The earliest extant description of what is now often called a cupcake was in 1796 when a recipe for “a light cake to bake in small cups” was written in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. The earliest extant documentation of the term cupcake itself was in “Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats” in 1828 in Eliza Leslie’s Receipts cookbook.
In the early 19th century, there were two different uses for the term 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 remained, and the name of “cupcake” is now given to any small, round cake that is about the size of a teacup. While English fairy cakes vary in size more than American cupcake, they are traditionally smaller and are rarely topped with elaborate frosting.
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.
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. The cake batter used for cupcakes may be flavored or have other ingredients stirred in, such as raisins, berries, nuts, or chocolate chips.
Because their small size is more efficient for heat conduction, cupcakes bake much faster than a normal layered cake. During baking, the volume of the batter initially increases due to the production of carbon dioxide, then decreases upon cooling due to the release of leavening gases.
Cupcakes made for a graduation party
Cupcakes may be topped with frosting or other cake decorations. Elaborately decorated cupcakes may be made for special occasions.
They may be filled with frosting, fruit, or pastry cream. For bakers making a small number of filled cupcakes, this is usually accomplished by using a spoon or knife to scoop a small hole in the top of the cupcake. Another method is to just insert the pastry bag in the middle of the cupcake. In commercial bakeries, the filling may be injected using a syringe.
A mug cake
A butterfly cake
A cake in a mug (more commonly known as a mug cake) 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. The cake rises by mixing vegetable oil (usually olive oil or sunflower oil) into a mixture of flour and other ingredients – as the oil in the mixture heats up, it creates air pockets in the mixture which allows the cake to quickly rise.
A cake in a jar a glass jar is used instead of mugs, trays or liners.
A butterfly cake or fairy cake is a variant of cupcake, also called fairy cake for its fairy-like “wings”. The fairy cake top is separated, split in half. filling (e.g. icing and or jam) is place into the hole. The two halves are placed onto the filling to resemble wings. Other decorations, such as sprinkles and or Icing sugar, are often added over the cake.
Elaborately frosted cupcakes may be made for special occasions such as baby showers, graduations, or holidays.
A cake ball is an individual portion of cake, round like a chocolate truffle, that is coated in chocolate. These are typically formed from crumbled cake mixed with frosting, rather than being baked as a sphere.
A gourmet cupcake is a somewhat recent variant of cupcake. Gourmet cupcakes are large and filled cupcakes, based around a variety of flavor themes, such as Tiramisu or Cappuccino. In recent years there has been an upcropping of stores that sell only gourmet cupcakes in metropolitan areas.
As an alternative to a plate of individual cakes, some bakers place standard cupcakes into a pattern and frost them to create a large design, such as a basket of flowers or a turtle.
Pans and liners
A cupcake pan, made of tinned steel.
Originally, cupcakes were baked in heavy pottery cups. Some bakers still use individual ramekins, small coffee mugs, large tea cups, or other small ovenproof pottery-type dishes for baking cupcakes.
Cupcakes are usually baked in muffin tins. These pans are most often made from metal, with or without a non-stick surface, and generally have six or twelve depressions or “cups”. They may also be made from stoneware, silicone rubber, or other materials. A standard size cup is 3 inches (76 mm) in diameter and holds about 4 ounces (110 g), although pans for both miniature and jumbo size cupcakes exist. Specialty pans may offer many different sizes and shapes.
Cupcakes may be plain cakes without any frosting or other decoration. These were baked on a flat baking sheet in a double layer of paper cupcake liners.
Individual patty cases, or cupcake liners, may be used in baking. These are typically round sheets of thin paper pressed into a round, fluted cup shape. Liners can facilitate the easy removal of the cupcake from the tin after baking, keep the cupcake more moist, and reduce the effort needed to clean the pan. The use of liners is also considered a more sanitary option when cupcakes are being passed from hand to hand. Like cupcake pans, several sizes of paper liners are available, from miniature to jumbo.
In addition to paper, cupcake liners may be made from very thin aluminum foil or, in a non-disposable version, silicone rubber. Because they can stand up on their own, foil and silicone liners can also be used on a flat baking sheet, which makes them popular among people who do not have a specialized muffin tin. Some of the largest paper liners are not fluted and are made out of thicker paper, often rolled at the top edge for additional strength, so that they can also stand independently for baking without a cupcake tin. Some bakers use two or three thin paper liners, nested together, to simulate the strength of a single foil cup.
Liners, which are also called paper cases, come in a variety of sizes. Slightly different sizes are considered “standard” in different countries. Miniature cases are commonly 27 to 30 millimetres (1.1 to 1.2 in) in diameter at the base and 20 millimetres (0.79 in) tall. Standard-size cases range from 45 to 53 millimetres (1.8 to 2.1 in) in diameter at the base and are 30 to 35 millimetres (1.2 to 1.4 in) tall. Australian and Swedish bakers are accustomed to taller paper cases with a larger diameter at the top than American and British bakers.