Thursday, June 10, 2010

Of Muffins and Cupcakes: The Biggest Showdown!

(Photos by,,, -cinnabon)

Some answers posted on this forum:

Cupcakes usually have icing on them and are supposed to be little, miniature cakes. They're for special occasions. Muffins are usually eaten at breakfast, don't have icing on them, and often contain fruit of some sort. Blueberry muffins are popular in the US. Some people put butter on them, and they are eaten warm, if possible. Nestor, North Carolina, US

There might be some technical differences that a cook could tell us about, but from the consumer's point of view, the difference seems to be that a cupcake really is like a miniature cake: light in weight, sweet, and often covered with icing and decorations. It tends to be not too tall because it's texture isn't strong enough to allow for a very tall structure. It's always made with white flour as far as I know. A muffin is significantly heavier in texture and also in weight; with its cohesiveness, it can contain fruit, nuts or chocolate chips, which are not common in cupcakes. It is never iced and need not be particularly sweet. It can be made with ingredients as heavy as bran, and can be rather tall and have a large overhanging rim that doesn't threaten to fall off. (The cupcake also has a rim, but it is rather delicate and not too large.) If you threw a cupcake against the wall, you would hear something of a "poof!" If you threw a muffin, you would hear a "thud!" A muffin goes with coffee, a cupcake with tea. (That's a rather controversial statement, so perhaps this discussion should be moved to the controversial topics zone.) Fast food joints deal in muffins, especially in North America, but I have never seen one that sold a cupcake. Sociologically, a muffin is everyday living, whereas a cupcake is "we're getting fancy." Theoretically, a man could say, "hey honey" to his waitress while he was chewing on a muffin, but with cupcake in his mouth he could only say, "my dear." If you were writing a novel, it would be a gross literary error to substitute a cupcake for a muffin. Bratannia, Amsterdam

A muffin is any quickbread (mixed by muffin mixing method & does NOT contain yeast) that is in the shape of a cupcake. A cupcake is any cake batter mixed with the straight method or creaming method made into the shape of a cup. Cupcakes (traditionally) have frosting on top, while muffins have no frosting, but muffins can have a glaze on top. Many people think that the difference is either frosting or no frosting, or that it's "in a paper liner" or not, but that is a common mistake. Either one can be made with or without a paper liner; it's just the baker's preference. A quickbread (or muffin) CANNOT be baked like a sheet cake or round layered cake because it won't bake properly. The same goes for a cupcake batter- a cake batter (or cupcake) cannot be baked in a loaf or bundt pan because it will not bake properly. But, since both can be baked into a smaller shape, everyone seems to want to declare that they're the same.

(Photo by foodo)

What is a Muffin?

A muffin is a small, cakelike bread that can be made with a variety of flours and often contains fruits and nuts. Most American-style muffins fall into the quick bread category and are leavened with either baking powder or baking soda. The yeast-raised type, such as the English muffin, is generally finer in texture. These small breads are usually made in a muffin pan (also called muffin tin), a special baking pan with 6 or 12 cup-shaped depressions that hold the muffin batter. Each standard muffin cup is about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. There are also giant muffin pans with 3 1/4-inch cups, miniature muffin pans (gem pans) in which the diameter of each indentation is 1 1/4 to 2 inches and muffin top pans, which are about 4 inches in diameter and only 1/2 inch deep. Muffins can be sweet or savory and, though they were once considered breakfast or tea fare, are now also served with lunch and dinner.
Copyright (c) 1995 by Barron's Educational Series, from The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst

A muffin is a type of bread that is baked in small portions. Many forms are somewhat like small cakes or cupcakes in shape, although they usually are not as sweet as cupcakes and generally lack frosting. Savory varieties, such as cornbread muffins, also exist. They generally fit in the palm of an adult hand, and are intended to be consumed by an individual in a single sitting.
In Commonwealth countries muffin can also refer to a disk-shaped English muffin. As American-style muffins are also sold in Commonwealth countries, the term muffin can refer to either product, with the context usually making clear which is meant.
There are many varieties and flavors of muffins made with a specific ingredient such as blueberries, chocolate chips, cucumbers, raspberry, cinnamon, pumpkin, date, nut, lemon, banana, orange, peach, strawberry, boysenberry, almond, and carrot, baked into the muffin. Muffins are often eaten for breakfast; alternatively, they may be served for tea or at other meals.

(Photo by

What is a Cupcake?

