Q & A With Maida Heatter, Part 2: Starting With Dropping The President's Pies
When we left off with the prolific -- and fantastic -- cookbook author and home baker extraordinaire Maida Heatter, she was telling us about her worst baking disaster. Or not telling us, actually ("You know, I can't think of a baking disaster... hold on, my sister-in-law, Connie, wants to talk to you").
She then passed the phone to Connie Heatter who lives in Maida's Miami Beach home to help out with the cooking and such (and yes, 95-year-old Maida is still doing the baking). Connie says she is taking advantage of their time together to brush up on her baking skills.
If Maida's cookbook prose is any judge (she often uses words like "meticulous" when referring to measuring out ingredients and phrases like "this should be done with care"), we suspect Maida runs a tight ship in her home teaching kitchen. Turn the page for more from Maida and Connie Heatter.
Connie Heatter: I did remember a big disaster but it wasn't [Maida's] fault. Years ago when Reagan was president, they had a big international peace conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. I can't remember what it was exactly. The Secret Service was there, and they dropped all of the key lime pie.
Squid Ink: Oops.
CH: Yes, it was one of those things that got written up in the newspapers, but not in the Food sections, in the Editorials. People were talking about it.
[Squid Ink Note: According to the Introduction in Maida Heatter's Pies and Tarts, it was the 1983 Economic Summit. Her friend Craig Claiborne, the former New York Times food writer, was in charge of the menu; he asked Maida to bring dessert. Maida and her husband had spent days bartering for key limes "for the President" from friends and neighbors in Florida to make 15 key lime pies (she bartered her brownies for some, then squeezed all the juice and froze it). She baked the graham cracker crust and drove up to Williamsburg with the filling ingredients, then baked the pies in a commissary.
After Maida gave the pies to the Secret Service, who had to taste them before serving them to the President and other dignitaries, she went back to her hotel to have a glass of wine. A reporter from the Associated Press called later that night to ask what Maida thought of the Secret Service dropping all of the pies. She was so upset she simply handed the phone to her husband. The Miami Herald quoted her as saying: "Anyone who has done so much cooking and baking has learned to be prepared for calamities all the time. It didn't upset me one bit." To which Maida says in the book Introduction: "Don't believe everything you read."]
Squid Ink: So are you a baker, too, Connie?
CH: I'm still learning. I have a very good teacher.
SI: That's for sure. What sorts of things are you all making?
CH: The things that Maida has taught me that are really good are her mom's gingersnap cookies, and I made her chocolate chip cookies for my church. That was a big hit. And the brownies. We make a lot of brownies.
SI: Sounds like it. Is it challenging to be in the kitchen with such a great baker when you're just learning?
Chicago Chef Rick Tramonto, Maida Heatter and Pastry Chef Gale Gand in 1997
Gale Gand (via Flickr)
CH: Well, I watch much of the time. Some things I actually did from scratch with her looking over my shoulder. She is extremely exacting [laughs]. A perfectionist. She will take the cookies out of the oven more the once to make sure every single one is perfect. That's why she gives general [baking] times. You can't just give a time or a general formula, it's different each time. Hold on, here's Maida again.
Maida Heatter: Connie is a wonderful cook. Since she lives with me, she's doing the meals. One meal is always better than the last.
SI: So she cooks and you make dessert?
MH: Well, yes, that's exactly right. It's wonderful [chuckles]. Wolfgang Puck, do you know who he is? Wolf is my closest friend, he comes here often, too. We go out to eat with him to see what the new restaurants are serving. He cooks meals here sometimes, too.
SI: That must be nice.
MH: Oh yes! It is.
SI: Back to those cakes. Would you say American baking has changed a lot over the years?
MH: Oh yes, very much so. We just went to this new Japanese restaurant in Miami Beach, Makoto. It's only been open a week or two. The desserts were sensational. And the cold lobster dish I had was just incredible. It was so tender and sweet.
SI: Sounds amazing. So do you have any one tip for beginning bakers?
MH: Hopefully you'll start with a good recipe. There are many recipes that don't turn out right, but you need to remember that it's not your fault. Maybe you know someone who will recommend a recipe -- that's a good place to start. And follow the recipe! Be meticulously careful. Really that's it. Don't go experimenting until you have done it the right way many times.
SI: Great advice. Happy brownie baking!
Check back later for a recipe from Maida.
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