Friday, August 6, 2010

Cupcake Quest: Magnolia Bakery (NYC)

This is the fourth in a series of posts from a weekend trip to NYC. You can read the first post here (a general overview), the second post here (a review of a small chain of Thai restaurants), and the third post here (cupcake truck!). The remaining posts will go up over the next several days.

Also, this post is part of the Cupcake Quest series on Fork it over, Boston!

As we walked away satisfied from the cupcake truck, Kim and I prepared for Part Two of our Double Cupcake Day: Magnolia. Apparently popularized by mentions on Sex and the City and a few other shows, Magnolia has quite the reputation.

First of all, it's totally cute: frilly and light like a five-year-old birthday girl's party dress. The cakes might make you drool on the window. (Side note: The French phrase for "window shopping" - l├Ęche-vitrine - means something closer to "window licking", which conveys the activity so much more accurately, especially when desserts are involved.)

There was a line, but it wasn't quite out the door of the tiny bakery, and it moved pretty quickly. Magnolia smartly has a self-serve cupcake system (though I wonder how many people attempt or succeed to grab and run): on the broad front windowsill, there are several trays of adorably pastel-frosted cupcakes bedecked in round rainbow mini sprinkles or little pastry flowers. A variety of packaging accompanies the treats, and you just pack up what you want and bring it to the register.

Kim and I anguished for a minute over which cupcake to split. Flowers or sprinkles? A weighty debate. We settled on a classic vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

The cake part of the cupcake tasted like real cake, light and airy, almost like angel food cake. The frosting was of the light and sugary variety rather than rich buttercream. The sprinkles added some nice texture. Maybe I'm spoiled from all the fancy flavors I've been tasting, but now I have trouble staying with vanilla. Cupcake flavors: it's a slippery slope. One day you move from vanilla to cookie dough, the next day you're stuffing your face with a whole tray of peanut butter chocolate, and the next day you're in the secret basement dungeon of a bakery wearing nothing but...well, never mind.

We ate our cupcake in a park across the street, and the pigeons and sparrows shared the remains of other people's cupcakes.

The Verdict: Sure, it was good, but like anything that has received so much press, it just feels a bit overrated. It's nice that despite the popularity, the price ($2.75) is reasonable relative to the cupcakes I've been eating all around Boston, which have mostly been in the $2.50-$3.50 range. Magnolia could easily raise prices and still bring crowds, especially around closing time (midnight!) on Saturdays and Sundays. I give Magnolia a thumbs up, but in the future, I'd be more likely to seek out lesser known bakeries.

My NYC weekend miniseries continues with Part V: Tio Pepe - A Taste of Spain and Mexico in the West Village, or you can jump ahead to Part VI: A Farmers' Market on Wheels.

Magnolia Bakery on Urbanspoon 


  1. Rachel - if you are still in the mood for a NYC cupcake, head over to "Books of Wonder", a delightful children's bookstore in Chelsea, located at 18 West 18th Street (great address, huh) where there is a hidden outpost of the fabled Cupcake Cafe.

  2. Oh no! I'm already back in Boston :( That sounds great, though. I'll add it to my list for next time. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. I was at Blogher in NYC this weekend and had the opportunity to try one of their Red Velvet cupcakes in a vendor's suite and it was ok, but not great.

    You should try Babycakes in Quincy, if you haven't been there yet.


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