50 Women Game Changers in Food: Maida Heatter (Week 16)

In 2011, Gourmet released their list of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. I stumbled on this entirely by accident. One week a couple of months ago, I was meal planning, and didn’t have access to my Ina Garten cookbooks. So, I googled the recipe I was looking for and found it on a blog that was making its way through the list (she’s number 39… I’m a little disgruntled that Rachael Ray is higher up than she is). I was inspired to do the same. I need to challenge myself more in the kitchen, and I thought this would be an excellent way to do so.  As I’ve been planning for this, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, checking out websites and buying new equipment, and I’m excited. I’m also really looking forward to learning more about these game changing women, and introducing myself to recipes I’ve never cooked before.

(And since this entire year-long project will be all recipes I’ve never made before, I can’t promise that everything will turn out the way I want it to. But whether a dish is a winner or an epic fail, I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

Week 16 brings us to Maida Heatter.

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Maida Heatter ( – Present), like many other women on this list, never set out to have a career in the food industry. She never went to culinary school, or trained with any great chefs. She went graduated from the Pratt Institute with a degree in fashion illustration. She was successful with her work in illustrating, but left that when her hand worked silver jewelry became a success, and her jewelry, along with hand painted ties & scarves began to be carried by Macy’s. She moved to Miami Beach in the 1940’s, where she met & married  an airline pilot names Ralph Daniels.

Eventually, Maida began urging her husband to find a job that didn’t require as much travel. They, along with friend Gabriel Heatter, decided to open a cafe in Miami Beach, which eventually grew into a full service restaurant. Maida gave up jewelry making to cook full time for the restaurant, which lead to her first encounter with Craig Claiborne. In 1968, the Republican National Party held it’s national convention, and in honor of the Republican Party, she put several dishes made of elephant meat on the menu. No one actually ate any elephant, but it created a media frenzy for the restaurant, and drew the attention of Craig Claiborne, the food editor of the New York Times. He left the restaurant raving about her desserts & suggested that she author a cookbook. Her first cookbook, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts was published in 1974.

I think Maida is one of the most likeable women I’ve encountered on this list so far, and I LOVE this quote about her from Saveur magazine:

Maida’s goal is a perfect dessert every time—and she wants those who follow her recipes to achieve the same end. If the recipe doesn’t deliver, she wants to know why. A stranger from the Miami area once looked Maida up in the phone book and called her for help with a recipe that she just couldn’t make work. “I may have been crazy, but I invited her over to show her how to make it.” (It turned out that the lady had been using margarine instead of butter and omitting the sugar, Maida recalls—still sounding a bit annoyed.) On another occasion, the New York Times test kitchen was having problems with one of her pound cake recipes. “I told Ralph about it, and next thing I knew, we were on a plane on our way to New York. We wanted to make sure that recipe worked.”

When the Saveur Kitchen team called Maida about a problem it was having with her polka dot cheesecake recipe—the top of our version kept cracking—she offered succinct advice: “Don’t overbeat your eggs.” She also told us exactly how deep the water in the bain-marie should be (one and a half inches). A new cheesecake went into the oven. Just as it was due to come out, the phone rang. It was Maida. “She wanted to make sure we didn’t overbake the cake,” explains Kelly Kochendorfer, director of the Saveur Kitchen.

I purchased one of her books for this project, and honestly I was intimidated by it. There were so many steps, and she’s incredibly precise. I wish I had read up on her before hand, I may have been less intimidated, and more appreciative of the work that goes into her desserts.

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I’m obsessed with blueberry muffins. It’s gotten bad. Every time I stop at a grocery store to pick up… well, anything, I end up buying a muffin. I even get muffins anytime I go inside the gas station across the street from my office. I love them. I can’t get enough.

But, as much as I love the huge, bakery muffins from Harris Teeter, Kroger, Farm Fresh, Wawa, Seven-Eleven, etc…, I know they’re really, really bad for me. So, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect homemade blueberry muffin. These weren’t perfect (I think the fact that the super cheap liners I used stuck to them really bad annoyed me so much it lessened my enjoyment), but they were really, really good. The flavor was excellent, and the texture was wonderful.
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Maida Heatter’s Blueberry Muffins
(Recipe from Maida Heatter’s Cakes (pp. 295-296))

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions:

  1. Arrange a baking rack to the middle position of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Wash the blueberries in cold water, and spread them out over paper towels to dry thoroughly.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Gently mix in the berries, being careful not to break them.
  4. In a seperate mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg, and then add in the melted butter, milk, and lemon zest.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir very gently for a few seconds. Be very careful not to overmix – stir until the dry ingredients are barely moistened. The batter should be lumpy.
  6. Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Cool in pan for 2-3 minutes, before moving to a cooling rack.
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