Dean Hochman, founder of Ms. Desserts whose cakes — especially her carrot cake — won over critics and diners during the 1970s and 1980s up and down the East Coast, died Jan. 3 at her Santa Cruz, Calif., home from cancer. She was 72.
“It was clear she was very talented and a little eccentric,” said Jeff Peisach of Owings Mills, who became Ms. Hochman’s business partner.
“We’d go to New York, buy a hundred desserts, walk Manhattan eating them, and if she liked something and the way it tasted and the way she thought it should taste, she’d then write down the recipe out of her head,” he said. “Her baked goods were so different from what was on the market at the time.”
Anita E. Baron, who worked in sales and marketing for Ms. Desserts, recalled her as a “wonderful person.”
“She was one of those people who, when she walked into a room, was such a presence. I was in awe of her baking abilities and wisdom. … She was intelligent and fun to be around,” the Pikesville resident said.
Dean Hochman, who was born in New York City, was the daughter of William Hochman, a college professor, and his wife, Margaret Schloss, a homemaker.
“She later called herself Deanie because Dean sounded like a man’s name,” said a daughter, Emma K. Antunes of Laurel.
She moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., when her father joined the faculty of Colorado College, and was a 1964 graduate of Palmer High School.
While at Palmer, she met and fell in love with Andrew “Andy” Kolstad. After attending college for two years, she dropped out and married Mr. Kolstad. The marriage would later end in divorce.
She moved to New York when her husband earned a master’s degree at Columbia University, and then to Stanford, Calif., where he received his Ph.D. While he studied, she began baking and selling cakes to restaurants door-to-door.
In 1976, the couple moved to Bethesda and then Silver Spring, and she located a stall in the Bethesda Women’s Farm Market.
“I cooked everything imaginable, crepes, falafel, bread, Hungarian cheesecake,” she explained in a 1983 Washington Post interview. “My ego was so involved, I couldn’t bear for people to criticize. I have always found it hard to separate my food from my soul.”
So, she quit and it wasn’t until two years later, during the Christmas season, that she took a job cooking at Bloomingdale’s White Flint Mall store, which sold a great deal of bran muffins brought in from New York.
Bloomingdale’s wanted to find a local supplier, and after spending a month analyzing the muffin recipe, Ms. Hochman came up with a better one, which store officials asked her to make them for sale.
She first baked 60 dozen muffins in her own kitchen, then rented a neighbor’s oven. Her friend Jeff Peisach, who had graduated from Maryland in 1977, then arranged for her to use his fraternity house’s kitchen.
“After dinner was over at 7 p.m., she’d get in there and start baking until midnight and she’d load up the car and make deliveries, and she did that for several months.” he said. “It grew too big for the frat kitchen and I got more and more interested in the business, so we decided to become partners.”
Gary Peisach, Mr. Peisach’s brother, also joined as a partner and oversaw the plant, after the business moved to a former caterer’s kitchen in Northwest Baltimore.
“This freed Deanie up so she could focus on new products,” said Jeff Peisach who was business, sales and marketing manager.
Because it was the era of the burgeoning women’s movement, Ms. Hochman named the business Ms. Desserts.
“I was giving out samples one day, and this man wanted to know if we named it Ms. Desserts because we had burned our bras,” said Andrea Smith Sklar, of Washington, who was the company’s sales representative.
With Ms. Hochman, “Here was the single mom who was a leftover hippie coming of age at that time,” she said. “She always said it wasn’t about sales but connecting with people around food. She was ahead of her time.”
Ms. Hochman hired city residents and unemployed people, Mr. Peisach said.
“These weren’t professional bakers. Very few had any experience at all, and she wanted to give them a chance,” he said. “We taught them. Not all of them worked out, but 80 percent of them did and they remained very loyal.”
Ms. Hochman used the freshest of ingredients to make her oversize delights.
“Her desserts were different and she wanted people to be happy and satisfied. And she wasn’t an elitist. We sold our desserts in mom and pop stores, restaurants and delis. That was the basis of our business,” Ms. Sklar said.
Ms. Desserts served businesses from Boston to Florida with such wholesale customers as Walt Disney World, Macy’s in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, the Power Plant in Baltimore, and a stall in Harborplace. By 1984, it was making $1.4 million a year.
“Their motto was ‘no preservatives; no junk.’ They were famous for their Great American Chocolate Cake, over-sized muffins, brownies, blondies and even deep-dish quiche,” Ms. Baron said.
In 1984, Ms. Desserts was the grand winner at the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade show.
Customers craved her honey and walnut cakes, almond torte with Grand Marnier, chocolate marquis cake, pecan pie, apple, banana cakes, quiche and bran muffins, along with her carrot cake which was recognized by New York magazine and voted the “best of its kind in all Manhattan,” reported The Baltimore Sun in 1983, while her bran muffins sent noted New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton into orbit.
The business later moved to a larger facility on Rolling Run Drive in Woodlawn that employed 150 people.
In 1989, she sold Ms. Desserts to a Canadian firm, and in 1997, it was purchased by Bakery Resources Group LLC.
The former Baltimore resident moved to Taos, N.M., in 1993, where she owned and operated a restaurant, End of the Universe Cafe, and finally to Seattle and then Santa Cruz.
Her hobbies included creative writing and poetry.
Several years ago, she married a friend of 40 years, Martha Happi Campbell.
Plans for a memorial service to be held in Baltimore in the spring are incomplete.
In addition to her wife and daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Tess Sweet of Santa Cruz; her father, William Hochman, and her stepmother, Nancy Hochman, of Colorado Springs; a brother; John Hochman, of San Diego; two sisters, Abby Odam of Del Mar, Calif., and Meg Price of Redwood city, Calif.; and four grandchildren.