I have a confession to make. Until a very short time ago I had no clue Maida Heatter existed, let alone that she is a baking goddess. It didn't take long to see her greatness though. A few pages into either of her two new books, Maida Heatter's Cookies and Maida Heatter's Cakes, is all that was needed.
In fact, all I really needed was a few basic ingredients, an oven and a bit of time to try her amazing recipes. Well, actually, a fairly good amount of time because I simply can't stop myself from baking her recipes. I've focused mostly on the cookies, simply because I love sharing little bite-sized treasures with friends and family more so than cakes, but both books have lots of recipes all cookie and cake lovers will want to try.
What makes me call Maida Heatter a baking goddess? Her recipes are meticulously precise and turn out delicious. No matter which recipes I've made, they all turned out precisely as Maida stated they would. She's that good.
Not all of the recipes are easy-but Maida lets you know that ahead of time. She also lets you know which cakes and cookies travel well, why she likes them, sometimes interesting stories about the cookies or cakes, and how long they can be stored. A word of caution is needed on that last point though. She states how long they can be stored, but that's only if you don't eat them first. Take it from me you'll eat them way before they "go bad".
She's also very much of a home baker. You won't find mention of a scale and you won't find unusual ingredients you need to search high and low for. Instead, you'll find precise recipes for great cookies and cakes.
Give the following recipes (Joe Frogger cookies and Walnut Rum-Raisin Cake) a try and I'm sure you'll be as hooked as I am. If you like spice cookies I particularly recommend the Joe Froggers which I simply couldn't stop eating!
Recipe from Maida Heatter’s Cookies by Maida Heatter (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011)
16 TO 18 5-INCH COOKIES
Once upon a time-actually, it was over 100 years ago, in Marblehead, Massachusetts-there was an old man who was called Uncle Joe. He lived alongside a frog pond that was known as Uncle Joe's Frog Pond.
Uncle Joe made the biggest and the bestest molasses cookies for miles around. The local fishermen would swap a jug of rum for a batch of the cookies, which came to be known as Joe Froggers, because they were as big and as dark as the frogs in the pond. The fishermen liked them because they never got hard when they took them to sea.
Uncle Joe said the secret of keeping them soft was that he used rum and sea water. But that was all he said. He would not part with the recipe. When he died people said, "That's the end of Joe Froggers."
However, there was a woman named Mammy Cressy who said she was Joe's daughter. She gave the recipe to a fisherman's wife. And soon most of the women in Marblehead were making Joe Froggers. And they were sold at a local bakery. And the recipe traveled. The last I heard about them, a few years ago, they were still being served with a pitcher of cold milk on Sunday nights in the Publick House in the Colonial Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
With their background, it is obvious that these would be a good choice for mailing or traveling.
Originally they were 6 inches in diameter. I use a plain, round cookie cutter that is 5 inches in diameter (that's my largest one). They can be smaller but they are wonderful large.
The dough should be refrigerated overnight before the cookies are rolled, cut, and baked. Allow plenty of time for baking since they are baked only four at a time.
- 4 1/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon mace
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- Optional: 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper (Uncle Joe did not use the pepper, but I do)
- 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup dark or light molasses
- 1/3 cup water (it needn't be sea water), coffee, and dark rum, mixed (amounts can vary according to your taste; use all of anyone, or try 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 3 tablespoons water, and the rest rum)
Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and optional black pepper. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until it softens. Add the sugar and beat to mix. Beat in the molasses. Then, on low speed, add about half of the dry ingredients, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula and beating until mixed. Beat in the water or coffee and rum, and then the remaining dry ingredients.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate until it is firm enough to be handled. Then divide it in thirds and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to bake, adjust a rack to the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375°. Line cookie sheets with parchment or foil.
Flour a pastry cloth and a rolling pin, using more rather than less flour. Unwrap one of the packages of dough and place it on the cloth. Pound it a bit with the rolling pin to soften it slightly. Turn it over to flour both sides. Work very quickly because the dough will become sticky and unmanageable if it softens too much. Roll out in all directions until the dough is 1/4 inch thick. Quickly cut with a floured 5-inch round cutter (or what-have-you).
Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the sheets. Quickly and carefully place them about 1 inch apart. (I place four on a 12 x 15 1/2-inch sheet.)
Press the scraps together and rechill (the freezer is okay), then reroll and cut.
Bake one sheet at a time for 13 to 15 minutes, reversing the sheet front to back once during baking to ensure even baking. Watch these very carefully. They must not burn even a bit on the bottoms or it will spoil the taste. If they seem to be browning too much on the bottoms be prepared to slide an extra cookie sheet under the one that is baking. Or raise the rack slightly higher in the oven. (But I have found that if I bake these high in the oven, they crack. It is only minor, but it does not happen when they are baked on the middle rack. That is why I bake these only one sheet at a time.)
Be very careful not to overbake these cookies. They will become firmer as they cool, and they should remain a bit soft and chewy in the middle. If you use a smaller cutter the cookies will probably bake in slightly less time.
Walnut Rum-Raisin Cake
Recipe from Maida Heatter’s Cakes by Maida Heatter (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011)The early New England sailors were given a ration of rum every day, a custom carried over to the New World from England. Rum was a popular drink as well as a popular ingredient in baking and dessert making.
This pretty cake, made in a tube pan, is loaded with rum-soaked raisins, and then generously basted with a tropical rum sauce. It is moist, keeps well, is easy to make, and is especially delicious. Soak the raisins at least overnight before making the cake.
Make 12 portions
- 5 ounces (1 cup) light or dark raisins or a mixture of both
- 1/3 cup dark rum (I use Myers's, from Kingston, Jamaica)
- 8 1/2 ounces (2 1/4 cups) walnuts (see Note)
- 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Finely grated rind of 2 lemons
- Finely grated rind of 2 oranges
- Optional: confectioners' sugar
Soak the raisins with the rum in a covered jar overnight, turning the jar occasionally (if the jar might leak, place it in a small bowl). Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 350°. Butter a fancy tube pan (even if it is a nonstick pan) that has at least a 9-cup capacity.
Place 3/4 cup of the walnuts (reserving the remaining 1 1/2 cups of walnuts) in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade and process on/off 10 to 12 times (10 to 12 seconds) until the nuts are chopped medium-fine. Or chop them any other way. To coat the pan, place the chopped nuts into the buttered pan and turn the pan from side to side to cover it all with the nuts. Sprinkle the nuts with your fingers onto the tube of the pan. Excess or loose nuts may remain in the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
Place the remaining 1 1/2 cups of walnuts in the food processor bowl and process on/off 6 to 8 times (6 to 8 seconds) until the nuts are chopped into medium-size pieces. Or chop them any other way. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until it is soft. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat to mix. Then beat in the eggs. On low speed add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions alternately with the buttermilk in two additions.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the lemon rind, orange rind, and the rum-soaked raisins, along with any rum that has not been absorbed. Stir the reserved nuts into the batter.
Turn into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted gently in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake stand in the pan for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the Rum Sauce.
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
- 1/4 cup dark rum
In a small saucepan over moderate heat, stir the sugar and water until the mixture comes to a boil. Let boil without stirring for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cool for a few minutes. Stir in the orange and lemon or lime juices, and then the rum.
Now, to remove the cake from the pan, cover it with a cake plate. Holding the cake plate and the pan firmly together, turn them over and remove the cake pan.
With a wide pastry brush, brush the warm sauce all over the warm cake; the cake will easily absorb all the sauce. Let cool.
If you wish, sprinkle confectioners sugar through a fine strainer over the top before serving.
Note: After this recipe was printed in The New York Times I received a lovely letter from a lady whose husband is allergic to walnuts. She substituted almonds and said, "I can't believe it would taste better with the walnuts! It's a wonderful cake-and perfect for the holidays."
Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes. Use a wide metal spatula or the bottom of a loose-bottomed quiche pan to transfer the cookies to racks to cool. Since these are so large, if the rack is not raised enough (at least 1/2 inch or more), place the rack on any right-side-up bowl or pan to make more room for air to circulate underneath.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.
When completely cool, store these airtight. I wrap them, two to a package, bottoms together, in clear cellophane.