Maida Heatter (Cert. Fashion Illustration '36)
Dessert Chef, Author of Nine Cookbooks Including Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts
Caution: If you have a sweet tooth, plan on being hungry by the end of this article.
That’s because its subject, Maida Heatter (Cert. Fashion Illustration ’36), is the author of nine dessert cookbooks with such tantalizing names as Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. Two of her earlier books—Maida Heatter’s Cakes and Maida Heatter’s Cookies (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011)—have just been released in paperback. Maida Heatter’s Cakes includes a foreword by famed chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, Heatter's longtime friend.
Heatter’s books have been on The New York Times bestseller list, and a 1980 Newsweek article dubbed her “the Julia Child of desserts.” Still, Heatter never set out to be a dessert chef.
A native New Yorker, Heatter worked as a fashion illustrator after graduation. During those years, she sold a ring she designed to Macy’s and her hand-painted scarves to Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Henri Bendel. It was only after 1968 when her husband, a retired pilot, decided to open a restaurant in Miami Beach, that Heatter took up baking.
“My dad was living with us and I had to be home to take care of him. So I said I’d make the desserts at home,” she says. The desserts became so famous, Heatter recalls, that her husband imposed a rule.
“He wouldn’t let anyone order just dessert. They had to order a meal too,” she says.
In 1974, Heatter published her first dessert cookbook, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, which became a bestseller. Over the last 25 years she has become one of the world’s most acclaimed dessert chefs.
Heatter’s recipes are known for their thorough instructions and Heatter herself is known for perfecting her recipes through much trial and error. Heatter says she has often noticed how well her Pratt education prepared her a career that requires a hawk-like attention to detail.
“I can’t tell you how often I think ‘wow, this turned out good and I wouldn’t have done it this way if I hadn’t learned so-and-so at Pratt.’ It’s still influencing everything I do,” she says. “I think I learned about the important details of design that not only affect drawing and painting, but everything, including baking.”
Text: Abigail Beshkin
Photos: Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing
Recipe from Maida Heatter's Cakes courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing