cookbooks by Maida Heatter aren’t cutesy or gimmicky. You won’t find glossy images of picture-perfect impossible goodies expertly situated on an endless assortment of beautiful china and fine linens. There aren’t fancy ingredients, newfangled gadgets galore, or trendy, attention-grabbing recipes with bizarre combinations. Maida Heatter (pronounced May-da HEAT-ter) didn’t do such things.
Every other place I look online, when a blogger, chef, or random commenter mentions “chocolate” or “cake” or “brownies,” Maida Heatter’s name is sure to pop up in there somewhere. And for good reason. Maida Heatter had a knack for churning out consistent, delicious baked goods.
Read all about the life of Maida Heatter, jump to a different section, or go right to Maida’s cookbooks by using the Table of Contents below. Assume every link is an affiliate link (you click and make a purchase, I get a small percentage from that purchase at no extra cost to you).
- The Queen of Cake
- Maida’s Parents
- Maida, Love and Husbands
- Maida’s Kitchen
- Maida Heatter’s First Cookbook
- Maida and Ralph Open a Restaurant
- Elephant Omelets
- The Key Lime Pie Incident
- Tragedy Strikes Maida
- Brownies for Everyone
- A Lifetime of Achievement
- Continued Inspiration
- Maida Heatter Awards and Recognition
- Maida Heatter Cookbooks
- Related Resources
The Queen of Cake
The same rule of design that applies to artwork or a nice dress applies to a brownie: You want to keep it simple.~ Maida Heatter
Maida Heatter (September 7, 1916 – June 6, 2019) didn’t brand pots and pans in her name or host a TV show. She wasn’t a celebrity chef or an actress-turned-foodie. Maida Heatter, with her seven? nine? cookbooks (with multiple compilations and re-releases, as you’ll see below), wasn’t exactly the cookbook version of prolific fiction author Isaac Asimov.
Her first cookbook wasn’t published until she was 58, the time that the lucky few are starting to retire, while the rest are busy dreaming about its nearness. For Maida, baking was just a natural extension of something she had always been passionate about and a lifelong source of interest.
That first cookbook, in fact, barely received a boost from the publisher. So, how did Maida Heatter become known as the Queen of Cake? Who is this cake and dessert-loving woman?
As her author blurb shares in the back of the book, you should know that her father was Gabriel Heatter, a well-known radio and TV commentator. Gabriel began as a reporter for The East New York Record, then The Brooklyn Times, and then Hearst’s New York Evening Journal, according to OTRCAT.com. His strong writing led to an interview regarding an article he wrote on the legality of socialism (he was against it), which led to a full-time job on Mutual Broadcasting’s WOR as radio commentator. His big break came in 1933, with his coverage of the the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann (Charles Lindberg baby’s murder). Gabriel Heatter hit the big time, becoming an equal to Walter Winchell, a top radio commentator of the day.
In 1939, he gave Alcoholics Anonymous national reach and attention with a spell-binding interview on his program, “We the People.” Gabriel Heatter began, “The man beside me now has had one of the most gripping and dramatic experiences I’ve ever heard. I’m not going to tell you his name. And when you hear what he has to say I think you will understand why. But after checking the facts the Listeners Committee of We the People decided to grant him time because they feel that if one person is helped by hearing his story, then WE THE PEOPLE will have done a real service.”
You may read the interview in full here (a new link will open) and details following the aired program. It is not only excellent, but it proved to be a life-changer to many, just as Gabriel Heatter had hoped.
Unlike other newspersons of the day, Gabriel shared upbeat and positive stories during World War II, and began his program saying, “Ah, there’s good news tonight.” His wife, Maida’s mother, Saidie, was not only a “great cook” but the spokesperson for Blue Bonnet Margarine, so says IMDb (which is kind of funny, since Maida only worked with butter, from what I can tell).
