Cupcake in the Know

Cupcake History

While preparing Crazy About Cupcakes I spoke to folklorists, food writers and food history professors and searched many libraries to find out "Where did cupcakes come from?" What did I find? There is not much written about the cultural history of cupcakes. This is what I know.


The term 'cupcake' is first mentioned in E. Leslie's 'Receipts' of 1828. Breaking with tradition of weighing ingredients at this time they ingredients began to be measured in cups. According to "Baking in America" by Greg Patent, this was revolutionary because of the tremendous time it saved in the kitchen. "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America." explains that the cup name had a double meaning because of the practice of baking in small containers — including tea cups.

Cups were convenient because hearth ovens took a long time to bake large cakes. Gem pans, early muffin tins, were common in households around the turn of the 20th Century and cupcakes were baked directly in these. Throughout the 1900's cupcakes became popular kids treats partly due to their ease in baking. In the early 1900's Hostess introduced the snack cupcake, but it didn't become the Hostess Cupcake we know today until the 1950's.

Many people associate cupcakes with the popularity of homemaking of the 1950's and 60's although this is an myth. Cupcakes were no more popular during that time period then they are today. More likely is that adults associate cupcakes with memories from their childhood. What is different today is that cupcakes have gone crazy. Traditionally they have been made for children in basic flavors. Today the cupcake has gone gourmet and is playful, hip and glamorous. Over the past few years cupcake bakeries have opened around the country with people waiting late at night on lines out the door. This craze is here to stay.

Cupcake Pan Sizes

Cupcake baking pans are available in three sizes. Small (mini), medium (regular), and large. This variety allows for experimentation with different cupcake forms. Recipes on this site can be baked in any size pan, although the baking time will need to be adjusted for mini and large pans. Mini cupcakes usually take 5-7 minutes less than medium-size cupcakes and large cupcakes usually take 5-10 minutes more.

Filling the Cupcake Liners and Pans

The cupcakes on this site can be baked in paper liners or in greased cupcake pans. I prefer paper liners most of the time because the cupcakes are easier to get out of the pan, easier to handle, and they stay fresh longer. Paper liners are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and patterns and they can also be used to expand your design repertoire.

If you would like the sides of your cupcakes to be smooth either because you are using the cupcake as a top layer to be completely frosted, or plan on serving the cupcake on a plate-bake the cupcakes directly in the pan. Grease the cups with butter, margarine, shortening, cooking oil spray, or baking oil spray (which is a combination of oil and flour) then lightly flour the cups. You might need to release the cupcakes from the pan by using a knife around the perimeter.

The amount of batter you put in the cup determines the shape of the cupcake. Cups filled two-thirds full bake into the traditional cupcake shape. If you fill the pan half full, it will rise to the edge or slightly below the edge and you will have a small, straight-top cupcake. If you fill the cup three-quarters full the cupcake will rise above the edge of the liner and expand outward. Think about which shapes and sizes work best for your designs and fill the cups accordingly.

Most recipes will yield between 18 and 24 medium cupcakes per batch. The total number of cupcakes depends on how much you fill the cups.

Storing Cupcakes

Store your cupcakes in a plastic airtight container in the refrigerator. They will stay fresh for several days. The only cupcakes that you will need to eat within a day of preparing are ones that use uncooked eggs in the frosting.

Cupcakes keep well in the freezer. When you have some free time bake a batch of cupcakes and whip up some frosting. Do not frost the cupcakes. Divide the cupcakes and frosting into separate airtight containers. When you want a treat defrost the cupcakes and frosting, ice and decorate, and serve.

Transporting Cupcakes

When transporting cupcakes to a location for an event or giving a batch as a gift use plastic packaging designed especially for cupcakes. These containers are available at cake supply stores, restaurant supply stores, and online suppliers. Sometimes I purchase packaging from the baker in my local supermarket or my neighborhood bakery. You might want to do the same. Fellow bakers usually want to help out.

Another good way to transport cupcakes is to place them back into a clean cupcake pan once they are frosted and decorated. Lightly cover the decorated cupcakes with foil, taking care not to mess up the tops. The pan prevents them from moving around in the car like they would on a tray. When I arrive at my location I remove the cupcakes from the pan and present them on a tray or platter. To ensure a flawless presentation, some people choose to frost and decorate the cupcakes when they reach their location. Pack the cupcakes, frosting, and toppings in separate plastic containers.

To sidestep the quandary of transporting finished products and to add a layer of fun make decorating them into party entertainment. Arrange a cupcake bar with a selection of frostings and toppings for guests to customize their own based own their taste preferences and design inspiration.