It’s not hard to see why: It’s a groan-inducing glory of a dessert, with a dense chocolate base topped with frothy chocolate mousse and crowned with whipped cream. It was a clever trick that Ms. Heatter (whose full name is pronounced MAY-da HEAT-er) landed upon during all of those recipe try-outs: Make a batch of chocolate mousse, and bake half of it in a pie pan. Once it has cooled, the baked mousse sinks in the center, transforming into a dense chocolate cake “crust” that’s ideal for filling with the remaining unbaked mousse.
Creditvia Connie Heatter
In 1974, “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts” was published, and if you were a home baker in the 1970s and ’80s, you likely had a dog-eared, butter-stained, flour-dusted copy on your kitchen shelf. Devotees still swear by her cookbooks, often scouring the internet to replace their battle-worn editions, but many Instagram-era cooks have never heard of the woman who wrote nine cookbooks, won three James Beard awards and counted Martha Stewart and Nancy Silverton as fans. The recent release of “Happiness Is Baking” (Little, Brown, 2019), a collection of her most popular recipes, may introduce her to a new generation.
Ms. Heatter had no intention of becoming a cookbook author. In the early 1960s, she was a successful jewelry designer living in Miami Beach, when she persuaded her third husband, Ralph Daniels, an airline pilot who was often out of town, to quit his job and open a cafe so he could help her care for her ailing father, Gabriel Heatter, the 1940s radio personality. She made the desserts, which she developed and tested in her home kitchen, and soon afterward locals were lining up for them.
The torte — “a piece of ingenuity with chocolate,” as Raymond A. Sokolov wrote in The Times in 1973 — is among the 100 or so rigorously tested and exquisitely detailed recipes in “Happiness Is Baking.” Developed by Ms. Heatter, a self-professed ”chocolate nut,” it is the apex of chocolate desserts: just rich enough, doubly chocolatey and a dream to make if you follow Ms. Heatter’s precise instructions to the letter.