Happiness Is Baking

Cakes, Pies, Tarts, Muffins, Brownies, Cookies: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake


Foreword by Dorie Greenspan

By Maida Heatter

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From the bestselling “legend” of baking (New York Times), Maida Heatter, a modern-classic collection of her all-time best-loved, tried-and-true recipes

“Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, and eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them, and sharing them with you.”

Maida Heatter is one of the most iconic and fondly remembered cookbook authors of all time. Her recipes, each a modern classic, are must-haves in every home baker’s bag of tricks: her cookies, cakes, muffins, tarts, pies, and sweets of all kinds range from extravagantly special to the comforting and everyday. Her brown-sugary Budapest Coffee Cake, her minty Palm Beach Brownies, her sophisticated East 62nd Street Lemon Cake, and many other desserts have inspired legions of devotees.

Happiness Is Baking reproduces Maida’s best-loved recipes in a fully illustrated new edition with a foreword by Dorie Greenspan. Developed for foolproof baking by experienced cooks and novices alice, these recipes bear Maida’s trademark warmth, no-nonsense style, and her promise that they will work every time.

Happiness Is Baking is the perfect gift for anyone who loves baking–or who knows the happiness that comes from a delicious dessert.



Years ago I heard a doctor talking on television about the dangers of stress. It can kill you. It can cause a heart attack or a stroke. The doctor listed ways of coping with stress. Exercise. Diet. Do yoga. Take a walk.

I yelled, “Bake cookies.”

I often talk to the television. I yelled it again and again. The doctor went on with his list of 12 ways to reduce stress… and he never once mentioned my surefire treatment.

Baking is a great escape. It’s happiness. It’s creative. It’s good for your health. It reduces stress.

If you are reading this book, chances are you know what I mean. You have probably baked something delicious. You could probably tell me a thing or two about what fun it is. But if you have not baked even cookies, then let me tell you: Bake some cookies! Happiness is baking cookies.

The one question I am asked most often is, “What do you do with all the desserts you make while writing a cookbook?” Frankly, we eat an awful lot of them. And we have friends and neighbors, and delivery men, garbage men, gardeners, mailmen, and the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker… who hope I never stop testing recipes.

Some people (especially me) will stop at nothing to track down the recipe for a dessert they have tasted or heard about. Many, many years ago I bought a certain chocolate cake from a New York patisserie and fell madly in love with it. I simply had to have the recipe, but I could not get it. I tried to duplicate it at least 30 or 40 times with no luck. Since I thought that the particular brand of chocolate used in the cake might have been a clue to its unusual flavor, I hung around on the street in front of the shop for many days, hoping to see a chocolate delivery truck. I had the cake sent to all the good cooks and pastry chefs I knew around the country to see if they could help me analyze it. I wrote to all the publications that seem to be able to get recipes when no one else can. I even asked my husband to flirt with the lady who baked the cake to try to get the recipe. I told him, “Do anything necessary—just don’t come home without it.” When the lady realized his motive, she immediately threw him out of her shop. P.S.—I still do not have the recipe and haven’t given up.

One more word about this book—about any cookbook—before you get down to the serious (fun) business of making the recipes. A cookbook should be treated like a school textbook. 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. Write your experiences with the recipes and any changes you make. (For instance, “bake 3 minutes longer,” “use pecans instead of walnuts,” “cut these thinner,” or “these are the ones I made when S and G came to dinner.” Or “divine” or “troublesome.”) In the future you will find that your own notes have added to the book and made it more valuable to you.

Special-effort cooking is truly one of the creative arts. You create something and share it with joy with those you love. You can’t ask more of life than that.

before you bake

I have cooked and tested every one of the recipes in this book over and over so that they are worked out perfectly. But in order for these recipes to work for you as they do for me, it is of the utmost importance that you follow every direction exactly. Many instructions might seem trivial, arbitrary, or unimportant, but there really is a practical reason for everything.

If a recipe says to line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, it is not because I am a fuddy-duddy and care about keeping cookie sheets clean. In some recipes, you would encounter disaster without the foil. With it, if you are like me, you will squeal with joy at the ease, fun, and satisfying excitement of peeling the foil from the smooth, shiny backs of the cookies.

If a recipe includes directions to refrigerate for at least 10 hours or longer, it is because the custard would collapse if it were served sooner. With adequate baking and chilling time it will hold its shape like a smooth cheesecake, and serving it (to say nothing of eating it) will be a sensuous thrill.

If brownies are not allowed to stand for the specified time after they come out of the oven, they will squash when you cut them into portions.

