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Ah, There’s Good News Tonight
Maida Heatter, © 1988
1994, Wings Books, a division of Random House
the Editors] “Maida Heatter’s name has been synonymous with dessert since
the publication of… The Book of Great Desserts in 1974. But she was baking
long before that, making rich and chewy cookies for her holiday gift-giving.
years, she made all the desserts for her husband’s two restaurants.”
And, might I add, since I discovered
Maida Heatter's Brand-New
Book of Great Cookies
and “Book of Great Chocolate Desserts”, I have considered Maida Heatter
ultimate authority on cookies. Yes, I know these recipes will look long to
is because they are "teaching" recipes. Mrs. Heatter is kind enough to share
us many valuable tips derived from her years of experience. Just trust me,
okay? This lady definitely knows whereof she speaks. [MG]
was 1943. The country was at war. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of
the Allied Forces in Europe, was preparing for the invasion of Normandy.
German submarines were sinking ships along the eastern coast of the United
States.; burning vessels could be seen from the Atlantic shoreline. In the
South Pacific, battles were fierce; the brutal struggle for Guadalcanal was
of the worst.
The whole country had one determination – to win the war as soon as
possible. Fifteen million brave men and women were in the armed services,
and in one way
or another, every single American was deeply involved in the
war effort. Ordinary men and women were performing extraordinary feats.
Automobile factories built tanks and other armaments, shipbuilders launched
a ship a day, aircraft factories turned out one hundred thousand war planes
a year. Too many homes had a gold star or two hanging in the window, each
star an indication that a member of the family had died in the service.
Telegrams brought the terrible news: ‘Wounded, missing, or killed in
action.’ Many women worked in war production factories. Housewives rolled
bandages for the Red Cross and baked cookies for the local
USO, the United
Service Organization, which had clubs all around the country
servicemen who were away from home.
My husband was in the army and my brother was in the navy. My year-old
daughter and I lived with my parents on Long Island. My father, Gabriel
Heatter, was one of the country’s best-known radio news commentators. He did
his broadcasts from home, where we had set up a broadcasting studio in an
upstairs bedroom as well as
a stand-by studio in the basement air-raid
shelter… Those were nervous times – exciting, tense, scary, wonderful, and
Professionally, I was a fashion illustrator. But my hobby was baking
cooking. Especially baking cookies. I had always baked cookies, but now that
there was a
war on, there were a whole army and navy to bake for. I sent
packages to everyone
I knew in the service, and although I would have
continued to bake and mail out cookies without any thank yous, when the
grateful letters came in from overseas,
I was totally inspired; the oven
hardly ever had a chance to cool off.
…My father always searched the news for any little item that might give hope
a worried wife or mother, and to everyone listening to his broadcast. One
when the news was especially grim – the Allied forces were losing
several large battles – he found a few words on the ticker implying that the
Allies might have
sunk a small German ship (maybe not much more than a
Exaggerating a bit, he opened his broadcast with ‘Ah, there’s
good news tonight.’ The country needed that. Everyone listening slept better
that night. Those words became his slogan. Even today, when I meet someone
new, they might smile and
say, ‘Ah, there’s good news tonight.’ If they’re
old enough to remember.
On that Christmas Day – the day after we delivered the cookies [to the USO
Times Square] – the phone rang. I answered it. And I heard the whole USO
clubroom full of people all yell in unison, ‘Ah, there’s good news tonight.’
it, and so did my mother and father. And over the next few months I
mail from many of the men who had been there telling me how much
homemade cookies meant to them. They said it was the next best thing to a
trip home. I think
I received more happiness out of it all than they did.
That often happens with
cookies; the giver gets as much, or more than, the
If I counted the number of cookies, or the number of recipes, that special
Christmas, I don’t remember it now. One thing I do remember is that none of
those cookies was dainty. I was baking for the army and the navy and the
marines. They were all he-man cookies. The ones that had raisins or nuts had
lots of them. The chocolate cookies were very chocolate. The spice cookies
were very spicy. In a way, I think
that one baking experience influenced
everything I have baked since.
There have been many times since then when I have baked cookies in
tremendous quantities. I baked cookies for hundreds of girls at a Girl Scout
I baked cookies for President Reagan and six other heads of
state and their staffs
of hundreds at the economic summit in Colonial
Williamsburg in 1983. I baked
a cookie buffet for one of Craig Claiborne’s
sumptuous New Year’s Eve parties
and another for his monumental birthday
parties. All memorable events, since to
me happiness is baking cookies. But
that one particular time, during the war,
baking for the servicemen, was
like a first love affair. Special.
All of the following cookies are, in fact, among those that I made that
special Christmas (with minor changes and updating). They all pack well,
well (when wrapped airtight), and they travel well. They may be
before unwrapping). Correct oven temperature is essential for
always check your oven with a portable mercury-type
thermometer, available at
hardware stores, before baking.
My Mother’s Gingersnaps
“These are the cookies that my mother and I made together probably more
than any other. They are Christmas cookies, but we made them all year.
Many famous people left our house carrying a box or bag of these. They are
chewy, large and thin, spicy and peppery but mellow. The dough should
refrigerated overnight before rolling, cutting, and baking.”
