Cookbook author and “Queen of Cake” Maida Heatter died yesterday at her home in Miami Beach, the Washington Post reports. She was 102 years old.
Over the course of her decades-long career, Heatter published nearly two dozen cookbooks. She earned a reputation for reliable recipes that went on to become classics, like the “Best Damn Lemon Cake” and “Pecan Squares Americana.” Heatter had a particular fondness for chocolate desserts and wrote three separate books devoted to chocolate. She was eventually inducted into Chocolatier Magazine’s hall of fame.
Heatter began her cookbook career in the 1970s, and as the Washington Post describes it, former New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne had a hand in her breakthrough. The critic visited the Miami Beach restaurant owned by Heatter’s husband, where Heatter handled desserts. Claiborne was drawn in by a promotional gimmick for an elephant omelet during the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, but he left most impressed with Heatter’s desserts. Claiborne encouraged her to write a cookbook and the two became lifelong friends (Claiborne died in 2000). Heatter’s first cookbook, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, was published in 1974.
Heatter seemingly never stopped working. She published her last cookbook in April: Happiness is Baking, a compilation of more than 100 of her hit recipes for cakes, pies, tarts, muffins, brownies, and cookies.
Heater was embraced by the culinary world throughout her career. She won three James Beard Awards and was inducted to the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame in 1980 and again in 1998. She was an influence for prominent food world figures like Martha Stewart and baker Dorie Greenspan. On Instagram today, Greenspan wrote, “While I’d never met her, she was a force in my life — I credit her with teaching me to bake.” It’s a sentiment that’s undoubtedly true for countless home bakers, too.