I could go on and on, but please, take my word for it. Read the recipes carefully and follow them exactly.

I wish you good luck with this book. I have had pleasure, satisfaction, moments of pride, and even some of sheer ecstasy with these recipes. And I wish you the same.



Whenever butter is called for it means unsalted (sweet) butter.


Unsweetened chocolate is also called baking chocolate or bitter chocolate.

Sweet, semisweet, bittersweet, and extra-bittersweet chocolates are generally interchangeable in cooking and baking, depending on your taste and on the availability of chocolates.

Semisweet chocolate morsels, chips, or bits: Made by Nestlé, Hershey, and others. I seldom use them (although many people do with excellent results), except in cookies—and for making one of the greatest cookies of all, Toll House Cookies. The recipe for those cookies is printed on the package of Nestlé’s Chocolate Morsels. Of course, that did not stop me from including my own Positively-the-Absolutely-Best-Chocolate-Chip Cookies here.

Milk chocolate: I seldom use milk chocolate in cooking or baking. When I do, it is used cut up, like morsels (for chocolate chip cookies).

Compound chocolate: Real chocolate contains cocoa butter. Compound chocolate contains some shortening rather than cocoa butter. Real chocolate should be tempered to prevent discoloring or streaking after melting and cooling—compound chocolate does not need to be tempered and will set up (harden) faster than real chocolate. I use compound chocolate most especially for making Mushroom Meringues (here) and Chocolate Cigarettes (here). These can also be made with real chocolate but not as easily (unless the chocolate is tempered, which is a long story).

To Melt Chocolate

When melting chocolate with no other ingredient, the container must be absolutely dry. Even the merest drop of moisture will cause the chocolate to “tighten” or “seize.” (If it should tighten, stir in 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening for each 3 ounces of chocolate.) Melt chocolate by stirring it slowly in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water. The reason for this is that boiling water might bubble up and get into the chocolate. People who have a microwave tell me that it is the best way of all to melt chocolate.

Chocolate should melt slowly—it burns easily. To be sure chocolate doesn’t get overheated and burn, it is always advisable to remove it from over the hot water before it is completely melted and then stir it until it is entirely melted and smooth.


Any unsweetened cocoa may be used in baking and cooking, but I prefer Dutch-process cocoa. It has nothing to do with Holland or the Dutch—it is cocoa that has been treated with alkali to neutralize the natural acids. It is darker than other cocoa and, to my taste, has a richer and better flavor. I use Droste.

In some recipes, it’s best to strain the cocoa before use. To do so, push it through a fine sieve or strainer.


Instant espresso or coffee in a recipe means dry—powdered or granules.

Instant coffee powder will dissolve more easily than granules. If you happen to have granules on hand, it is easy to powder it yourself. Whirl some in the blender, then strain it and return the coarse part to the blender to grind until it is all powdered. Medaglia d’Oro instant espresso is finely powdered and works very well. It is generally available at specialty food stores and Italian markets.


Half-and-half has from 10½ to 18 percent butterfat. Light cream and coffee cream both have from 18 to 30 percent butterfat. Whipping cream has 30 to 36 percent. And heavy whipping cream has 36 to 40 percent.

To Whip Cream

Heavy cream may be whipped with an electric mixer, a rotary beater, or a large, balloon-type wire whisk (the same kind as described for beating egg whites, here). It will whip more easily and give better results if the cream, bowl, and beaters are cold. The bowl should be metal (but not copper), as that gets and stays colder. Place the bowl and beaters in the refrigerator or the freezer just before using them; they should be thoroughly chilled. If the room is very warm, the bowl in which you are whipping the cream should be placed in a larger bowl of ice and water.

Do not overbeat or the cream will lose its smooth texture; if you beat even more it will turn into butter. If you use an electric beater, a handy safeguard is to stop beating before the cream is completely whipped and then finish the job with a wire whisk. This allows less chance for overbeating.


These recipes are all based on the use of large eggs, or occasionally extra-large or jumbo.

If directions call for adding whole eggs one at a time, they may all be cracked open ahead of time into one container and poured into the other ingredients, approximately one at a time. Do not crack eggs directly into the batter—you wouldn’t know if a piece of shell had been included.

To Separate Eggs

A new bride, when faced with the direction “separate eggs,” placed them carefully on the table about 4 inches apart, and wondered how far they should be from one another…

Eggs separate best (that is, the yolks separate most readily from the whites) when they are cold. Place three small bowls in front of you, one for the whites and the second for the yolks. The third may not be needed, but if you should break the yolk when opening an egg, just drop the whole thing into the third bowl and save it for some other use. When cracking the shell it is important not to use too much pressure or you will break the yolk at the same time.

