Happiness is Baking cover

“Happiness Is Baking: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake”

May finds Charleston bursting with celebrations: graduations, bridal showers, and the glorious first week of the Spoleto Festival. Where celebratory food is called for, there will be desserts.

You can count on guaranteed baking success from this collection of 100 treasured recipes from one of the original dessert champions, Maida Heatter. Generations cut their sweet teeth on her recipes, myself included; her disciples range from Martha Stewart to Dorie Greenspan.

Heatter writes that the following recipe is “one of the two or three most popular recipes in all of my books.” Try it and I promise that you will want a copy of “Happiness Is Baking” for your own kitchen. Little, Brown and Company. $27.

Palm Beach brownie bars with chocolate-covered mints 

The baked cake should be refrigerated for at least a few hours, or overnight, or frozen for an hour or two before it is cut into bars.

When you remove the cake from the pan you might see burned and caramelized edges. (You might not — it depends on the pan.) If you do, you can leave them or cut them off. I have friends who say that this is the best part. I cut them off, but then I can’t resist eating them.


8 ounces unsweetened chocolate

8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)

8 ounces (2 generous cups) walnut halves or pieces

5 large eggs (1 cup)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon plus

1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder

3 3/4 cups sugar

1 2/3 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour

2 1/2 (12-ounce) bags York chocolate-covered Peppermint Patties (Miniature Classics), unwrapped


Adjust an oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan as follows: Invert the pan and center a 17-inch length of nonstick aluminum foil, shiny side down, over the pan. With your hands, press down the sides and corners of the foil in the pan and very carefully press it into place in the pan. Now, to butter the foil, place a piece of butter (additional to that in ingredients) in the pan, and put the pan in the oven.

When the butter is melted, use a pastry brush or a piece of crumpled plastic wrap to spread the butter all over the foil. Set the prepared pan aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a large double boiler over hot water on moderate heat, or in a 4- to 6-cup heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted. Stir to mix. Remove from the heat and set aside. (Or you may wish to zap this in a microwave one minute at a time at 50 percent power until melted.)

Break any walnut halves into large pieces; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond extracts, salt, espresso, and sugar at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed, add the chocolate mixture (which may still be warm) and beat only until mixed. Then add the flour and again beat on low speed only until mixed. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Stir in the nuts.

Spoon half the mixture (about 3½ cups) into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place a layer of the mints, touching each other and the edges of the pan, all over the chocolate layer. (You will not use all the mints; there will be some left over.) Spoon the remaining chocolate mixture all over the mints and smooth the top.

Bake for 35 minutes, reversing the pan front to back once during baking to ensure even baking. At the end of 35 minutes the cake will have a firm crust on top, but if you insert a toothpick in the middle it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Nevertheless, it is done. Do not bake any longer.

Remove the pan from the oven; let stand until cool. Cover the pan with a cookie sheet and invert the pan and the sheet. Remove the pan and foil lining.

Cover the cake with a length of wax paper and another cookie sheet and invert again, leaving the cake right side up.

Now the cake must be refrigerated for a few hours or overnight before it is cut into bars.

When you are ready to cut the cake, use a long, heavy knife with a sharp blade, either serrated or straight — try both. Cut the cake into quarters. Cut each quarter in half, cutting through the long sides. Finally, cut each piece into 4 bars, cutting through the long sides. (I think these are better in narrow bar shapes than in squares.)

Pack in an airtight box, or wrap individually in clear cellophane, wax paper, or foil.

These freeze perfectly and can be served very cold or at room temperature.

Excerpted from HAPPINESS IS BAKING © 2019 by Maida Heatter.

Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.