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Book Review: Happiness is Baking

December 2019/January 2020 Issue
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Happiness is Baking: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake
by Maida Heatter (Little, Brown)

When the queen of baking, Maida Heatter, died at age 102 in June, she left bakers everywhere with a legacy of classic, approachable recipes. Shortly before her death, Heatter published a greatest-hits collection called Happiness Is Baking, 100 gems from her oeuvre. If you’re a baker of a certain age, you certainly know Maida Heatter. If you’re not, then Happiness Is Baking is the ideal introduction to Heatter’s genius.

This book includes all the favorites. Those Palm Beach Brownies with Chocolate-Covered Mints—the first time I made them, I remember thinking that the 425°F baking temperature must have been a typo, but it’s not. The Skinny Peanut Wafers—Heatter directs you to make them on an inverted rimmed baking sheet if you don’t have a cookie sheet. Her September 7th Cake—she created this for her own birthday, because, let’s face it, bakers always make their own birthday cakes. And the simple, delicious, obsessed-over East 62nd Street Lemon Cake—which I referenced in a review for Food52’s Genius Desserts (because yes, it’s that good).

As with all of Heatter’s books, no photos, please. Homey illustrations will do, along with warmly conversational recipe head notes and tips scattered like sprinkles along the way. If Happiness Is Baking has a drawback, it’s that it feels a little rushed. The chapters progress from Everyday Cakes to Special Occasion Cakes to Cookies. And then comes the fourth and final chapter: Pies, Tarts, Brownies, Bars, and More (in this case, “more” means ice creams, puddings, fruit desserts, popovers, and a dog biscuit). That’s a big tent and just a bit eccentric, but then again, Heatter never was the conventional type.

In 2020, two more Heatter collections will be published—Chocolate Is Forever and Cookies Are Magic—which means more opportunities to revisit—or discover—the timeless treasure that is Maida Heatter.

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