Maida Heatter, America's Queen Mother of desserts, has produced a sixth dessert book that is vintage Heatter with spice for the '90s -- from chocolate cake and honey biscotti laced with pepper to the trendiest tiramisu.
"Maida Heatter's Best Dessert Book Ever" (Random House, $24.95) is not a diet book. It is not a primer for salmonellaphobics who are looking for ways to make chocolate mousse without raw eggs. And those who know her previous books won't be !B surprised that it is not a quick read -- typical recipes run two or more pages packed full of her signature detail so even a novice knows how to test the batter and when to wash the beaters.
"I definitely feel that there are more simple desserts than in any book I have ever done," she said in an interview before her book signing appearance last week at Kitchen Bazaar in Towson, one of the stops on her nine-city book tour. The tour ends this week in Los Angeles when her longtime friend Wolfgang Puck gives a luncheon for her at Spago.
"There's only one dessert on the cover that has icing," she says. "These desserts have stronger flavors -- Tahitian vanilla, white and black pepper and ginger in every form. There's only one pie in the book, and I included that as a favor to a friend. I would much rather do a free-form apple tartlet. It's more casual, and I think it's prettier than an apple pie."
Inspiration comes from a lot of sources, including restaurants. But she says she can't taste a dessert and mentally compile all of the ingredients. In fact, one of her most offbeat misinterpretations turned into what she considers one of her favorite desserts.
A couple of years ago she was dining with friends at Palio in New York City and tasted a tiramisu with brown ladyfingers. Inspired by the idea, she went home and produced her own version based on chocolate ladyfingers. Later she learned that the brown in the ladyfingers came from the espresso they were soaked in, not chocolate. Too late. The adaptation was great.
One trend she missed in the book is the recent concern with salmonella contamination, a food poisoning that can cause gastric problems, chills and fever in healthy people and life-threatening complications in the ill or infirm. Ms. Heatter finished the last of the recipes nearly three years ago. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have issued warnings that the salmonella bacteria can be transmitted from infected hens to the inside of an egg. The latest alert came in September when FDA warned cooks to avoid using raw eggs in recipes such as Caesar salad, mayonnaise, ice cream and mousses.
Some recent cookbooks, such as the 13th revised edition of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" (Knopf, $24.95), code each recipe that includes raw eggs to refer to a general warning statement about salmonella. Major magazines -- Gourmet, Food & Wine, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and Woman's Day -- have adopted policies that ban or severely restrict recipes for under-cooked or raw eggs.
But Ms. Heatter's book still includes recipes for custards and mousses where raw eggs are not cooked to the USDA-suggested temperature of 165 degrees.
"I would not tell someone to make a chocolate mousse if they were concerned about salmonella," she says. "There are enough other wonderful recipes in the book. The chocolate yogurt is as good as anything else. And the chocolate ice is wonderful. There are a lot of other recipes to choose from that do not use raw eggs."
Ms. Heatter may seem ambivalent about the raw egg issue, but she is firm about detail in her recipes.
"I didn't plan it," she says. "I'm a Virgo. Virgos are involved with detail. I can't do things any other way."
But sometimes when she is doing a television presentation an other people are doing the prep work, things don't always work out her way. On her recent appearance on "Good Morning, America," she started to spread the vanilla-flavored Creole icing on her apricot rum cake and noticed it was lumpy. The culprit: The helper measured properly, but the measuring spoons were larger than the standard.
Her husband of 30 years, Ralph Daniels, is another Virgo perfectionist who insists that if Maida's recipes don't work the cook has done something wrong. Often it's the oven that's not calibrated properly or a substitution that changes the chemical interaction in baking.
But she takes any criticism seriously. She recalls receiving an angry telephone call from a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., woman who said Maida's almond crescent cookies just didn't work.
"I got so angry that I invited her to my home [in Miami] to prove to her that they work," she says. "My husband sat in the living room with her husband. I brought her into the kitchen and went over each step. When it was all finished and the cookies were perfect, she admitted she had substituted margarine for butter and used saccharin instead of sugar because her husband was a diabetic."
Here are a couple of recipes from her new book: