RIP Maida Heatter, Beloved Baker

Maida Heatter – doyenne of cakes and cookies – died last week at the age of 102. So I baked a cake in her honor. I just had to.

In 1972, I cut a recipe out of the New York Times Magazine for Chocolate Mousse Torte, which looked like the most delicious thing in the world. Which it is.

Although it’s an impressive concoction, it’s not complicated. You make a mousse with semi-sweet chocolate, bake half of it, let that cool and then pile the rest of the mousse inside. Chill and pile a thick layer of whipped cream on top. Rich, but not too sweet. Honest.

For years, this was my special occasion, show-off dessert. When I offered to make friends a birthday cake, this is what they requested and I was always glad to oblige.

In 1974, Maida Heatter published her Book of Great Desserts.When I found out that it included Chocolate Mousse Torte, I bought the book, retired the ragged, stained clipping, and started to explore her other delights. Over the years, I discovered other favorites, which are on the dirtiest, smudgiest pages — though the Chocolate Mousse Torte page is the messiest of all

In 1978, Maida Heatter published a Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. I bought it immediately and added her All American Brownies and Sour Cream Chocolate Loaf Cake to my regular rotation of treats.

Many years ago, I thumbed through both books looking for a recipe that would produce a small treat for my husband and me. (It must have been Valentine’s Day. There it was: Petit Gateau au Chocolat. “This is special,” wrote Heatter. “Small, dark – a precious little gem.”

The only sticking point was that it called for a six-inch spring-form pan. This was something I knew I might never use again but what the heck, it didn’t cost much so I bought it anyway, baked the cake, and all was right in my world.

I found out about Heatter’s death late in the afternoon. Too late, really, to bake anything, especially since I was in the messy middle of making dinner. (Shepherd’s pie to use up leftovers.)

I remembered the Petit Gateau and the six-inch spring-form pan. I had all the ingredients: chocolate, eggs, sugar, butter, and two tablespoons of flour (yes, only two tablespoons) — the comment is Maida’s.

I baked the cake. Jim and I raised glasses of cold milk to celebrate the memory of Maida Heatter as I imagine she would have wished, complete with chocolate glaze.


  1. Rosie Richardson on June 10, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Great story…I’ll look for the book! I have a thing for chocolate desserts, and appreciate those that have few but powerful ingredients and are easy to make. On the far end of that spectrum is “Killer Chocolate Cake” from the Frog Commissary Cookbook…I may have it still somewhere.

  2. Maria Stern on June 12, 2019 at 7:46 am

    She was one of my early mentors. A more generous teacher would have been hard to find. Rest in peace sweet lady

  3. Ann Beaton on August 15, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Just seeing this now. Her spirit was as generous as the pleasure we all got from her desserts. Rest in peace, Maida!

Leave a Comment