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What are cupcakes?

I mean, other than being little cakes, is there anything that makes a cupcake a cupcake? Will any cake recipe make up cupcakes if baked an appropriate time? Are cupcakes supposed to be more intense in flavor . . . I am just making that up, based on the size thing.

What am I not getting about this craze?

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  1. Well, they are baked in small cup-like shapes. We always used any old bake mix to make cupcakes growing up - they all seemed to work pretty well. No more intense in flavor, come out exactly the same.

    I don't think it's such a craze - I've been crazy for cupcakes since I'm a kid and I'm 48 now :-) Sometimes I'd rather have a cupcake, portion control LOL, and easier to manage/take along. I just think it's become trendy to decorate them fancy. Personally - just make mine a plain ole' chocolate or vanilla with a good homemade chocolate or vanilla frosting (caramel if I'm really feeling frisky) and I'm in heaven.

    7 Replies
      1. re: benhalterci

        A lot of things that are delicious are fattening, some more than others. I don't think anyone here would disagree with you, cupcakes are high in fat. There can be "room" for cupcakes though... so long as they're consumed in moderation (calories in vs calories burned) they won't cause the bathroom scale reach new heights.

        1. re: maplesugar

          maplesugar you are right:) I was being a little bit provocative, sorry! I am from the UK and like the other person wrote; our 'version' of cupcakes are actually called fairy cakes - not so smooth looking and not with a domed top and not with the buttercream topping. At most they had a bit of icing on them. I think really the buttercream is unnecessarily calorific - the cupcakes as I see them on various websites certainly would be enough fat and sugar without that buttercream.
          Dunno if I agree with you about there being 'room' for cupcakes; I recently did a pre-contest diet that lasted 14 weeks and in the last month was living on eggwhites and carb-free, fat-free whey powder. But I suppose everything is relative; certainly for a man who expends a lot of calories etc I dont think one cupcake, buttercream or not, would do much damage:)
          It is simply ironic to me that the Sex and City programme should suggest that those anorexic actresses consume them:)

      2. re: sivyaleah

        There have been long discussions of the "cupcake craze" on this site. It makes for interesting reading. Basically, what makes it a craze is that even though cupcakes have been around for decades, they've become very high profile and trendy among young urban women, prompted mostly by Sex and the City, which in turn generated a slew of specialty cupcake bakers and other silliness -- see chowsers post below about "a store on Newbury Street in Boston that is a cupcake store and doesn't even sell cupcakes, just cupcake related items."


        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          And do you think any of those skinny actresses in Sex and the City lets a morsel pass her lips?:)

          1. re: benhalterci

            Probably not. But their characters did!

            1. re: benhalterci

              Who knows? They might. I know many women who can eat whatever they want without gaining weight. I also know women who eat whatever they want and work out really hard to off-set the calories. Besides, not all of the actresses on SATC are too terribly thin. A couple of them are pretty normal looking IMO.

        2. Just about any cake recipe can be made into cupcakes (except maybe angel food or chiffon cakes?). They generally bake faster than cakes, which can be nice if you don't want to wait 1 hour for cake.

          Some people like cupcakes because of the frosting to cake ratio - cupcakes generally have more frosting than a slice of cake would. I like them because they are single-serving cakes. They also don't require a plate and fork. If I have people over for a party or BBQ, I can set out cupcakes and people help themselves and no one needs to fuss with slicing and serving. They're also cute! Cupcakes can have fillings (like layer cakes) and decorations and they can be casual or fancy.

          3 Replies
          1. re: leanneabe

            btw I've made angel food cupcakes, Cooking Light has a delicious lemon version: http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/rec...

            1. re: maplesugar

              They look really beautiful with the flowers on them:) Almost a pity to eat them:) I think lemon is probably the most delicious flavour that goes with sponge cake!

            2. re: leanneabe

              I like them for the same reasons--the portability, less mess factor, the individual serving size, etc, and the fact that one can eat them without utensils, or heck, plates!

              As for the frosting, I guess I'm in the minority; that is the only thing I wouldn't like about a cupcake, though for some reason, I feel like the cupcakes I've had all have less frosting than an equal sized cake serving.

              Also, if you add slightly less sugar, the difference between a cupcake and a muffin becomes sort of nebulous. Actually, I think there was an article about "what is a muffin?" in the NYT food section a few weeks back. I think what they call a muffin is really a cupcake sans frosting.

            3. When I was young, they were considered a children's food. (This was the 70's.) I think it's good that adults have caught on--they're convenient, no slicing or forks or plates necessary. I think that's a big part of the appeal, plus the idea of a small portion. Portion control seems to be a trend, even outside of dieting circles. Sometimes people will be overwhelmed at the idea of a dessert plate, but offer them something smaller or bite sized and they will buy. In this way, it's practical for bakeries and restaurants to offer these sorts of items. They equal more sales.

              1 Reply
              1. re: amyzan

                "What are cupcakes?"