Saidie Heatter, a former elementary school teacher, had a knack for last-minute, fabulous entertaining. “Let’s go into the kitchen and play,” is what young Maida heard her mother say. As a result, time spent preparing food and family meals became a source of fun – an attitude that never wavered for Saidie’s daughter.Bonnie S. Benwick,Maida Heatter, Prolific Cookbook Author Dubbed the Queen of Cake, Dies at 102, The Seattle Times, June 7, 2019.
By all accounts, Maida seems to have had a great sense of humor, something her father was known for too. Gabriel Heatter said, “Mere longevity is a good thing for those who watch life from the sidelines. For those who play the game, an hour may be a year, a single day’s work an achievement for eternity,” and this gem below:
If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being, you’d be a game show host.~ Gabriel Heatter
Maida lived in Long Island and Upper Manhattan, in what numerous articles describe as “tony addresses.” In other words, she lived in nice, fashionable areas with nice, fashionable parents; a father who was famous for his optimistic, uplifting news, and communication skills so good, they garnered him attention back in high school. Then there was her mother who was also in radio and remembered as being an excellent cook. Add in the entertaining of celebrities and news-related guests and it’s not a bad start at all.
Maida, Love and Husbands
After Maida graduated Pratt Institute with a degree in fashion illustration, she got a job at the New York Herald Tribune’s retail merchandising department. Maida designed her own line of post-modernist jewelry, shares the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Makers’ Marks, destined for stores like Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman. Sometimes, a Maida Heatter piece pops up on eBay, which I find kind of neat.
In 1940, Maida eloped with David Evins, a shoe designer later called the “king of pumps” (which is kind of funny since she earned a “queen of cake” nickname years later). Her father took it in stride, saying, “He’s a fine fellow and it’s all right with us,” in a newspaper announcement (says Bon Appetite). For a fascinating look at David’s work, do check out (pen name) Andy Peake’s site and his fabulous story, “The Designers: David Elvins” (those boots! WOW!). David and Maida had one daughter, Toni Evins.
David’s custom (and pricey) footwear would later don the feet of celebs like Marilyn Monroe, a host of first ladies, Judy Garland (said to be his favorite dinner date), and the flats Grace Kelly wore when she married Prince Rainier III, according to Linda O’Keeffe, the author of “Shoes.” Fancy! It is worth noting that David’s footwear success wouldn’t occur until after his marriage ended with Maida. David’s second wife, Marilyn Evins, is credited as the person who helped “catapult his career,” said Marilyn and David’s son, Matthew, thanks to Martha’s blend of fashion savvy and business sense, says WWD.
Maida and David divorced four to five years later (I’m having issues confirming the year). Maida married the then-retired stock broker Ellis Gimbel, Jr. in 1949. Ellis was the son of founder Ellis Gimbel of the Gimbel’s Department Stores. It was Ellis’ second marriage too, as his first wife had passed away in 1944, after more than 20 years of marriage. Ellis and Maida, however, wouldn’t be so lasting. Maida asked for a divorce in 1963. In 1964, Gimbel passed away from a heart ailment, says The New York Times.
Through it all, Maida kept mum about her divorces.
. . . . Her first marriage gave Maida her adored daughter, Toni; her second left Maida with an ultra-chic 1950s Danish modern house on the shore of Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach. Permanently on the coffee table was the issue of House Beautiful in which the house appeared in August, 1956.
The magazine’s editor had a reputation for being difficult, and Maida breathed a sigh of relief when she answered the door and the editor threw her arms around Maida, exclaiming that anyone who had an antique cookie mold of a cat and dog hanging next to her front door was exactly right for the magazine. Aside from photos of the rooms and details of the furnishings, the article included a small photo of a croquembouche, a French conical pyramid of caramel-coated cream puffs, made by Maida.
The article brought Maida assignments to write about decorating, and her reputation as a hostess who actually prepared the food she served to her guests propelled her to celebrity chef status in the Miami area. She was soon teaching monthly demonstration-style classes at a Miami department store. Writing recipes for these classes prompted the development of her thorough and meticulous writing style.