2/3 cup (3 1/2 ounces) loosely packed candied ginger
2 cups unsifted all-purpose or unbleached flour,
for rolling out dough
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground fine
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter,
at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark molasses
1 egg graded “large”
1 1/4 teaspoons cider vinegar (see Note)
1 cup unsifted all-purpose whole wheat flour
[When ready to bake] Adjust two racks to divide the oven into
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets (preferably
kind with only one raised rim) with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
Cut the ginger into pieces 1/4 inch or less and set aside.
Sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and ground
ginger and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until it is soft. Add
the sugar and beat to mix. Beat in the molasses, egg, and vinegar (the
mixture might look curdled; it is okay). Then beat in the cut candied
ginger. Add the sifted dry ingredients and the whole-wheat flour and
low speed until incorporated.
Spread out three lengths of wax paper or foil. Place one third of the
on each paper. Wrap and refrigerate overnight. (If you can’t
wait, put the
packages in the freezer for about an hour.)
To roll the dough, generously flour a pastry cloth and rolling pin. Place
one piece of chilled dough on the cloth, press down on it a few times
with the rolling pin, turn the dough over to flour both sides, and roll
out the dough
until it is 1/4 inch thick. Work quickly. Do not leave the
it becomes sticky and gooey if it is allowed to reach
which seems to happen quickly). Reflour the cloth
and the pin
With a round cookie cutter measuring 3 1/8 inches in diameter (or any
size), cut out the cookies; start cutting at the outside edge of the
and cut the cookies just barely touching each other. Reserve the
press them together (the dough will be too sticky for you to
scraps together with your hands – it is best to put the scraps
in a bowl and
them together with a spatula). Wrap and rechill.
Wide a wide metal spatula quickly transfer the cookies to the foil-lined
sheets, placing them 2 inches apart (if the cookies are 3 1/8 inches wide,
place only 5 cookies on a 15 1/2-by-12-inch sheet – they spread).
Bake two sheets at a time, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front
back once during baking to ensure even baking. As they bake, the
will rise and then settle down into thin waferlike cookies. They
about 15 minutes to bake; if you bake only one sheet, use a
rack in the
middle of the oven – one sheet might take slightly less time.
When the cookies are done, remove the sheets from the oven and let
until they are just barely cool. (If you have used the sheets with
raised rim, slide the foil off the sheet and slide the sheet –
be hot – under another piece of foil already prepared
with cookies on
and continue baking.)
Then lift the cookies away from the foil, or transfer the cookies with a
wide metal spatula (if the cookies stick to the foil they were not baked
long enough – return them to the oven).
Place the cookies on racks to finish cooking or just turn them over to
the bottoms to dry.
Note: It is best to pour some vinegar into a cup and spoon out the amount
need. If you pour it into a spoon held over the mixing bowl there is
chance you might pour more than you want.
rich, incredibly chocolaty. Bittersweet. The sour cream in these
unusual in brownies; it makes the brownies divinely moist and
Variations of this recipe have been with me all my life. These
brownies either with or without the espresso.”
2 1/2 cups
(10 ounces) walnuts
(1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus
additional for greasing pan
sifted unbleached flour
sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
(preferably Dutch process)
teaspoons instant espresso powder
(I use Medaglia D’Oro)
oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat the oven to 400 degrees
F. Prepare a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan as follows: Place the
pan upside down on a work surface/ Place a 19-inch length of 12-inch-wide
aluminum foil shiny side down over the pan, centering it carefully so the
borders are all the same. Fold down the sides and corners to shape
Remove the foil. Run cold tap water into the pan to wet it all over. Pour
out the excess water but do not shake or dry the pan. Place the shaped foil
in the wet pan (the wet pan holds the foil in place). To butter the foil,
place a piece of butter in the pan and place the pan in the oven to melt the
butter. Then spread the butter with a piece of crumpled plastic wrap or
paper to coat the foil all over. Set the prepared pan aside.
To toast the nuts: Spread them in a single layer in a large shallow pan and
bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the nuts are just about
too hot to touch. Cool. Break into large pieces and set aside.
Place the chocolate and the butter in the top of a double boiler over hot
water on moderate heat. Cover and let heat until the chocolate and butter
are almost melted. Then uncover and stir until smooth.
Remove the top of the double boiler and set aside.
In the small bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs to mix. On low speed
gradually add the sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and espresso and set aside.
In a small cup stir the vanilla into the sour cream. Add to the egg mixture
and mix only briefly. Transfer the egg mixture to the large bowl of the
electric mixer. Then, all at once, add the warm chocolate mixture and the
sifted dry ingredients and beat together on low speed – scraping the bowl
frequently with a rubber spatula – only until just barely mixed, no longer.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the walnuts, and fold them in with
Turn into the prepared pan and spread as smooth as possible.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle
out dry – do not overbake or underbake.
Remove the pan from the oven. Let stand for 5 minutes. Then cover the
with a large rack and turn the pan and the rack upside down. Remove
and the foil. Let the cake cool upside down.
When cool, chill the cake for about 45 minutes in the freezer or longer in
Cover the cold cake with a large rack or a flat-sided cookie sheet and turn
upside down, leaving the cake right side up. Transfer the cake to a cutting
board and, with a rule and toothpicks, mark it into quarters. With a
long-bladed sharp knife or a serrated bread knife cut into quarters – and
cut each quarter into 6 brownies.
Wrap individually in clear cellophane or wax paper.
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