Some cooks open the egg directly onto the palm of a hand and let the white run through their fingers into a bowl while the yolk remains in their hand. But the most popular method is to tap the side of the egg firmly on the edge of a bowl to crack the shell. Then, holding the egg in both hands, separate the two halves of the shell, letting some of the white run out into a bowl. Now pour the yolk back and forth from one half of the shell to the other, letting all of the white run out. Drop the yolk into the second bowl.

To Beat Egg Whites

Egg whites may be beaten with an electric mixer, a rotary eggbeater, or a large balloon-type wire whisk. Both the bowl and beater must be perfectly clean and dry. Just a bit of oil or grease will prevent the whites from inflating properly.

If you use an electric mixer or a rotary beater, be careful not to use a bowl that is too large, or the whites will be too shallow to get the full benefit of the beater’s action. Also, if you use an electric hand mixer or rotary beater, keep moving it around in the bowl. If you use a mixer on a stand, use a rubber spatula frequently to push the whites from the sides of the bowl into the center. If you use a wire whisk and a bowl, an unlined copper bowl is best, though you may use glass, china, or stainless steel. Do not beat egg whites in an aluminum or plastic bowl.

The beaten whites will have a better—creamier—consistency if you beat some of the sugar into the whites as they begin to hold a shape.

Do not beat egg whites ahead of time. They must be folded in immediately after they are beaten. If it is a cake that you are making, it must then be placed in the oven right away.

Do not overbeat the whites or they will become dry and you won’t be able to fold them in without losing the air you have beaten in. Beat only until they hold a shape or a point—“stiff but not dry.”


With only a few exceptions, these recipes call for sifted flour. This means that it should be sifted immediately before it is measured. If the flour is not sifted, or if it is sifted long before it is used, it packs down and 1 cup is liable to contain a few spoonfuls more than 1 cup of flour that has been sifted immediately before measuring.

To Sift Flour

If you have one, use a double or triple sifter (which forces flour through multiple layers of fine mesh); otherwise sift the flour twice using a fine-mesh sieve. Sift onto a piece of wax paper or baking parchment, sifting a bit more than you will need. Use a metal measuring cup. Spoon the sifted flour lightly into the cup. Do not shake the cup or pack the flour down; just scrape any excess off the top with a metal spatula or any flat-sided implement. It is not necessary to wash a flour sifter, just shake it out firmly and store in a plastic bag.


When sugar is called for in these recipes, unless otherwise stated, it means granulated white sugar.

Sugar should be measured in the same metal cups as those recommended for flour. If granulated sugar is lumpy it should be strained before use. Brown sugar and confectioners’ sugar are best strained also. (Hard lumps in brown sugar will not disappear in mixing or baking.) Unlike flour, sugars may all be strained ahead of time and you may do several pounds at once. Use a very large strainer set over a large bowl and press the sugar through with your fingertips.

Brown Sugar

Most brown sugars are made of white granulated sugar to which molasses has been added. Dark brown has a slightly stronger flavor than light brown sugar, but they may be used interchangeably.

You can make your own brown sugar by blending together ½ cup granulated sugar with 2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses. The yield is equivalent to ½ cup brown sugar.

Brown sugar is moist; if it dries out it will harden. It should be stored airtight at room temperature. If your brown sugar has hardened, place a damp paper towel or a slice of apple inside the bag and close the package tightly for 12 hours or more.

Confectioners’ Sugar

Confectioners’ sugar and powdered sugar are exactly the same. They are both granulated sugar that has been pulverized very fine and has had about 3 percent cornstarch added to keep it in a powdery condition. Of these, 4X is the least fine and 10X is the finest; 10X is now the most common. They may be used interchangeably. Store it airtight.


I’ve given weights as well as volume measure for nuts weighing over 2 ounces. If only volume is given, the weight is under 2 ounces.

To Store Nuts

All nuts should be stored in the freezer or refrigerator. Always bring them to room temperature before using, and smell them and taste them—rancid nuts would ruin a whole cake or an entire batch of cookies.

To Blanch Nuts

To blanch almonds: Cover almonds with boiling water. Let them stand until the water is cool enough to touch. Pick out the almonds one at a time and squeeze each one between thumb and forefinger to squirt off the skin. As each one is skinned, place it on a towel to dry. Then spread the almonds in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and bake in a 200-degree oven for half an hour or so, until they are dry. Do not let them brown. If the almonds are to be split or sliced or slivered, cut them immediately after removing the skin and bake to dry as above.