But, long-lasting love would find Maida in the form of National Airlines pilot Ralph Daniels. While chatting at a party, Maida pulled one of her soon-to-be famous brownies out from her purse. He was smitten. I guess the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach: They married in 1966.
They built a new home on Miami Beach’s Normandy Isle and moved inside in 1953. It would be years before Maida would write a cookbook, cook with elephant, or bake for the president.
But even before her second career took off, Maida cared about her kitchen.
Bright orange Le Creuset pots and pans hang from iron hooks imbedded in a white-painted brick wall. Heatter designed the hooks and mapped out precisely where they should be placed to accommodate her equipment. (She laid her pans on the living room floor first to get the spacing right.) Heatter’s love of cooking and entertaining inspired the basic design: open and airy, with a clear view of the dining area, the pool deck and Biscayne Bay.
Natural light pours in through windows running the length of the room. The 13-by-28-foot kitchen features yards and yards of counter space. (“And I need every bit of it,” she says.) A butcher-block-topped counter with drawers and cabinets underneath separates the kitchen from the breakfast and wet bar area. An electronic typewriter on a small stand awaits work on dessert book No. 6. More cabinets and drawers form the division from the dining room.
I would have loved to see her at work in her kitchen. Wouldn’t that have been fun? I imagine she would have been a little, tiny bit bossy, always chatty, and would put guests to her kitchen to work here and there with simple tasks, don’t you think?
Maida Heatter’s First Cookbook
“I’ve had a few problems in my life, but what to do with cookies has never been one of them.”Maida Heatter, Book of Great Desserts, 1974.
After completing her first book, an oven repairperson found a problem: Maida’s oven’s temperature was off by 25 degrees. So, Maida asked for the publisher to wait, while she retested and rewrote the 250 recipes in her book. Yes, that’s 250 recipes previously, extensively tested, and getting a whole new round of testing.
If you have ever had to meet a publisher’s deadline, you know the stress involved. It is like nothing else. To have that hanging over you, while you realize the great big huge amount of work ahead of you…well, I would think there would be sleepless nights, random freak outs, and much gnashing of teeth.
Maida’s daughter from her first marriage, Toni was an illustrator, responsible for the designs of Maida’s first books. They add a nice touch, but then I’ve always been a fan of illustrated cookbooks.
Maida and Ralph Open a Restaurant
Practice makes perfect. Maida already baked plenty, but opening a business, and supplying the desserts, would kick her baking prowess into high gear.
“I don’t do a thing without Ralph,” says Heatter. “You could say he’s my business manager, but more than that, it’s an all-day, every-day thing. I say, how does this taste? I say, how does this read? If he says no, I forget it.”
Food became a focal point of their lives after Heatter’s father, newscaster Gabriel Heatter, had a stroke. Heatter and Daniels, who were newlyweds at the time, cared for him in their Miami Beach home for eight years, until Heatter died at the age of 83.”
I was home with him . . . and I asked Ralph to give up flying, so he could be home more,” Heatter said. “He did, but he was bored, so I said, ‘Why don’t we open a little coffee place and I’ll make brownies?'”
The little coffee place evolved into two Miami Beach restaurants. “Neither one of us knew anything about running a restaurant, but we found out fast,” Daniels said. “Maida kept her word; she made all the desserts every day, and I’d take them from home to the restaurants, either by car or boat.”
They began the restauant in the early 1960s and sold it off in 1974.
In 1968, the Republicans were having a convention and Maida had an idea. At first, it was a joke she made while she and her husband, Ralph, were having a couple of drinks together. That’s when some of the best conversations happen, I do believe.
In 1968, when the Republican National Convention came to Miami, an enterprising coffee-shop owner named Maida Heatter decided that the best way to attract business would be with an audacious stunt: she tracked down a supplier of elephant meat and served the G.O.P. mascot sautéed in an omelette, with a side of bananas and crushed peanuts.
This novelty item caught the attention of Craig Claiborne, who was then the food editor of the Times; he had visited the restaurant looking for a joke and came away enraptured. Forget the elephant meat: Heatter’s desserts, he found, were among the best he’d ever tried. With Claiborne’s encouragement, Heatter began writing recipes for the Times, and her first cookbook, “Great Desserts,” was published in 1974.
