Maida Heatter, whose cookbooks with recipes for star-spangled banana cake, brown sugar icing and other dessert fare earned her the nickname “the Queen of Cake,” died on Thursday at her home in Miami Beach. She was 102.
Her sister-in-law, Constance Heatter, who had been caring for her in recent years, confirmed the death.
Ms. Heatter (pronounced HEAT-er) had an early career as a fashion illustrator and jewelry designer before she opened a cafe, the Inside, in Miami Beach in the 1960s. She drew the attention of Craig Claiborne, a food editor for The New York Times.
“She is hands down the foremost food authority in Florida,” Mr. Claiborne wrote in a 1968 article. The Times began featuring her recipes.
In 1974 she published “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” the first of a string of titles that included “Happiness Is Baking: Favorite Desserts From the Queen of Cake,” published just two months ago.
If her recipes were sinfully rich and calorie-filled, she was unapologetic. She even saw the health benefits in desserts.
“A few days ago I heard a doctor talking on television about the dangers of stress,” she wrote in “Maida Heatter’s Cookies” (1997). “It can kill you. It can cause a heart attack or a stroke. The doctor listed ways of coping with stress. Exercise. Diet. Yoga. Take a walk. I yelled, ‘Bake cookies.’ ”
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“Baking cookies is a great escape,” she added. “It’s fun. It’s happiness. It’s creative. It’s good for your health. It reduces stress.”
Maida Heatter was born on Sept. 7, 1916, in Baldwin, N.Y., on Long Island, to Gabriel and Saidie (Hermalin) Heatter. Her father was a well-known radio broadcaster. Her mother instilled in her a love of cooking. She was, Ms. Heatter told Mr. Claiborne, “a most unusual woman who could do anything in the world, but cooking was her No. 1 love.”
Ms. Heatter studied fashion and design at Pratt Institute in New York, and saw a connection between that area of interest and cooking. “I definitely consider it an art,” she told L.A. Weekly in 2011. “There are many similarities.”
The switch from designing to baking came in 1966, soon after she had married Ralph Daniels, her third husband.
“Just after we were married, Ralph retired and decided to open a restaurant in Miami Beach, where we were living,” she told The Times in 1995. “I volunteered to make the desserts, which turned out to be a wild success.”
“Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” published in 1974, was the first of a string of cookbooks Ms. Heatter wrote. Her books were full of tips as well as recipes.
She was not a culinary professional, which she thought worked to her advantage. “I had no training, so I wasn’t bound by any rules,” she said. “But I did think that every problem had a solution.”
The catalyst for her cookbook-writing career may have not been a dessert but an omelet. In 1968, the Republican National Convention was held in Miami Beach, and Ms. Heatter had the idea of offering an elephant omelet (with actual elephant meat) as a promotional stunt. That seems to have been what drew Mr. Claiborne to her restaurant. His 1968 article started out talking about the omelet, but by its end he was focusing on her bittersweet chocolate mousse and her signature Queen Mother Cake.
It was Mr. Claiborne who eventually urged her to collect her recipes into a cookbook — although, as he noted in 1974, when “The Book of Great Desserts” came out, a last-minute glitch had Ms. Heatter scrambling.
“Shortly after receiving a letter of acceptance from her publisher,” Mr. Claiborne wrote, “a stove‐repair man arrived at Maida’s home and discovered that the oven temperature was almost 25 degrees awry.”
She had tested her recipes on that stove; she had to redo her handwritten manuscript to adjust the numbers.
Ms. Heatter’s books were full of tips as well as recipes. “Glass or plastic measuring cups with the measurements marked on the side and the 1-cup line below the top are only for measuring liquids,” she wrote in “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts,” first published in 1980. “Do not use them for flour or sugar.”
That book included a recipe for what she called “September 7th Cake.”
“This cake came about when I wanted something different to serve on my birthday,” she wrote. “Two thin, lightweight, dark layers are filled with white whipped cream and are thickly covered with a wonderful dark coffee-chocolate whipped cream.”
The Queen of Cake didn’t confine herself to cakes — pies, cookies, torts and a host of other goodies were also fair game. (“The Doyenne of Desserts” was among the other monikers given her over the years.)
Chocolate was a particular favorite. “I am the Chairperson of the Board of the Chocolate Lovers Association of the World,” she wrote in “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts.”
Ms. Heatter brought a certain flair to her cooking classes and public appearances. In 1998, when her first book was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame, she attended the awards ceremony at a Manhattan ballroom, where she pulled one of her best-known creations, Palm Beach Brownies With Chocolate-Covered Mints, from a Versace bag and tossed them to the crowd.
“In the audience were Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart (and her mother), Madeleine Kamman, Daniel Boulud, etcetera,” she wrote in a new edition of that cookbook in 1999. “The most sophisticated food people in the country.”
She added, “The crowd went wild.”
Ms. Heatter’s marriages to the shoe designer David Evins and Ellis Gimbel Jr., of the Gimbel department-store family, ended in divorce. Her daughter from her first marriage, Toni Evins, who illustrated some of her books, died in a glider accident in 1994. Mr. Daniels died three months later. Her sister-in-law is her only immediate survivor.
The advice Ms. Heatter offered included not just how to cook, but also how to handle cookbooks.
“A cookbook should be treated like a school textbook,” she wrote in “Happiness Is Baking.” “When reading it, or cooking from it, keep a pencil handy for notations. Underline things you especially want to remember, make notes — just don’t be afraid to write in it.”
“In the future,” she added, “you will find that your own notes have added to the book and made it more valuable to you.”