                Cupcakes are the perfect dessert for a dinner party. You make them ahead, everybody gets one, there are no utensils involved, you don't have to "serve" them, and they are just the right size. Perfection.

              2. I like cake corners/edges. Cupcakes have the greatest cake to edge ration of all possible scenarios. Mini cupcakes are even better. If a cupcake is really good, I can go without the icing.

                1. cupcakes are a newish idea in uk, as our traditional cake of that type is a fairy cake which really is just a flatter small version of a cup cake , so we kind of love cupcakes as the extra size and height gives you a... more cake and icing and b... more surface area to decorate and pretty up!

                  1. No, they're just small versions of cakes. I think what makes them fun is:

                    1. No utensils. Pretty much by definition, any food you can eat with your hands is fun.
                    2. No sharing. The whole, entire cupcake is yours, all yours!
                    3. Fewer calories. A batch of cake batter + a batch of frosting will make one layer cake, which is about 12 servings, or 24 cupcakes. You can use the same caloric math to make a sheet cake but it's not as fun (check out reasons #1 and #2).
                    4. Little things are considered cuter. I have no idea why, they just are.

                    So no, the cupcake craze isn't based on anything logical or nutritional, just on maximizing fun, which is what desserts are all about.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Erika L

                      that covers the bases well. i'd add just one more thing. remember that seinfeld episode about muffin tops and about how much better they are than the 'stem' of the muffin? cupcakes also have more deliciously carmelized surface area per volume than regular cakes.

                      1. re: cimui

                        You can now get "muffin" pans with wide, shallow indentations so you're essentially making just the tops!

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          haha. brilliant. i wonder if those seinfeld writers are giving each other high fives for patenting this product.

                          but query: is a muffin / cupcake with no stem at all still a muffin or cupcake -- or is it just one giant, soft cookie?

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            You can!? From Elaine's idea on Seinfeld? A store that sold only the tops of muffins? Hilarious. Oops, didn't see cimui's post above.

                            I think the Seinfeld idea was bust, though. Didn't somebody start a muffin top store that failed? The head of Penden Publishing?

                      2. Good question on the craze--and if you were to take a big 9x13 cake and cut it into little pieces, how different would that be from a cupcake but it wouldn't be as popular? To show how trendy they've become, there's a store on Newbury Street in Boston that is a cupcake store and doesn't even sell cupcakes, just cupcake related items.


                        1. A bit of history for you, if the Wikipedia entry is correct:

                          "A cupcake, a well-loved dessert, is so named because it is a small cake the size of a teacup. In previous centuries, before muffin tins were widely available, the little cakes were often baked in individual pottery cups, ramekins, or molds. The name fairy cake is a fanciful description of its size: an appropriate size for a party of diminutive fairies to share."

                          (in England they are often called "fairy cakes")


                          And another article on how they came about:

                          "Here's a cupcake primer: A "cup" cake in 19th Century America might have been a small cake, but it wasn't necessarily so. They were so called because the ingredients for them were measured in cups instead of weighed, as had been the custom. According to "Baking in America" by Greg Patent, this was revolutionary because of the tremendous time it saved in the kitchen.

                          Whether it was a "cup," "measure" or "number" cake, the shift to measuring from weighing was indeed a significant one, according to "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America." But it goes on to explain that the cup name had a double meaning because of the practice of baking in small containers -- including tea cups.

                          The cups were for convenience because hearth ovens took an extremely long time to bake a large cake -- and early cakes, by the way, were enormous -- and burning was common. Gem pans, early muffin tins, were common in households around the turn of the 20th Century and cupcakes were then baked in those.

                          (And if you're wondering, it was 1919 when Hostess introduced the famous snack cupcake, but it didn't become the cream-filled, squiggle-topped Hostess Cup Cake we know today until 1950


                          It's interesting to note that the cakes were likely called "number" cakes because of a mnemonic device for remembering the recipe: One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour and four eggs plus one cup of milk and one spoonful of soda.

                          The formula became known as the one-two-three-four cake, and today's cupcakes are mostly still made with similar traditional cake ingredients."


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sfumato

                            That's like pound cake getting it's name from the original recipe (a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of eggs ....).

                          2. This question reminds me of a recent post on a blog I often read. Hilarious.

                            See the entry for Friday, May 09, 2008, titled "That's the sound of me slamming my head on the wall".

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: littlegreenpea

                              Pretty funny. I have to say I wasn't impressed by the quality of the writing on that blog, though.

                            2. There's a cupcake craze? Weird! I had no idea! :)

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Morganna

                                Yeah, it's pretty localized to specific areas -- it never really took off in the Bay Area. Although some cupcake specialty shops opened up, they didn't achieve enough buzz to constitute a "craze."

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Yeah, it has hit Nashville. I can't say that I'm unhappy about it. I've been known to steal away from work to go over to Gigi's cupcakes. Though...and I'm looking around to make sure no one is listening...generally, there is too much frosting involved.