Maida took his encouragement to heart. She recognized that he knew what he was talking about, and dug into recipe testing and tweaking and writing and rewriting. Her endless testing, testing, and more testing made her cookbooks become legendary.
Claiborne urged her to do a cookbook and championed her in print, calling her “the foremost food authority in Florida.” Five years later, Heatter shipped a completed, typed manuscript to Alfred A. Knopf in New York. She figured that if the publishing house was good enough for Julia Child, it would do for her as well.
Based on the strength of Heatter’s well-constructed recipes, Knopf published the “Book of Great Desserts” in 1974 yet did not promote it. Word spread through newspaper food sections and wire services, then Woman’s Day magazine bought the rights to the book. By the time Heatter produced a third cookbook, on chocolate desserts, Knopf sent her on a 15-city tour. The book sold 100,000 copies in its first year.
As for the elephant omelet on the menu? They sold just one. Still, if it weren’t for that stunt, Maida might never have met Craig Claiborne. Without his encouragement, she may never have thought to write a cookbook. And where would we be then? Of course, her
The Key Lime Pie Incident
The G-7, the leaders of the world’s industrialized nations, gathered together May 28-30, 1983 for the ninth three-day summit. Set in Williamsburg, Virginia, it was a big deal, and caught the attention of the world.
During the meeting, no tourists or visitors were allowed in the historic area, and those who lived there had to conform to dozens of strict security measures including constant identification checks. To be precise, Colonial Williamsburg was closed to the public.
At the invitation of President Ronald Reagan, the summit was attended by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of (then) West Germany, Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani of Italy, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada, President François Mitterrand of France and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan. Also in attendance as a specially invited participant was President Gaston Thorn of the Commission of the European Communities, the EU.
When you have a group of big shots together, you expect a meal to match. The representatives of Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, West Germany and the United States who attended weren’t served the expected French menu. Instead, Michael K. Deaver, President Reagan’s deputy chief of staff, had a different idea.
Deaver asked if Craig Clairborne would mind departing with tradition, and dish out an American menu. Clairbourne agreed, offering up lunch and dinner menus of American meals with the help of his famed cooking friends. While the chefs were bringing some of their own dishes and ingredients, the hotel and restaurant division of Colonial Williamsburg would churn out the bulk of the menu.
Our aim was not simply to devise menus on the basis of favorite recipes, although that was certainly a factor, but to select dishes that display both the geographic and gastronomic diversity of the United States. In short, I wanted to show what cooking in this country is all about.Craig Clairborne, All-American Menus for the American Summit, The New York Times, May 18, 1983.
Claiborne offered up themed meals. Barbecue and southern specialties, like hush puppies, gumbo, pecan pie composed the Saturday dinner. Sunday lunch was more in keeping with a New York deli scene, with smoked salmon, cole slaw, bagels, onion rings, and cheesecake (of course!). Sunday lunch featured crabs and their sauces, plus lobster, southern fried chicken, and Virginia ham, while Sunday dinner highlighted Cajun and Creole foods from Chef Prudhomme, with crayfish and crab claws, broiled redfish, and roast duck.
Monday took a turn, with Tex-Mex food, yes, there were nachos, as well as chili con carne, Zarela Martinez’ fish tamales, and a stuffed filet mignon (these are Very Important People, after all). But that Monday night, the “official dinner,” Claiborne’s pal, Wolfgang Puck, served up “nouvelle American cuisine,” what with the American caviar, stuffed South Carolina boneless quail, wild rice, and baked California goat cheese with native oil dressing to name a few.
The dessert tables would be laden with sweets. Maida Heatter was bringing her famous Key Lime Pie, using Florida key limes. I was an emotional wreck making a wedding cake for a family friend. That was just one cake and not for the president and a slew of Very Important People! Can you even imagine? Maida needed to bring 15 pies to the big event.
