Down to earth and downright delicious, baker John Nardini and his wife, Roseann, have been making magic in the kitchen of the Cupcake Magician since 2011. Enchanting is the story of this award-winning bakery in downtown Red Bank.
“I never actually thought I was going to be a baker,” John said. The self-taught phenom began during his career as a commercial union painter. “The business got very bad in early 2000s, and I had to take care of my family, so I went to work at a friend’s bakery. I always enjoyed watching my mother. She could bake just about anything, and I guess those memories were in my genes because after a year, I decided to open a bakery of my own.” The business opened on May 6, 2011 and took off fast. However, in October 2012, John and Roseann lost their home and all they owned to Superstorm Sandy. Once again, they called on the magic power of cupcakes. “The customers and this bakery saved us, and we are so grateful. Both times in our lives, when things were the toughest, we just baked our way out.”
On any given day, you’ll find between 35 to 40 flavors of cake, including gluten-free varieties. John is the creator of all those flavors and the only baker. “My day starts around 5:30 or 6 am, and we make over 20 different flavors each day. Some of our most popular flavors are Pancakes and Bacon, Tiramisu (my favorite), the Reese’s-inspired Peanut Butter Explosion, and the current crowd favorite is our Funfetti Unicorn cupcake, topped with tri-colored buttercream swirl with edible pearls and glitter.
Roseann added, “We’re always open to our customer’s and staff flavor suggestions. We work on new recipes until we perfect them. We even worked with Tito’s Vodka to make cupcake shooters, and this St. Patrick’s Day, we’re bringing back our very popular Guinness Stout cupcake with a Bailey’s whipped cream filling and topping.”
What is your favorite way to relax on a day off? I simply enjoy relaxing at home, sitting by the pool, dining out at waterfront restaurants and having family backyard barbecues. On game days, you’ll also find me in my recliner watching the Jets, Mets and Knicks.
Do you have a favorite ingredient? I love vanilla. You can always tell when a recipe has vanilla, and I always add a little extra. It really pulls the flavors together. I personally like bourbon vanilla which you can find in supermarkets; it’s worth a try. I never, ever, ever use artificial vanilla. Also don’t forget a little TLC. You can really taste love. Put lots of love into everything you make, and you’ll be a winner every time.
What is your favorite item in your kitchen? It’s got to be my mixers – hey, I’m a cupcake guy! I’ve had my KitchenAid mixer at home for more than 10 years, and I use it almost daily. They can do just about anything, even savory dishes. I also enjoy using my deep fryer at home and the air fryer.
Anything else you want to share? We both can’t say thanks enough to our loyal customers who have supported us over our 12 years. We love to see their smiles and hear all their comments. We’re so proud to have been selected in the Top 10 in the country by The Daily Meal. 94.3 the Point named us best cupcake for our Pancake and Bacon cupcake. Our regular and gluten-free cupcakes have earned us placement in the top three in Monmouth Health and Fitness year after year. We also do custom cakes for small parties and even wedding cakes. And we’re very proud to offer a 15 percent discount to all military, first responders and hospital workers.
What is your favorite at-home recipe? It’s my mother-in-law Rose T.’s famous Italian Ricotta Cheesecake topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. The recipe is 100 years old. She’s 95 and going strong, and I think this cheesecake has something to do with it.
Rose T.’s Italian Ricotta Cheesecake
3 pounds of whole milk ricotta
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 to 8 strawberries
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs well until they’re almost fluffy. Then add the ricotta, sugar and vanilla, and mix that all together, scraping down the sides of the bowl. You can also add a shot of a favorite liqueur like Frangelico if you wish.
Spray a 10-inch pan or a springform pan with cooking spray. If you use a springform pan, wrap in in foil to keep any of the liquid from leaking out.
Bake for one hour and 10 minutes or until golden brown and still a little jiggly. Let it cool for one hour, then cover in plastic wrap and cool in the fridge for four hours. Dust with powdered sugar and add optional toppings.
To make the chocolate-covered strawberries, the key is to dry them. Take the strawberries out of the fridge at least 15 minutes before using. Wash them and dry them well or the chocolate won’t stick.
Melt one cup of chocolate in 15 second blasts in the microwave, stirring between each blast. Put the chocolate into a small bowl, grab a berry by the stem and dip. You can add additional decorations by drizzling the berries with more chocolate, sprinkles or sugar.
The good news is chocolate doesn’t have to be complicated. Those chocolate buttons you get in hobby stores are fine. Even your favorite candy bars are already tempered, which saves you a big step.