A cupcake, also referred to by some as a fairy cake, patty cake, or cup cake, is a small cake, often baked in a small paper or aluminum cup, and meant as a single serving. They are commonly frosted or adorned with sprinkles or other decorations.
The history of the cupcake can be traced back as far as 1786, when American Cookery by Amelia Simms mentioned something of “a cake to be baked in small cups”. It was first documented in 1828 in Eliza Leslie’s Receipts cookbook as “Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats”.
Cupcake or Cup Cake?
There were two different uses for the name: “cupcake” or “cup cake” in the early 19th century. Before muffin tins were widely used, the cakes were usually baked in individual pottery cups, ramekins, or molds, which their name evolved from.
- Nowadays, the name cupcake is given to any small cake that is about the size of a teacup. Fairy cake, as they have also been referred to as, is a fanciful description of its size, and thought to be appropriate for parties of fairies to share.
- Cup cakes, on the other hand, referred to a cake whose ingredients were measured in a standard-sized cup. Recipes whose ingredients were measured using a standard-sized cup could also be baked in cups, even though at the time, they were commonly baked in tins as layers or loaves. When the use of volume measurements was established in home kitchens some years later, the recipes became known as 1234 cakes or quarter cakes. This was because of the four ingredients they were composed of: 1 part butter, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts flour, and 4 eggs. Since they used about half as much butter and eggs as a pound cake, they were plain and yellow, less rich, and a little less expensive.
Towards the beginning of the 21st century, cupcake shops began catching on as a trend in the United States, playing off the sense of wistfulness induced by the cupcakes. Cupcake shops like Magnolia Bakery out of New York City gained publicity by appearing on shows like Sex and the City. In 2010, Martha Stewart published a cook book solely dedicated to cupcakes.
Types of Cupcakes
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. Because their small size is more efficient for heat conduction, cupcakes bake much faster than layer cakes. There are several variants of the classic recipe.
- A “cake in a mug” 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.
- A butterfly cake is a variant of cupcake, also called fairy cake for its fairy-like “wings”. They can be made from any flavor of cake. The top of the fairy cake is cut off or carved out with a spoon, and cut in half. Then, butter cream, whipped cream or other sweet filling (e.g. jam) is spread into the hole. Finally, the two cut halves are stuck into the butter cream to look like butterfly wings. The wings of the cake are often decorated using icing to form various patterns.
- 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 uprising of stores that sell only gourmet cupcakes in metropolitan areas, such as Crumbs Bake Shop.
Cupcake Pans and Liners
Cupcakes were originally baked in heavy pottery cups and some bakers still use individual ramekins, small coffee mugs, large tea cups, or other small ovenproof pottery-type dishes for baking cupcakes. Specialized pans are made for baking cupcakes today, similar in form to muffin tins. These ovenproof pans are most usually made from some sort of 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 in diameter and holds about 4 ounces, although pans for both miniature and jumbo size cupcakes exist. Specialty pans may offer many different sizes and shapes.
Individual cups, 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 moister, 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. 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.
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