To blanch hazelnuts: Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until the skins parch and begin to flake off. Then, working with a few at a time, place them on a large coarse towel (I use a terry-cloth towel). Fold part of the towel over to enclose the nuts and rub firmly against the towel. Or hold that part of the towel between both hands and roll back and forth. The handling and the texture of the towel will cause most of the skins to flake off. Pick out the nuts and discard the skins. Don’t worry about the few pieces of skin that may remain. This is not as quick and easy as it sounds.

To blanch pistachios: In a small saucepan, bring a few inches of water to a boil. Drop the nuts (no more than ¼ to ½ cup at a time, as the skin is difficult to remove after the nuts have cooled) into the boiling water and let them boil for only a few seconds. They will lose their color if boiled for too long. Remove one nut and pinch the skin off with your fingers. If it slides off easily, immediately drain them all and turn them out onto a paper towel. While they are still warm, pinch off the skins. Now they may be either slivered with a small paring knife or chopped into pieces that are coarse or almost as fine as a powder, when they make a fine decoration.

To Grind Nuts

When the instructions say to grind nuts, it means that the nuts should be reduced to a powder, the consistency of coarse flour. Chopped nuts are much less fine and are left in visible pieces. To grind nuts in a food processor, use the metal chopping blade; you can also use a nut grinder or blender. If possible, always add some of the flour called for in the recipe. It will help to prevent the nuts from becoming oily. If the recipe does not have any flour, add some of the sugar called for. And do not overprocess.


Raisins and dates must be fresh and soft—baking will not soften them. They may be softened by steaming them in a vegetable steamer or a strainer over boiling water, covered, for about 5 minutes. Dates and raisins should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.


When grating orange or lemon zest, if your grater has a variety of shaped openings, it is best to grate the zest on the side with the small, round openings, rather than the diamond-shaped ones.



Some directions call for a double boiler, perhaps a larger or smaller one than you have. If necessary, you can create a double boiler by placing the ingredients in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of shallow hot water. The bowl should be wide enough so that its rim rests on the rim of the saucepan and the bowl is supported above the water.


Mixing and beating in these recipes may be done with different equipment—an electric hand mixer, any type of stand mixer, or by hand. I use a stand mixer. Susan, my mother’s cook for thirty-five years, beat egg whites with a tree branch, in spite of a fantastically well-equipped kitchen. In the country she picked a fresh one as she needed it; in the city, she always washed it carefully and put it away.

Because I use a stand mixer, I have given directions for beating times based on this type of mixer; a handheld mixer might take longer. If you are not using a stand mixer, when directions call for “small bowl of electric mixer,” use a bowl with a 7-cup capacity. When directions call for “large bowl of electric mixer,” use one with a 4-quart capacity.

Some of these recipes would be too much work without a mixer. Others, especially many of the cookies, may be made using your bare hands for creaming and mixing. Don’t be afraid to use your hands.


Success in baking depends on many things. One of the most important is correct oven temperature. I suggest that you buy an oven thermometer, preferably a good one. Hardware stores and quality cookware stores sell them. All oven temperatures in this book are in Fahrenheit.

Measuring Cups

Glass measuring cups with the measurements marked on the sides are only for measuring liquids. With the cup at eye level, fill carefully to exactly the line indicated. To measure dry ingredients, use the cups that come in sets that include at least four sizes: ¼ cup, ⅓ cup, ½ cup, and 1 cup. Fill to overflowing and then scrape off the extra with a flat spatula or large knife. If you are measuring flour, do not pack it down—but do pack down brown sugar.

Measuring Spoons

Standard measuring spoons must be used for correct measurements. For dry ingredients, fill to overflowing and then scrape off the excess.


Although most bakers prefer the convenience of disposable pastry bags, canvas bags are still available online and at high-end kitchen shops. If you use canvas bags, they should be washed in hot soapy water after use, then just hung up to dry.

It is easier to work with a bag that is too large rather than one that is too small. When filling a pastry bag, unless there is someone else to hold it for you, it is generally easiest if you support the bag by placing it in a tall and wide glass or jar.


There are different types of pastry brushes. Use a good one, or the bristles will come out while you are using it. Sometimes I use an artist’s watercolor brush in a large size; it is softer and there are times when I prefer it.