That got me thinking. If the dinner was at the end of May, does that even align with the key lime season? According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, key limes are harvested in June through September, but there are some key limes available all year. From what I understand, the flower of a key lime tree flowers sporadically, so there can be small harvests over the course of a year.
Apparently, commandering key limes was difficult for a second reason: a hurricane. When I had a chance to read Maida Heatter’s Pies and Tarts cookbook, she described the situation in more detail. She wrote that a hurricane had wiped out so many key lime trees, the limes were no longer available commercially. But she said that some people still grew them in their backyards. Her turn to the neighbors for key limes was out of necessity! For days, she followed leads for key limes, talking to people she knew and didn’t know, all in an attempt to get enough limes for the pies.
My husband and I spent days driving around Florida collecting them. No one had more than a few. (I swapped brownies for the limes.) We had stopped at a Miami fruit stand to ask if they had any. We said it was for the President. The young man said we should come back the next day. We we did he gave us five limes. He had driven 25 miles just to get five limes.
He was from the Middle East, and said this country had done so much for him and his family, that he wanted to help in any way he could. When he handed us the little bag of five limes, he said he was very proud to be doing something for America. I squeezed all the juice and froze it. I made about fifteen graham cracker crusts and froze those also. When the time came we were ready. We packed the car and drove to Williamsburg.
. . .
When my work was done, we went back to our apartment. Craig and Wolf and Barbara came along. We had some wine and were ready to relax when the phone rang. I answered it, and I heard a man introduce himself as a reporter for the Associated Press. He asked, “What did you think when the Secret Service men dropped all of the pies?” “WHAT”
I put my husband on the phone. The next day’s papers flashed the following headlines, “Keystone Kops Pitch Pies,” “Serving the Pies Not a Cakewalk at the Summit, and “Damned Fools Dropped the Pies.” (That last one was a quote from my husband.) The Miami Herald quoted me as saying, “Anybody who does much cooking and baking has learned to be prepared for calamities and disasters all the time. It didn’t upset me one bit.” Don’t believe everything you read.
The Economic Summit did have two good food-related results. One, it spurred Maida in creating an American cookbook and two, it had an unintended effect that had nothing to do with economy.
Whatever else the Williamsburg economic summit conference may have been, it was, like radio’s ”Duffy’s Tavern,” where the elite met to eat. It was also where American food was finally defined. . . . . Consider, for instance, the bagel. Bagels showed up for lunch on Sunday, along with crab, lobster, sturgeon, Virginia ham and Southern fried chicken. According to one of our sources, the bagel was born after a fight between the Austrian cavalry and the Turks resulted in the shaping of a pastry crescent into something that looked like a stirrup.
According to another source, the word first showed up in the Community Regulations of Cracow, Poland, in 1610. Bagels, the regulations read, would be presented to any woman in childbirth. Whatever the provenance of the bagel, however, it’s safe to assume no Indian was found eating one when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth.
So why are bagels American food? Because they’ve become an American habit, along with pizza, falafel, sushi and a burger rare with a side of French fries. American food, then, is not indigenous cuisine, but stuff Americans like to eat. Which is to say everything.
The media was likely thrilled to have such a big story, featuring such a big flub. For all the hubbub surrounding the American-style menu, I hate that it’s been impossible to track down any food images about it. Sigh.
She maintained some of those friendships, like with Wolfgang Puck.
As she got older, Puck would visit her, and send her monthly care packages. “Smoked salmon, goulash — a big ice chest — every month for the last five or six years.” Puck said he last saw Heatter last fall, when he took her some wine and stone crabs. “She was a great lady; she was so tough. I really loved her.”Amy Scattergood, LA Times, Maida Heatter, the Queen of Chocolate Desserts, Dies at 102, June 6, 2019.
Tragedy Strikes Maida
Horribly, Toni died in a glider accident when Toni was 45. Most sources say Ralph was diagnosed with cancer months later and died in 1991, but a few maintain that he died three months after Toni, while others say both died in 1994. Based on the quote below, I’m leaning towards both deaths being close together.
