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"Sex and the City" had a big impact on Magnolia's success. (Credit: HBO )

food & drink

Secrets of Magnolia Bakery: Cupcakes, Carrie Bradshaw and beyond

401 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

New York City's most famous cupcakes are baked full of secrets.

Magnolia Bakery, known for its pastel-topped cupcakes, cakes and more, opened in August 1996. Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torey, high school friends turned business partners, opened their dream bake shop on Bleecker and 11th streets, in a space that formerly housed a bird shop. Today, customers still visit and remember the talking parrots and giant birds that lived in the spot.

Before Greenwich Village became totally Marc Jacobs-ified, Magnolia functioned as a small neighborhood bakery, opening and closing early and selling products made in small batches on home kitchen equipment. An old-fashioned cash register was even used for transactions.

In 1999, Appel left Magnolia, starting the competing Buttercup Bake Shop uptown. In 2006, Torey sold her business to Steve Abrams, and, in 2007, it relaunched along with chief baking officer Bobbie Lloyd.

"When we bought the bakery, we had to change the format," Lloyd said. She put together a plan to train employees, expand and bring Magnolia into the 21st century, website and all.

Here are some of Magnolia's sweetest secrets from the past two decades ...

The legend of the Magnolia cupcake (from the

Credit: Magnolia Bakery

Cupcakes weren't always on the Magnolia menu

The legend of the Magnolia cupcake (from the staff that worked at Magnolia in the late 1990s and passed on to Lloyd) is that one day there was a little batter left over, so they decided to just bake off some cupcakes and they sold really well. So they started making more and more and they became a menu staple.

Shortly after an episode of HBO's

Credit: HBO

'Sex and the City' had a big impact on Magnolia

Shortly after an episode of HBO's "Sex and the City" (season 3, episode 5, "No Ifs, Ands, Or Butts") featured Carrie and Miranda eating outside Magnolia, the lines started forming on Bleecker Street. "It's really funny because it's just a 30-second scene where they're just sitting on the bench ... it really pushed the cupcake craze," Lloyd said.

Her theory: "These girls had the means to do and buy whatever they wanted. They wore Manolo Blahnik shoes, they went out to the hot nightclubs and got Cosmopolitans. Anyone could afford a cupcake. So anyone could come in the bakery, maybe not in a pair of Manolo Blahniks, but they could have Carrie's experience by buying a cupcake for $3 at the time." And they still do.

Lloyd likens Magnolia's original Bleecker Street bakery to

Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

The Bleecker Street shop is still a destination

Lloyd likens Magnolia's original Bleecker Street bakery to "the United Nations" in that visitors from all over the world come to the shop. Due to its small size, it doesn't sell the highest volume of baked goods -- that would be the Rockefeller Center shop -- but you can always count on Bleecker Street for a good line. Magnolia now stays open until 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 a.m. on weekends. "We need to be able to support those people who need their sugar fix when they come out of a restaurant late at night," Lloyd said.

While the

Credit: Getty Images

Celebrities are, of course, fans of Magnolia

While the "Sex and the City" ladies (probably) can't safely show their faces at Magnolia, Cynthia Nixon has a private cupcake hookup thanks to a school committee she's on with Lloyd. Kylie Jenner is said to visit Magnolia and Katie Holmes is a known fan.

When the then-New York senator visited Magnolia, she

Credit: Getty Images / Magnolia

Even Hillary Clinton braves the Magnolia line

When the then-New York senator visited Magnolia, she hopped in line alongside other customers. "She got in line just like everyone else did," Lloyd said. "She wanted a Magnolia Bakery cupcake and people offered to let her cut but she said she wanted to wait in line 'just like everyone else.' "

Lloyd attributes the wait to being part of the Magnolia experience, though some select VIPs (friends and family) hold a special "skip the line" card that allows them to go to the front of the line. They're not commonly used, because cutting the line isn't popular with those waiting and anticipating the sweets. We couldn't find any photo evidence of the then-senator's visit, but this Photoshopped composite gives you an idea.

While the prep cooks and bakers are pros

Credit: Magnolia Bakery

Everyone who works at Magnolia needs to learn to frost cupcakes

While the prep cooks and bakers are pros at preparing food, even the counter staff needs to learn how to make Magnolia's signature saccharine floral designs. We even tried to learn, and yes, it's harder than it looks. Lloyd told us that some people get the hang of it right away, while others can never quite master the icing skills.

While cupcakes are the top-selling category, banana pudding

Credit: Magnolia Bakery

Banana pudding is the most popular Magnolia menu item

While cupcakes are the top-selling category, banana pudding is the single most popular menu item. This spring, Magnolia launched a new chocolate-banana pudding. Magnolia bakes between 7,000 to 10,000 cupcakes a day in the U.S. and sells 2,000 to 3,000 containers of banana pudding each day.

Magnolia has 30 stores worldwide. Starting in 2010

Credit: Magnolia Bakery Japan via Facebook

Magnolia is a worldwide phenomenon

Magnolia has 30 stores worldwide. Starting in 2010 with a store in Bloomingdale's in Dubai, Magnolia has become very popular in the Middle East and Asia: Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Delhi, Beruit, Japan, South Korea and beyond. Lloyd attributes Magnolia's success in these areas to their love of all things American, including sweets. Dubai is also a big vacation destination for Russians and Europeans. In the Middle East, many people don't drink alcohol, and "food is a very social part of life," Lloyd said. Instead of bringing a bottle of wine to a host, offering a box of treats is customary. International menus also feature special items, like an orange cupcake with saffron buttercream in Dubai, a meringue cupcake in Russia and a cherry blossom matcha cake in Japan.

One of Magnolia's biggest but most glaringly not-secret

Credit: Simon & Schuster

The recipes aren't secret

One of Magnolia's biggest but most glaringly not-secret secrets is that their famed recipes are pretty much all available. "The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook: Old-Fashioned Recipes From New York's Sweetest Bakery" (1999), by founders Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torey, shares their signature cake and icing recipes; "More from Magnolia" (2004) offers recipes for specialty sweets; and "The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook: Recipes from the World-Famous Bakery" (2009) has pretty much everything you need to re-create Magnolia's sweets at home.

You may not be able to kick like

Credit: Getty Images / Ilya S. Savenok

The Rockettes appear on a Magnolia cupcake each December

You may not be able to kick like the Rockettes, but you sure can eat like them. Each December, Magnolia launches a special themed cupcake with the iconic New York dance troupe to celebrate the holiday show. The 2015 version featured red velvet cupcakes with sugary Rockette dancers on top.

In a June 2001 New York Times article,

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Visiting Magnolia can turn mature adults into complete children

In a June 2001 New York Times article, "The Age of Dissonance; Babes in Adultland," Bob Morris reported on the phenomenon. "Several times a night, smug customers will jokingly ask Barbara Sinko, a manager at the Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street, if they can lick a bowl of frosting. "I don't even answer anymore," she said.

Don't even think of asking that.

Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell rapped about their

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

'Saturday Night Live' made Magnolia cool for guys

Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell rapped about their love for Magnolia's cupcakes in a viral 2005 "SNL" video "Lazy Sunday." "It opened up the world of Magnolia to guys, ages 18 to 25," Lloyd said. "Suddenly it's OK to have a pink cupcake. Before that it was such a girl place." Lloyd said guys today more openly admit their love for cupcakes.

And that's why it smells so good when

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Magnolia bakes around the clock!

And that's why it smells so good when you walk inside Magnolia Bakery: It makes its wares in-house, 24 hours a day. Yum.

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