There’s a scene in Season 3 of Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw (immortalised by Sarah Jessica Parker) sinks her teeth into a decadent pink cupcake as she bares her soul to her confidante, Miranda Hobbes. That might have been the moment that catapulted Magnolia Bakery, a quintessential West Village (NYC) institution to international fame. It’s why Sex and the City tours in New York make a scheduled stop at the original Magnolia Bakery.
At the beginning of this decade cupcakes became a food trend that hit India like a tsunami, with cupcake stores mushrooming in every neighbourhood. Magnolia Bakery can take credit for that. Now that they’ve opened their outlet at Indiranagar, one of Bengaluru’s F&B hotspots, it’s not unusual for customers to experience that ‘kid in a candy store’ moment. I was no exception.
The original cupcake wave might have subsided somewhat in India but Erick Larlos (Vice-President, Franchise Operations) tells me that cupcakes are still the bestseller at Magnolia Bakery’s outlets across the US. It’s now an international chain with a footprint that extends to Asia and Bengaluru marks the brand’s India debut. The interiors exude the same NYC chic that you will find at all the outlets but it’s the visually spectacular desserts and cakes that are the showstoppers here.
Erick and Zonu Reddy from Spago Foods (Magnolia Bakery’s India partner) spent much time researching the competition in India and were quick to identify some of the obvious quality gaps in the dessert space.
I was drawn to one of the photogenic cupcakes but Larlos urged me to have a go at their vanilla bean cheesecake first. It’s the best thing I sampled at Magnolia Bakery. This cheesecake rests on a wafer thin Graham cracker base and is not a ‘cold set’ version that you encounter in many Indian dessert outlets. It’s why I call them ‘cheatcakes’. This one’s baked and is not as dense as the classic New York cheesecake.
The quality of chocolate is another huge market gap. Magnolia sticks to Callebaut chocolate or Valrhona Cocoa to ensure the taste doesn’t deviate from the NYC versions. This difference is evident once you sample one of their signature cupcakes.
One of my other recommendations is the oatmeal raisin cookie that is elevated by a classic baking technique and the presence of plump California raisins (another ingredient that is a ‘no compromise’ for Magnolia). They use old fashioned rolled dough that ensures the cookie is flatter and not overly milled like the typical dessert store cookies. But it’s not all imported ingredients.
The emphasis is to source locally as long as local produce matches their brand standards. One of the India-specific offerings will be the rich plum cake that will debut in time for the year-end season is a case in point.
The brand has also experimented on a whole range of mango desserts that will be part of the summer range. The cupcake range is also constantly refreshed with newer ingredients and innovative brand partnerships. They recently developed a delicate earl grey cupcake to coincide with the release of the Downtown Abbey film.
The unique textures of the crinkle cookie (the fudginess of a brownie in a cookie form) makes it an easy dessert to recommend. It doesn’t just sound better than ‘brookie’, a term often used to describe the brownie cum cookie, but it’s incredibly delicious. This cookie takes its name from the crinkling process that involves dipping the dough into sugar for the delicate network of cracks.
This is not the only surprise at Magnolia Bakery, it’s also the less photogenic range of home-made ice creams. We tried the California pistachio, another dessert that triumphs because of the superior quality of ingredients. The brand is laser-focused on getting its first India outlet right before they spread their wings in India. Dessertarians and the brand’s loyal legion of fans will hope that it happens soon.
Featured images: Courtesy Magnolia Bakery