A cupcake is a small, individual-size cake that's usually baked in a muffin pan. Sometimes the cupcake mold is lined with a crimped paper or foil cup. After baking, the paper or foil is simply peeled off before the cupcake is eaten.
Copyright (c) 1995 by Barron's Educational Series, from The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst

A cupcake, or fairy cake in British English, is a small cake designed to serve one person, frequently baked in a small, thin paper or aluminum cup. As with larger cakes, frosting and other cake decorations, such as sprinkles, are common on cupcakes.

Summarizes the differences:
1.Cupcakes and muffins are similar in shape but a cupcake uses a cake recipe and a muffin uses a bread recipe.
2.Cupcakes have been popular confectioners’ treats for years while muffins only gained popularity as coffee houses began popping up across the country.
3.Cupcakes generally have more sugar and frosting and are popular with kids while muffins are made with a variety of stir-ins and accompany coffee.

(Photo by

(Photo by

History of MUFFINS:
The derivation of the word muffin comes from the French word moufflet which is often times applied to bread and means soft. Muffin recipes first began to appear in print in the mid 18th century and quickly caught on. By the 19th century muffin men walked the streets of England at tea time to sell there muffins. They wore trays of English muffins on there heads and rang there bells to call customers to there wares. Recipes for muffins, in their yeast-free "American" form, are common in 19th century American cookbooks. Recipes for yeast-based muffins, which were sometimes called "common muffins" or "wheat muffins" in 19th century American cookbooks, can be found in much older cookbooks.
A somewhat odd combination of circumstances in the 1970s and 1980s led to significant changes in what had been a rather simple, if not prosaic, food. The decline in home-baking, the health food movement, the rise of the specialty food shop, and the gourmet coffee trend all contributed to the creation of a new standard of muffin.
Preservatives in muffin mixes led to the expectation that muffins did not have to go stale within hours of baking, but the resulting muffins were not a taste improvement over homemade. On the other hand, the baked muffin, even if from a mix, seemed almost healthy compared to the fat-laden alternatives of doughnuts and Danish pastry. "Healthy" muffin recipes using whole grains and such "natural" things as yogurt and various vegetables evolved rapidly. But for "healthy" muffins to have any shelf-life without artificial preservatives, the sugar and fat content needed to be increased, to the point where the "muffins" are almost indistinguishable from cupcakes. The rising market for gourmet snacks to accompany gourmet coffees resulted in fancier concoctions in greater bulk than the original, modestly sized corn muffin.
The marketing trend toward larger portion sizes also resulted in new muffin pan types for home-baking, not only for increased size. Since the area ratio of muffin top to muffin bottom changed considerably when the traditional small round exploded into a giant mushroom, consumers became more aware of the difference between the soft texture of tops, allowed to rise unfettered, and rougher, tougher bottoms restricted by the pans. There was a brief foray into pans that could produce "all-top" muffins, i.e., extremely shallow, large-diameter cups. Along with the increasing size of muffins is a contrary trend of extremely small muffins. It is now very common to see muffin pans or premade muffins.
Three states in the United States of America have adopted official muffins. Minnesota has adopted the blueberry muffin as the official state muffin. Massachusetts in 1986 adopted the Corn Muffin as the official state muffin. Then in 1987 New York took on the Apple Muffin as its official muffin of choice.

Types of muffins:
English Muffin. The English muffin, which predates the American muffin, is a type of light bread leavened with yeast. It is usually baked in a flat-sided disc-shaped tin, typically about 8 cm in diameter. Muffins are usually split in two, toasted and served with butter. Traditionally muffins were toasted in front of an open fire or stove, using a toasting fork. Muffins can also be eaten cold with a hot drink at coffee shops and diners, or split and filled similar to a sandwich (most famously the McDonalds chain's Egg McMuffin). English muffins are a flat yeast raised muffin with nooks and crannies that are cooked on a hot griddle. English muffin history dates all the way back to the 10th and 11th centuries in Wales. Early English muffins were cooked in muffin rings which were hooplike and placed directly on a stove or the bottom of a skillet.

Corn Muffin (American–style Muffins). Muffins made from cornmeal are popular in the United States. Though corn muffins can simply be muffin shaped cornbread, corn muffins tend to be sweeter. Similar to the pan variety, corn muffins can be eaten with butter or as a side dish with stews or chili. American style muffins on the other hand are more of a quick bread that is made in individual molds. The molds are necessary due to the mixture being a batter rather than dough. These muffins were originally leavened with potash which produces carbon dioxide gas in the batter. When baking powder was developed around 1857 it put an end to the use of potash as well as to the profitable potash exports to the old country.

