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Magnolia Bakery Opens in Chicago

By Molly Durham in Food on Sep 30, 2011 2:00PM

Chicago celebrates food. This is what Bobbie Lloyd, President and self-proclaimed "Chief Baking Officer" of Magnolia Bakery, said about the company's new shop in Chicago. Well, we agree!

We heard about it a year ago, and it's finally here. Clearly Magnolia has caught onto what's one of the most vibrant food communities (if not the most) in the country. Opening this Saturday, Oct. 1 at 108 N. State Street, the Chicago store is the bakery's first venture into the Midwest and eighth location worldwide. It started in New York's West Village, gained fame from "Sex and the City," and has L.A. and Dubai counterparts.

Lloyd, a Chicago native, said the decision to bring the bakery to the Windy City was fueled by the strong market and her own push to return it to her vibrant home town. "In restaurants in Chicago, I can tell a difference. People are having more fun," she said.

Priding themselves on baking everything in-house and from scratch daily, they also limit themselves to baking in small batches of 72, never any more. According to Steve Abrams, CEO of Magnolia, this allows them to ensure they've got a fresh rotation of treats and that nothing is rushed.

Cupcakes are the most popular product, making up about 50% of their profits according to Abrams, but they're definitely not all about them. Other treats like brownies, bars, cookies, whoopie pies, mini cheesecakes, icebox cakes and a coffee selection including their own blend aren't shown up by that popular choice. Their banana pudding was just as good as anything else, with a thick texture and large cakey chunks. They also make cakes to order and even deliver them.

The star to us was the pumpkin cupcake. It was moist, fluffy, and not too dense. Sometimes you eat a cupcake and immediately feel like sugar has hijacked your body. This wasn't the case here. It was a nice balance.

They've got a lot of choices loaded with icings and ganaches, filled with creams or topped with candy, but Abrams said their most popular cupcake is the plain ol' vanilla.

The inside of this place doesn't feel modern like a lot of other modern bakeries. Magnolia's 15 years old, but it seems like they're trying to get back to basics. A homey, cozy interior with 28 seats makes it feel like a bit of an escape, a vintage-looking place where you can take your time. They also donate all their leftovers at the end of the day to a local charity.

Their retail section includes cupcake and cake trays, aprons, plates, cookbooks, scales and sprinkles. Glass walls let you see the full baking process, including the icing process with the "signature swirl" that employees are trained on for over 20 hours. Now that's a carpal tunnel-inducing set of standards. The open-air feel also lets you smell what's going on back there. Don't plan on walking into Block 37 shops without being lured by it.

If you aren't already worn out by the bakeries popping up all over, head over on Saturday to check it out. Nothing special for their first day, just a quiet opening free of gimmicks and full of sugar.