When we moved to Oak Park seven years ago, it was not a town with a thriving restaurant scene. We have a bunch of restaurants that are fine, but I am never really excited to eat at any of them. It bummed me out. When someone visits from out of town, we almost always leave Oak Park to eat. Seven years later things are basically the same—this isn’t a redemption story—but there is one very important exception. Last autumn, sisters Meg and Molly Svec opened Spilt Milk Pastry, a tiny storefront bakery near the center of town, and just a couple of blocks from our house.
Spilt Milk specializes in classic American pastries like muffins, cinnamon rolls, giant cookies and, of course, pie. Molly, the pastry genius of this operation, makes the best pies in Chicago. A bold claim, I know. But honestly, I love them so much and really believe it to be true. Pies are kind of the hardest thing for bakeries to get right and I’ve loved every slice I have had at Spilt Milk. I really respect that Molly regularly makes double-crusted fruit pies. So many pie shops lean too heavily on graham-cracker crusted custard pies because they are easier to make and store. I get it, but those are not what I want when I want pie. I want Molly’s ridiculously good Cherry Berry pie that is a pure expression of butter and the best of summer fruit.
But, as ever, who cares about a restaurant if all it offers is good food. Spilt Milk is also one of the friendliest, sweetest places around. Molly, Meg, Adrian, Julio, and the rest of the gang are always so good-spirited and welcoming, even on a weekend morning when the shop is swamped. Adrian will bring you a glass of water, Julio will offer to get you more coffee or walk around with samples of something delicious to try, Molly will take a break from baking to talk with customers. This crew is further ahead in customer service than places that have been at this for many years. It brings me so much joy, and I can tell my fellow Oak Parkers agree. So many of us have become regulars and have gotten to know the staff and everyone greets each other like old friends. It is the first place* in Oak Park that I am excited to bring friends to when they visit, which is sad in one way, but kind of exciting in another. I am hopeful that Spilt Milk helps pave the way for other good places to find an audience in Oak Park.
My two favorite things to eat at Spilt Milk, besides the pie, are the cinnamon rolls that show up on weekend mornings, and the blueberry muffins which are easily the best I have ever eaten. Bryan, who is a connoisseur of all things blueberry, agrees. There are a few secrets to these muffins. Molly uses a hearty dose of coriander in the batter, rather than the ubiquitous lemon zest. Because Molly is not a monster. She then tops the batter with a dollop of tangy cream cheese that bakes into a cheesy filling that perfectly compliments the rest of the muffin. They are baked in jumbo muffin tins which give the best crust to filling ratio. Eating one of these muffins warm from the oven is one the best things you can do with your life. And best news ever, Molly agreed to share her recipe with all of us. I hope you make these and then I hope you let them cool for about 15 minutes before tearing into them. Muffins are truly at their best in the first hour out of the oven.
Thanks to Spilt Milk for being my favorite place to eat in Oak Park, and for sharing some secrets.
Spilt Milk Pastry is located at 103 South Oak Park Avenue in beautiful Oak Park, Illinois.
I happen to have a 12-cup jumbo muffin tin, which I love. But I know most home jumbo tins are 6-cup, so feel free to cut the recipe in half to make 6 muffins. Bryan prefers these without cream cheese, but he is wrong. You can do what you like. And these truly are best warm. You can reheat in the oven or slice in half and toast in a cast iron skillet.
*We also have a pretty terrific butcher shop in town called Carnivore, but I don’t really bring out-of-town visitors there for obvious reasons. Come visit!
Blueberry Coriander Muffins (recipe by Molly Svec of Spilt Milk Pastry)
- 4 3/4 cup (680 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup (290 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoon (6 g) kosher Salt
1 tablespoon + 2 1/4 teaspoon (16 g) baking powder
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground coriander
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
12 ounces (340 g) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups whole milk
4 cups frozen blueberries
- coarse sugar for finishing
- cream cheese (optional, but they use about 2 tablespoons per jumbo muffin)
Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F convection). Butter a jumbo muffin tin, or line with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vanilla, milk, and eggs.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter cubes and use a pastry cutter to cut them into the dry ingredients until the largest pieces of butter are about pea-sized.
Add the wet ingredients in two additions, being careful not to over-mix. Stop short of totally combined, add the blueberries, and mix to combine. The batter will be thick. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, dividing evenly among the tin. Drop two tablespoons of cream cheese onto the top of each muffin and then sprinkle generously with course sugar.
Bake for 25-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.