I have to be careful in describing Magnolia Bakery, because the temptation to break into frenzied, heightened phrases of elation is rather pressing. There are many times when a place gains a reputation, puts out a cookbook, has lines out the block, and once you finally go, you think, "Seriously, what was the hype about?" That is NOT the case with Magnolia Bakery, a shabby-chic bakery in the heart of the village that is justifiably legendary for their cupcakes. As I walked into a small bakery with mixers running frosting in the background, plump & bulging cakes set in the window, rows of cupcakes with frosting of robin's egg blue, old-time Depression-Era green, and pretty-in-pink, I inhaled deeply, and very nearly swooned. Yes, the Babe needed her smelling salts, so taken was she with the intangible feeling of having arrived at your best Grandma's house circa 1920.
What is the key to a really good bakery, I often ask myself. More and more I think it is this: don't try to reinvent the wheel. The oldies but goodies don't need to be fiddled with, they just need to be made well. Magnolia Bakery takes those things we remember from our childhood, like icebox cake (wafers layered with whipped cream that turn into the most marvelous cake after they've set), and makes them without apology. In an age where many bakers feel obliged to run on about their creme brulee crystals and salted lavender foam toppings, it's a delight to finally come face to face with dainties done right.
And boy, are these dainties wicked!
And why are the cupcakes so famous, you ask? Well, I can't say much more than this: I bit into a light-as-air cake and soft cloud of sweet icing and my brain went limp. I can't tell you what it tasted like, just that it jolted me into a state of zen enlightenment, a state that I intend to revisit at every possible opportunity. No need for a thousand years of meditating, just belly up to the cupcake case and go nutty.
And if cuppies do nothing for you, may I recommend the many kinds of mini cheesecakes?
One visit, and I submit you will understand why New Yorkers will wait in a line out the door in the middle of December with little icicles hanging off their noses just to get in an order of cupcakes. So do go. Grandma is waiting for you.