“After that, I guess I stayed in bed for four or five months; I really don’t remember anything about that time,” she later told a Miami reporter. “When I got myself together enough to walk into the kitchen and start baking, I started living again.”Bonnie S. Benwick,Maida Heatter, Prolific Cookbook Author Dubbed the Queen of Cake, Dies at 102, The Washington Post, June 7, 2019.
Those first few bakes must have been incredibly difficult. Remember, Maida was used to running things past her husband and, honestly, what spouse out there can resist fresh cookies? My husband seems to have some sort of cookie-related homing beacon built right in. I would have expect to hear him “sneaking” in and grabbing cookies from the cooling rack. To suddenly lose him, and her daughter, is unimaginable.
Brownies for Everyone
Maida Heatter made waves at the James Beard Awards in 1998. Now, picture, if you will, all the famous food people dressed to the nines, okay? You’ll have reporters and family and just a big gathering of Very Important People.
When Maida Heatter approached the stage at the Marriott Marquise ballroom in New York, she looked like the doyenne of desserts that she is. Perfectly coiffed white hair, clothed in Versace, wearing elegant but comfortable sandals and carrying. . .a shopping bag? Well, it was a Versace shopping bag, after all.
These were the James Beard Awards, the Oscars of the food world presented early last month. And Heatter was there to be inducted into the Cook Book Hall of Fame for her first cookbook, “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” originally published in 1974. Nothing seemed extraordinary until her short acceptance speech. She walked to the front of the stage and started tossing her signature brownies from her bag to the audience. Like fans in a stadium, the black-tie crowd reached to capture a flying cellophane-wrapped missile as if it were a home run.
She had 50 brownies with her that evening. “But I’d wished I’d had a lot more,” Heatter said a few days later in her Miami Beach home. By the end of the awards program, she had amassed a pile of business cards from other attendees. “They told me if I sent them a brownie, they’d send me a check for $100,” Heatter says.
That is one way to leave a lasting, positive impression. How surprising would that have been? I would have thrown elbows. How I do wish I could find a video or an image to include of that event, but alas, I cannot.
A Lifetime of Achievement
At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2006, founder and director Lee Brian Schrager said to the Miami Herald, “I think she’s done more for chocolate than Godiva.” High praise from the man responsible for beginning one of the top food festivals. Maida received the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Some cookbooks are beautiful, but full of things I wouldn’t want to eat, let alone try to make. Maida Heatter’s books aren’t like that. Her recipes contain thoughtful descriptions so you know where you stand. You dodn’t have to guess or fumble your way through.
Heatter’s recipes are always long and detailed. Even a cookie recipe contains extensive directions. Such detail may intimidate cooks unfamiliar with Heatter’s methods. But The Tribune test kitchen staff found they worked well every time.Jean Marie Brownson, Look Out – Maida Heatter’s Back with Dessert Book No. 5, Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1985.
Who wants a lot of guesswork, especially when you are just starting out or in unfamiliar baking territory? Even experienced bakers may take a moment to get used to new instructions from an unfamiliar to them baker. Maida didn’t believe in leaving anything to chance. How would a new baker know a batter is supposed to look a certain way, unless you tell the baker not to be alarmed?
In other words, she remembered to include the one essential ingredient that so many other recipe writers forget: you, the cook.Michael Szczerban, Remembering Maida Heatter, Epicurious, June 7, 2019.
Maida’s persistence, precision, and thoroughness let any home cook bake like a champ. We can all use more kitchen wins. Maida’s cookbooks help make it so. Every so often, I organize my cookbooks, jumbling around the titles, so help other titles get attention. Each time I do, I can’t help but thumb through her cookbooks, setting them in the same place yet again, right where I expect them.
Many chefs and authors and food lovers and so on point to Maida Heatter as a source of inspiration. Maida Heatter’s Triple-Layer Chocolate Torte was The New York Times’ most requested recipe in 1972. She had tested the recipe 20 times before declaring it ready for publication earlier that year in May. TWENTY TIMES! From what I’ve read about the biz, there are cookbook authors who don’t check a recipe once. I admire Maida’s dedication.
