cupcakes and muffins

Don’t ya just love cake. Think about it gang, of all the diverse foods, flavors, cooking styles, spices, herbs, and seasonings in every culture in the world past or present, there is at least one food all cultures share, CAKE ! Everyone can probably say they have an aunt, grandmother, mom, friend or someone whom when thinking of them instantly brings a memory of a great, best ever cake. Cake is royalty and muffins and cupcakes are the little princes and princesses. You find it ornately decorated and at the center of every important celebration, b-days, weddings, graduations, anniversaries, religious events, holidays, reunions, retirements, family gatherings (you get the picture).

I have found recipes for simple cake type foods from the 1200’s where grain had to be ground into meal by hand using a stone, then mixed with a little molasses and baked on a hot rock(point is, cake is worth the trouble). In the 1300’s we start to see flour, sugar, butter, and frostings going on, even I think the first b-day cake appeared at Kinderfest in Germany (a day to celebrate all the little ones born), where a candle was lit and placed on top of the cake to keep the creepie goolie monsters away from the kiddies. Remember now, there were no trains or trucks, boats, goats or any other mass transit vehicles bringing butter, flour, eggs, milk to town- if you wanted cake(everybody did) you had to grow and grind, milk and churn your own ingredients(still worth the effort).The more affluent you were the more often you got cake (more land more hands), you were really at the top of the social ladder if you had a baker on staff in the kitchen (food dungeon?)in addition to a cook. Soon after this period, we begin to see little cake kiosks popping up at fairs and in large market places, so the patisserie is born(you’re important when you have such mass appeal you get your own store).

OK, now we’re in the 1700’s and some guy in Britain makes the first cupcake, actually it was called “Queen’s Cake,” and was kind of like fruit cake “light”, yes, little individual, personal, single serving cakes baked one at a time in stoneware ramekins, and so the craze begins.

By the early 1800’s tea cakes show up in the US(sort of like pound cake baked in tea cups). It is interesting though that no one seems to know how the word “cupcake” came into being. As late as 1919 when Hostess rolled it’s first mass produced cupcake off the assembly line they were called “snack cakes”. Then one day the name was universally changed to cupcake, some believe the name comes from the change in the unit of measure used in baking from stone or pounds to “cups”, some think it’s as simple as being baked in a cup, but who coined the word is still a mystery. Such a rich history for what we think of today as a simple little food!

Any cake or sweet bread recipe you have can be made into cupcakes or muffins, and how easy, they take less time to cook, less mess, no worries about loaves or layers baking lopsided, creating the need for cosmetic surgery before frosting or serving, or for you to cut into pieces to make it look better than it did whole.  They stay fresh, are proportioned single servings ready to go, and my most favorite quality is each individual serving can have it’s own different topping or none at all. You can throw cupcakes or muffins in lunch boxes, or as after school snacks-it’s just enough sweet to take the edge off, yet feel really satisfied. With one good gold cake recipe and a good chocolate cake recipe(add flavors or swap out flavors such as  lemon for vanilla in gold cake or add some almond extract-these little guys are sooo accommodating) you can create lots of fun, fast desserts. Try halving a cup cake and using it as a base, add ice cream and fresh berries or ice cream and a warm fudge or lemon sauce, sprinkle cake with a little rum and coffee add a little pudding and or whipped cream, dust with cocoa powder for “mock” Tiramisu. Place a scoop of ice cream on base and seal with meringue, hand torch or pop under broiler for mini baked Alaska, or top with your favorite icing. The variations are endless, the same applies to muffins. With a basic sweet bread or muffin recipe like blueberry muffins, or banana bread, gingerbread you can easily swap out ingredients or add glazes or crumb toppings. Take your favorite blueberry muffin recipe and swap the blueberries for cranberries or cherries (remember when fresh berries are not in season you can rehydrate dried fruit in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes), or chuck the fruit and swirl in a little brown sugar and cinnamon with or without raisins and or nuts- good stuff. Sometimes I like to bake gingerbread or banana-nut bread in my muffin top pan creating little toaster cakes that can be popped into a toaster to heat quickly. So how long has it been since you’ve had a cupcake? Here’s a quick little yummy for your next cup of coffee.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, place rack at the center of the oven, makes 10-12 cuppie cakes


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2-1 oz squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


In large mixing bowl, using electric mixer on medium speed, combine sugar and butter until creamy.

With mixer at medium speed, add milk, chocolate, egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.

With mixer at low speed add flour, baking soda and salt until just combined.

Pour into muffin tins- if not using NON stick then grease and flour or use paper cup liners.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until tops spring back when touched or knife inserted in center comes out clean.



p.s. for a great, basic frosting recipe, see this recipe from the NYC bakery, Sugar Sweet Sunshine

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Rachael Ray