Cupcakes are small, sweet sponge cakes.
They are often baked in small disposable ridged baking cups, of either paper or silver foil, and often frosted afterward. You peel the cup off after baking to eat them.
To make cupcakes, you make a batter as you would for a sponge or butter cake, But, instead of pouring the batter all into one pan, you pour it into small moulds or cups bound together in a special tray. The cups can be just greased or floured, or lined with a disposable cupcake wrapper. Cupcakes will generally rise about 1/3 above the pan, but it depends on the recipe. Some are designed to produce flatter tops for certain looks and effects once decorated.
The batter is sometimes dyed with food dye to make a fancy colour. Other ingredients such as chocolate chips or fruit are sometimes added, but the taste is generally left somewhat plain, especially if there are plans to ice it afterwards.
At home, cupcakes are baked in what are called “muffin tins“, so homemade muffins and cupcakes will be the same size. Commercial cupcakes will be the same size as homemade cupcakes — though not the same size as commercially-made muffins, because commercial muffins are usually made oversize.
Cupcakes are not as dense as muffins. If you’re not sure whether something should be classed as a cupcake or a muffin, ask yourself if the batter would cook successfully as one big cake: if yes, then it’s a cupcake. If it wouldn’t, then what you have is muffin batter, and what you make with it is muffins.
One of the first responsibilities that children are often granted in a kitchen is to be allowed to ice cupcakes.
A revival in the commercial popularity of cupcakes may have begun in Manhattan, when in the fall of 1996 a bakery on Bleecker Street, called “Magnolia Bakery”, began specialising in cupcakes. Their cupcakes became popular in certain New York crowds, so much so that they were featured in an episode of the television series “Sex and the City” in 2000 with characters Carrie and Miranda eating pink-iced cupcakes from the bakery. (Season III, Episode V, “No Ifs, Ands, Or Butts”. First broadcast 9 July 2009.) This took the popular revival of cupcakes nationwide in America.
In 2006, cupcakes were so everywhere that a Time magazine, Joel Stein, was inspired to write a rant against them (20 August 2006.) Despite that, 4 years later, in 2010, cupcake-only bakeries in America were still selling $100 million US of them a year, one cupcake at a time.
The term “cupcake” tends to be more common in North America than in the UK, though it is not unknown in the UK.
Kershaw, Sarah. Don’t Even Think of Touching That Cupcake. Ideas and Trends Section. New York Times. 23 September 2007.
Muther, Christopher. Victory is sweet: Some trend-spotters have declared the cupcake fad over, but in Boston the confection is still growing strong. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: The Boston Globe. 22 February 2011.