[Sweet History of Muffins. By Shauna Hanus]

(Photos by

History of CUPCAKES:

The term "cupcake" was first mentioned in 1828 in Eliza Leslie's Receipts cookbook. In the early 19th century, there were two different uses for the name "cup cake" or "cupcake". In previous centuries, before muffin tins were widely available, the cakes were often baked in individual pottery cups, ramekins, or molds and took their name from the cups they were baked in. This is the use of the name that has persisted, and the name of "cupcake" is now given to any small cake that is about the size of a teacup. The name "fairy cake" is a fanciful description of its size, which would be appropriate for a party of diminutive fairies to share.
The other kind of "cup cake" referred to a cake whose ingredients were measured by volume, using a standard-sized cup, instead of being weighed. Recipes whose ingredients were measured using a standard-sized cup could also be baked in cups; however, they were more commonly baked in tins as layers or loaves. In later years, when the use of volume measurements was firmly established in home kitchens, these recipes became known as 1234 cakes or quarter cakes, so called because they are made up of four ingredients: one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs.They are plain yellow cakes, somewhat less rich and less expensive than pound cake, due to using about half as much butter and eggs compared to pound cake. The names of these two major classes of cakes were intended to signal the method to the baker; "cup cake" uses a volume measurement, and "pound cake" uses a weight measurement.
Cupcakes are now one of the most popular sweet treats in the world, and there are many bakeries dedicated solely to cupcakes.

Cupcake recipes. A standard cupcake uses the same basic ingredients as standard-sized cakes: butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Nearly any recipe that is suitable for a layer cake can be used to bake cupcakes. Because their small size is more efficient for heat conduction, cupcakes bake much faster than layer cakes.

• A "cake in a mug" is a variant that gained popularity on many internet cooking forums and mailing lists. The technique uses a mug as its cooking vessel and can be done in a microwave oven. The recipe often takes fewer than five minutes to prepare.
• A butterfly cake is a variant of cupcake, also called fairy cake for its fairy-like "wings".They can be made from any flavor of cake. The top of the fairy cake is cut off or carved out with a spoon, and cut in half. Then, butter cream, whipped cream or other sweet filling (e.g. jam) is spread into the hole. Finally, the two cut halves are stuck into the butter cream to look like butterfly wings. The wings of the cake are often decorated using icing to form various patterns.
• A cake ball is an individual portion of cake, round like a chocolate truffle, that is coated in frosting.

(Photo by, - Tammy Green)

