Maida Heatter, My Baking Idol
Maida Heatter was my baking inspiration. I discovered her first book, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, in the early 1980’s and was spellbound by her writing. To this day, no one describes a dessert with greater appeal, that makes one want to stop everything and run right to the kitchen to bake it. What a happy day it was every time a new Maida book appeared, and I bought them all.
I identified with Maida because we had so much in common in addition to loving baking. We both were born in Long Island and lived in New York City. We both were fashion designers who turned our love of craft to baking. But when my baking students encouraged me to write a cookbook I thought “why bother—Maida is all that is needed.” Then one day, in one of her books, I read something along the lines of “tempering chocolate belongs in a laboratory.” And a bell went off in my head chiming there’s room for me! My place would be to bring my passion for science and the way ingredients work to baking. And my goal became to build a bridge between the home and the professional baker.
In 1988, when The Cake Bible was about to be published, my editor Maria Guarnaschelli asked me to choose someone to write the foreword. I called Maida and introduced myself. She politely declined, saying that she had just written a foreword for a baking book that failed and she didn’t want to associate herself with another possible failure. My response was: “You are the only person I am asking and if you don’t write it there won’t be a foreword so you can take as long as you need to look at the manuscript and decide.” Her response: “Hold on a moment and I will ask my husband Ralph.” Within seconds she came back with a “Yes!” She would look at the manuscript and let me know in a few days. I ran to Fed Ex and she received it the next day. And the very day after she called and said: “I see what you have done and I will do it.” (I get the chills of joy remembering and writing this.) I knew that Maida’s blessing would put my book on the culinary map. But more than that, I had the approval of the baker I admired most.
As a new author, it was up to me whether or not to have a book launch (and to pay for it). The Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center had just reopened and Roseanne Gold, who worked with Joe Baum, generously arranged to make it affordable. I made four of my favorite large cakes from the book and 150 cupcake size Grand Marnier cakes to give as take away gifts. My family and just about everyone I knew and respected in our field was there. But September 7 was Maida’s birthday and she was unable to make the trip from Miami.
I had never actually met Maida in person so I asked if we could come to Miami for a short visit. It wasn’t to get baking secrets though. The secret I was after was how despite her celebrity she was able to maintain a happy marriage.
Maida arranged a book signing in a local bookstore. Someone asked if she was my mother (to whom she did indeed bear a resemblance) and she laughingly told them “more like grandmother”! After the book signing, Maida invited us to her home. I was so spellbound, that despite my rare ability to remember events as far back as my infancy, I don’t remember anything except her utter delight that my Canadian husband idolized not her but her adored father, the renowned Gabriel Heatter, radio commentator he listened to as a little boy during WWII.
I was blessed by Maida’s support and belief in me. My upcoming cookie book (2021) will, of course, be dedicated to her,