I miss Nora Ephron. She was a most amusing journalist and film writer. We remember her as the writer of Julie and Julia, Sleepless in Seattle, and that infamous deli scene with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.
It wasn’t until after her death that I realized Nora was also a gourmet cook. She even centered her partial autobiography around a devastating divorce and the role of food in her recovery. (She was married to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame for four years.)
Potatoes to the Rescue
Nora admitted to finding consolation in carbs. “Most people don’t have near enough mashed potatoes in their lives,” she said, referring to the fluffy, soul food fondly as “God’s shaving cream.” In her book, Friends, she includes her recipe for “Mashed Potatoes for the Broken Hearted” with the note, “These fluffy, smooth potatoes (with plenty of sour cream and butter) have been known to mend even the most fractured heart.”
In memory, I’m linking to one of her beloved recipes: Fancy Meatloaf. That dish alone should earn her a spot in the Culinary Hall of Fame. When I compared it with my longtime favorite meatloaf, I found the ingredients were much the same. I include carrots and green peppers and she adds pancetta and red wine.
The Queen of Cake
Then I ran onto yet another name out of the past. The so-called Queen of Cake, as she was nicknamed, was actually a successful jewelry designer who turned to writing dessert cookbooks in the 70s and 80s. Her name: Maida Heatter. Now I’d heard the name Heatter only one other time in my life. Gabriel Heatter. He was a radio news commentator during World War II, whose signature sign on was: “There’s good news tonight!” He started with the good stuff. Imagine that!
Well, it turned out that Maida was his daughter. In her nine dessert cookbooks, she made some good news herself, winning three James Beard awards.
When she met Speaker Tip O’Neill and his wife for the first time, Mrs. O’Neill, upon being introduced, blurted out, “Palm Beach Brownies!” It was one of Maida’s most popular recipes. Her Chocolate Mousse Torte was the New York Time’s most requested dessert in 1972.
Desserts to Remember
The Times also published Maida’s East 62nd Street lemon cake, a tender lemon Bundt cake; her 86-proof chocolate cake; and her chocolate cheesecake brownies. All beloved, but none as much as that Chocolate Mousse Torte with its dense chocolate base and frothy chocolate mousse smothered with whipped cream.
The torte was created by making a batch of chocolate mousse and baking half of it in a pie pan. Once it cooled, the baked mousse sank in the center, leaving a chocolate “crust” for the remaining unbaked mousse.
“The Queen of Cake” died recently at 102. Her Book of Great Desserts is a classic that lives on. A collection of Maida’s most popular recipes were released this year in Happiness Is Baking.
“I’ve had a few problems in my life, “Heeter said, “but what to do with cookies has never been one of them.”
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