The Muffin Method
Now, that's a muffin!
Here’s another one of those basic mixing methods that can really mess us up. Sure, it sounds like a day at the beach: Dry in one bowl. Wet in another. Wet on dry. Stir, stir, stir. Bake and hope for the best. But then, you pull out some sad old flat-topped muffins that look like moles have been burrowing their way through them. And then, your day at the beach turns into I-left-my-sunscreen-at-home-I-lost-my-sunglasses-in-the-surf-and-there-is-sand-in-places-it-shouldn’t-be nightmare. How hard can it be to make a muffin, anyway? Slather on some cooling aloe and let me see if I can help.
You’ve got two basic options when it comes to making muffins: you can use The Creaming Method, or you can use The Muffin Method. As far as I’m concerned, the creaming method is for cakes. What you end up with when you use the creaming method to make a muffin is a cupcake. Tasty and all, but just not the same thing. So, let’s forget the creaming method for muffins and focus on the eponymous Muffin Method.
Here’s how it works. This is a method you do not want to use the mixer for. Trust me, as much as you love your stand mixer, your muffins will be better if you mix them gently by hand. More on this in a bit.
1. Whisk the dry ingredients–low-protein flour (White Lily is a nice one if you’re in the southern US, or use cake flour) together with salt, sugar, leavenings and any spices–together in a large bowl.
Whisk your dry ingredients together very well. You are looking for even dispersal of the salt and leaveners. Sifting doesn’t necessarily do a great job of this, so whisk all the dry together thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds. More would be good.
2. In another bowl or a large liquid measure, combine all the wet ingredients–dairy (milk, cream, 1/2 and 1/2, sour cream, creme fraiche), eggs, liquid fat, liquid flavorings.
Notice I said “liquid fat.” This is one of the points where the muffin method differs from the creaming method. When you add the fat to the liquid, you want to make sure that all of the liquid ingredients are at room temperature. You want the fat to be evenly dispersed throughout the batter. For this to happen, you’re going to have to have the rest of the wet ingredients warm enough that the butter won’t turn hard on you the moment you pour it in the measuring cup.
3. Pour the wet on top of the dry and fold them gently together.
Let’s take a moment to really look at what’s going on here. You’re trying to mix a lot of water-type ingredients together with flour that hasn’t been coated with fat. Remember, in the two-stage mixing method, we coated our flour with a good amount of fat to inhibit gluten formation. Here, we don’t have that luxury. In the muffin method, we are pouring a ton of wet ingredients on poor, defenseless flour. How do we keep from having dense, chewy muffins, then? First, we’re using a low protein flour, so that’s a good thing–low protein equals less gluten formation. Second, and maybe more vital is the way that you mix these ingredients together. When mixing wet into naked flour with the intention of producing a tender muffin, easy does it. You really just want to fold the ingredients together, making sure that you limit agitation as much as possible. Old AB says to stir for a count of ten, but your ten and my ten might be different. I say, fold the ingredients together until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and you don’t have any big pockets of flour floating around in your batter. The batter will be somewhat lumpy, and it will be much thinner than a batter made with the creaming method, but you’ll just have to trust that it’ll be okay.
4. Scoop your batter into well greased (or paper-lined) muffin tins. Fill the cavities about 3/4 full.
At this point, if you are leavening with baking powder, you can let the batter sit for 15-20 minutes. This gives the flour time to properly hydrate. It will sort of magically finish mixing itself. Double acting baking powder gives some rise when it gets wet and then some more when it gets hot, so your muffins will still rise in the oven, even after sitting out for a bit. If the recipe only calls for baking soda, skip this step, as the bubbles are all given up when the soda gets wet. With recipes that only call for baking soda, you want to get those little guys in the oven as quickly as possible before the chemical reaction stops.
5. Bake at a relatively high temperature–400 or even 425 degrees, F.
So, why this high temperature? To me, and to lots of folks, muffins are defined by their crowns–their majestic peaks. In order to get this to happen, you have to bake at a high enough temperature that the edges of the muffin set pretty quickly. The batter will set in concentric circles, from the outside, in, and as each “band” of batter sets up, the remaining batter will continue to rise. The last to set is the very peak. If you bake at a lower temperature, you will end up with a domed, rather than peaked, muffin. If you like them domed, go for it, and bake at a lower temperature. Just wanted you to know the “why” behind the peak.
6. Remove from oven. Cool in pans for about ten minutes, and then turn out to cool completely–or not. You could just go ahead and eat one.
After you’ve baked your muffins, you can test yourself to see if you’ve done an Excellent Job with the muffin method. Cut or break a muffin in half, right down the middle, from peak to bottom. Look at the crumb. It should be fairly coarse but moist. It should also be very uniform. If you have little tunnels running up through the muffins, you know that you were a little too exuberant in your mixing. The tunnels show the path of air bubbles as they passed through the batter and were caught by sheets of gluten. The gluten then sets in that bubble-path shape, a silent reminder of your enthusiastic mixing.
So, to recap:
• Whisk dry ingredients together thoroughly.
• Have all wet ingredients at room temp. Not the creaming method’s magical 68 degrees, F, because you’re not worried about the butter’s remaining plastic–it’s already melted. By room temperature, I’m talking probably 70-72 degrees, F.
• Fold gently. Stop before you think you’re finished.
• Let the batter sit (baking powder only).
• Bake at a relatively high temperature.
Here’s a basic recipe to practice with. By basic, I mean: add any fruit, nuts, spices, zests that you want. Add chocolate chips. Change up the fat–use oil. Experiment with changing up the dairy. Top with streusel if you want. Make it your own.
• 8 oz. low-protein flour
• 3.5 oz. sugar
• 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg
• 6 oz. whole milk
• 2 1/2 oz. melted butter
Now, go make some tender muffins. No tunnels. Oh, and I found your sunglasses for you…
For an in-depth look at other mixing methods, check out The Two-Stage Mixing Method, The Creaming Method, The Egg Foam Method and The Biscuit Method. And for some great pictures of all the steps in the mixing method, go check out Joe Pastry’s Muffin Method Post. It is awesome.

For Tips:

(Photos by and

The Magnolia Bakery Cupcake Recipe
Their cupcake recipe is listed in an old newspaper review hanging on a bakery wall. The recipe is also available in The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened.
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ cup self-rising flour
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 cups confectionary sugar
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Tips: Bake at 350 degrees. Use a few drops food coloring for pastel colored frosting.

(Photos by,, Peter Tsai Photography)

1 comment:

Katherine Thayer said...

The seniors at always making muffins for their relatives who always visit them.

Le Bonhuer....

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