Maida passed away June 6, 2019. News of her death spread far and wide, fast. Chefs, foodies, bloggers, food writers, and everyone else who spent a little time with Maida’s recipes had memories to share:
Maida lived in Miami Beach and would come in periodically to stock up on wine and gourmet goodies. She had a sweetly disarming way about her, and she’d usually bring in some of her cellophane-wrapped homemade cookies for us to sample. We’d swoon with delight and thank her profusely. Then she’d yell, “Honey, I can’t hear you, I’m deaf as a post. Now where’s that chardonnay I bought last time?”
Today I think about the extraordinary Maida Heatter, who made such a profound impact on my life in so many ways. From recipe writing to and life coaching, to the pursuit of excellence. Skinny peanut wafers to Palm Beach brownies and of course the definition of the perfect biscotti!Michael Schwartz Restaurateur.
She was once asked “What do you do with all the cookies?” Her answer: “I’ve had a few problems in my life, but what to do with cookies has never been one of them. The answer is that I give them away. And it is magic. It is the original “How to Win Friends.” (It is called cookie diplomacy). It makes people happy and that, in turn, makes me happy. Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away.”Ellen Morrissey, The Queen of Cakes, That’s Maida Heatter, Martha Stewart, March 20, 2017.
This spring, her final cookbook, Happiness Is Baking—a compendium of her most beloved recipes pulled together by Maida’s niece and caretaker, Connie Heatter—came out from Little, Brown. The writing is Maida’s, tightened and updated here and there from previous books, but there are no new recipes or reflections on a life long-and well-lived.
Sadly, Maida didn’t even seem to know the cookbook existed. That’s what Connie told me when I spoke to her recently. She had shown Maida the bright red cover with her name in big yellow letters, but there was no recognition from the baker.
I absolutely hate that. I wish I hadn’t of read that part at all. I bet she’d be thrilled by the way her cookbooks get people in the kitchen, even now. Or, maybe, especially now.
Maida Heatter Awards and Recognition
Maida focused on quality, not quantity. How wonderful for her work to be recognized in a multitude of ways. Especially when you think of how fast some people get their cookbooks (ghostwritten) and pushed out there.
The truth is, people love to bake Maida Heatter recipes, in part because they work, producing luscious creations that almost invariably bring grown men and women to their knees. Because recipes that actually deliver on their promises are still not as common as they should be, Maida Heatter recipes, replete with their precise steps, exact timing, maternal asides and contagious enthusiasm, are cherished by those who cannot afford mistakes.Suzanne Hamlin, A Passion for Baking and Recipes That Really Deliver, The New York Times, November 1, 1995.
- Winner, Basic 1978
- Winner, Cookbook Hall of Fame 1980
- Winner, Single Subject 1981
- Winner, Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America 1988
- Winner, Cookbook Hall of Fame 1998
- “Who’s Who of Cooking in America” by Cook’s Magazine in 1988.
- Chocolatier Magazine’s “Hall of Fame” year unknown.
- Gourmet Live: 50 Women Game-Changers in 2011
Maida Heatter Cookbooks
As always, some of these cookbooks are reissues. Compare versions, compare covers, and the prices to decide what best fits your needs and budget. I hope to add more of Maida’s cookbooks to my own collection. They will be well-used. I’ll leave you with this bit of advice for beginning bakers. I think it’s a nice reminder.
Hopefully you’ll start with a good recipe. There are many recipes that don’t turn out right, but you need to remember that it’s not your fault. Maybe you know someone who will recommend a recipe — that’s a good place to start. And follow the recipe! Be meticulously careful. Really that’s it. Don’t go experimenting until you have done it the right way many times.As Maida Heatter said to Jenn Garbee, Q&A with Maida Heatter, Part 2: Starting with Dropping the President’s Pies, LA Weekly, April 28, 2011.