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C is for Cupcake

I have a serious love affair going with cupcakes. They're delicious and small enough that I can sample several flavors in a single sitting. I also like muffins, but since I love them for many of the same reasons, I started to wonder: what's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?


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The obvious answer is that cupcakes are more cakelike than muffins, literally cakes in a cup. But I think the relationship between cupcakes and muffins is more complex than that; chocolate muffins have obviously crossed the line into cupcake territory, and carrot cake cupcakes have a distinctly muffin-like feel, especially if eaten without frosting.


To get to the bottom of the cupcake/muffin mystery, I decided I'd better do some taste testing. And that means baking. After much experimentation (and a little research, though that part wasn't nearly as tasty), I've reached some superficial conclusions:


  1. It's true that muffins and cupcakes share a common shape; there is some debate among connoisseurs about whether muffins are by definition bigger than cupcakes, but in daily life, they are the same.
  2. Cupcakes and muffins can both be baked and served in cute liners. Some people claim that only cupcakes come in liners, but I feel it's a matter of preference.
  3. Only cupcakes are frosted. Muffins can get away with a glaze, but true frosting belongs only on cupcakes.


The actual significant difference between muffins and cupcakes is in the batter. Cupcakes, as the name implies, are baked from cake batter. The cupcake batter is made using the creaming method (just like cake batter). Cupcakes are cupcakes because of their shape, but if the batter was baked in a cake pan, the result would be the same. (This raises the question, of course, "If I bake a cake in a giant cupcake pan, is it a cake or a cupcake?") Muffins are essentially a quick bread (meaning no yeast is necessary). Baking muffin batter in a cake pan won't result in cake, but baking it in a loaf pan will give you bread.


Clearly, I'll be doing more cupcake "research" in the future. Anyone have a favorite flavor they suggest I try? Or a frosting recipe that I can't live without?



Posted by Jessica Gezon

Jessica Gezon



Feb. 16, 2011 at 1:45 PM

Are sweet orange rolls considered muffins? I think with enough multivitamins, I could subsist on a diet of orange rolls and Dr. Pepper ... mmm, weekend projects!

Feb. 16, 2011 at 1:47 PM

"Fudge Cupcake Murder" sounds RIVETING. I would buy it, but I have a feeling it's nothing like I imagine...

Feb. 16, 2011 at 1:52 PM

I have wanted to try lavender cupcakes ever since I saw them made on the Food Network! They turned out so lovely and PURPLE! And I love the smell of lavender, so I think eating it would be just as lovely.

Feb. 16, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Great. Now I'm craving delicious cupcakes with no way to satisfy. Sigh. Looks like I will be baking tonight instead of doing my laundry. Maybe I will attempt to make cream filled cupcakes.

Feb. 16, 2011 at 1:56 PM

The biggest cultural difference between muffins and cupcakes is that muffins are acceptable breakfast food: It's a muffin, not a cupcake. And that sweet stuff on top is icing, not frosting. You're eating cake for breakfast without the guilt.

Feb. 16, 2011 at 2:03 PM

Frosting is the sole reason I eat cake or cupcakes, and I will go to great lengths to eat cream cheese frosting. I love making homemade cream cheese frosting and reducing the sugar so it turns out a bit more tangy. Since muffins have no frosting, it's harder for them to win me over. I will rarely turn down a fresh-baked blueberry or cornbread muffin with melted butter on it though.

Feb. 17, 2011 at 1:08 PM

I don't know about those lavender cupcakes. Lavender smells like soap to me, and while soap smells nice, I don't want to eat it.

Feb. 17, 2011 at 1:17 PM

My one weakness in life is a cornbread muffin. I can never say no. Am I the only one who has a slight anxiety attack when cupcakes have a fantastically huge swirl of frosting? Its delicious, yes, but how am I supposed to eat it without looking like a doof?!?

Feb. 22, 2011 at 9:40 AM

As I understand it, the biggest difference between cupcakes and muffins is how you mix them. Cupcake batter, like cake batter, is whipped to infuse the cupcakes with air and fluffiness. Muffins are mixed just until moist so that they are crumbly. My favorite muffin recipe includes smashed bananas, strawberries, blueberries and walnuts.

Feb. 23, 2011 at 11:35 AM

haydeegirl, you are not alone. There's something about the obscene amount of frosting on cupcakes these days that makes me panic. There's no way to eat 3 inches of frosting atop 2 inches of cupcake without completely distorting your face.

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