If you have many occasions to use a rolling pin (and I hope you will), you really should have different sizes and shapes. Sometimes a very long, thick, and heavy one will be best; for other doughs you will want a smaller, lighter one. The French style, which is extra-long, narrow, and tapered at both ends, is especially good for rolling dough into a round shape, as for a pie crust, while the straight-sided pin is better for an oblong shape.

However, in the absence of any rolling pin at all, other things will do a fair job. Try a straight-sided bottle, tall jar, or drinking glass.


Rubber spatulas are almost indispensable—do not use plastic; they are not flexible enough. Use rubber spatulas for folding, for some stirring, for scraping bowls, pots, etc. I suggest that you have several. Most spatulas manufactured now are synthetic and heatproof.


If you ice a cake—either occasionally or often—you will be able to do a much better job (it will be smooth and professional-looking in no time) if you have a cake-decorating turntable. You will be glad if you do. If you don’t have one now, you will thank me if I influence you to get one. You will say, “Wow—this is a joy—how did I get along without it—why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

A cake-decorating turntable allows a cake to rotate freely as you decorate it. Not that you can’t ice a cake without it, but it will not look the same. It works on the same principle as a lazy Susan and, although a lazy Susan can be used in place of a turntable, it usually does not turn quite so easily.

Turntables are available at specialty kitchen equipment shops and at restaurant and bakery suppliers. They do not have to be expensive. The thing to look for is one that turns very easily. There is no reason why a turntable, if it is not abused, should not last a lifetime or two.

I put the cake on a cake plate and then put the plate on the turntable.

First put the icing on freely just to cover the cake. Then hold a long, narrow metal spatula in one hand, with the blade at about a 30-degree angle against the side or the top of the cake. With your other hand, slowly rotate the turntable. Hold the spatula still as the cake turns and in a few seconds you will have a smooth, sleek, neat-looking cake. It is fun. And exciting.

I also use the turntable when trimming and then fluting the edge of pie crust (you will love using it for this).



Many recipes call for folding beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream into another mixture. The whites and/or cream have air beaten into them, and folding rather than mixing is done in order to retain the air.

This is an important step and should be done with care. The knack of doing it well comes with practice and concentration. Remember that you want to incorporate the mixtures without losing any air. That means handling them as little as possible.


  • "While personable and funny, Heatter is relentless in her quest for perfection. These are recipes to read closely, and not just for her delightful borscht belt humor... How lucky that a new generation will get to know the sweet genius of Maida Heatter. These days, we could all use a dazzling grandmother to tell us that everything is going to be all right--or, at the very least, our skinny peanut wafers will."—Christine Muhlke, New York Times
  • "Happiness is Baking is for the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of the bakers who first fell in love with Heatter four decades ago. All of her famous cakes and cookies are here."—Boston Globe
  • "An outstanding and approachable collection of classics for bakers of all ages and skill levels... One of the season's standout baking volumes."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Decades of experience have gone into the making of this delightful collection of cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, and bars. Heatter writes recipes with a precision that will embolden new bakers to create successful desserts, while offering up explanations that will teach seasoned bakers something new... An excellent collection for novice bakers as well as those who enjoy learning how to bake with precision (and why it matters)."—Library Journal
  • "Cause for celebration. It's high time to introduce the queen of cake, as Saveur magazine dubbed her, to a new generation of bakers... Heatter's instructions are meticulous and fool-proof, down to how to line a pan with aluminum foil. But it's her enthusiastic, texture-specific descriptions of the results you can expect if you follow her recipes to a T that inspired a whole generation of bakers to pull out their measuring cups."
    Christian Science Monitor
  • "For the baker of any age... If you're of a certain age and spent any time around flour, sugar, and eggs, you would know about Maida Heatter and her recipes. Saveur magazine called her "The Queen of Cake," and indeed she is, along with queen of brownies, cookies, muffins, and more... Happiness is Baking is a collection of her favorites that will be welcomed by those who have spent far less time in the kitchen than she has."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • "If you love classic American baked goods, then this is your grand prize. Maida's voice is evident on every page and is always a delight."—Kitchen Arts & Letters
  • "Perfect for a baking newbie... [Maida's] recipes are exceedingly thorough and always reliable."—Portland Press-Herald

On Sale
Apr 16, 2019
Page Count
288 pages

Maida Heatter

About the Author

Maida Heatter (1916-2019), dubbed “the Queen of Cake” by Saveur, was the author of several classic books on dessert and baking. Her most recent book, Happiness is Baking, was published when she was 102 years old. Heatter was the recipient of three James Beard Foundation awards and inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Learn more about this author