Where The Cupcake Evolved: The Yummy Basics

cupcake with colorful icing on plate with flowers.

I loooove cupcakes! They are the perfect dessert to have just enough without going overboard. Cupcakes come in a variety of flavors and can have a variety of toppings. I’m not alone in my love of cupcakes either. There is an entire baking industry built on these tasty treats.

Where did the cupcake evolve you might wonder? How did we come to have this special treat in our lives? I’ll break down a little background about cupcakes in this article. So you can add this to your random-facts-to-share-at-parties list. Here we go!

Looking for a nutshell version to answer your question? Feel free to jump ahead to the quick facts.

What is a Cupcake?

A cupcake is essentially a small cake made for one person to enjoy. It’s usually baked in a thin, paper wrapper, foil wrapper, or aluminum cup. Like larger cakes, they can be served with different toppings and decorations such as fruit or candy.

History of Cupcakes

You may have seen cupcakes written as two separate words – cup cakes. Before the 19th century, when you couldn’t buy a muffin tin at any department or grocery store, not everyone had access to them.

So people pretty much made do with pottery cups, ramekins, or any kind of cup-shaped mold they could find to bake their cupcakes. This is thought to be how the name “cupcakes” came to mean what it does now which is any smaller cakes about the size of a teacup.

The first cupcake description was printed in Amelia Simmons’s recipe book American Cookery in 1796. She included a recipe for “a light cake to bake in small cups.” The first official use of the phrase “cupcake” was a few years later in Eliza Leslie’s cookbook called 75 Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats in 1828.

Cupcake Variations

Cupcake variations are almost as old as cupcakes themselves. Here are a few small cakes that put a little twist on the standard cupcake. Some you’ll be familiar with and some you may not be. Either way, they’re all still yummy.

Fairy Cakes

Fairy cakes hale from England and are a slightly smaller version of a cupcake. Unlike American cupcakes, they typically do not come with loads of frosting.

Sometimes called butterfly cakes, fairy cakes get their name from the fairy-like wings that are used to decorate them. The wings are created by separating the top of the cake and splitting it in half. 

The whole left by this is filled with icing or jam, and the cake “wings” are placed on top. The final product resembles a fairy or butterfly. Sometimes other simple adornments are added such as sprinkles.

Measurement-Based Cakes

Examples of measurement-based cakes are the quarter cake and the all-too-common pound cake. These cakes are so named because they are made using weight measurements of ingredients. 

Conversely, a cup cake uses volume measurements – standardized cup measurements to be exact — such as cups of sugar, cups of flour, etc. They are often made with plain yellow cake, and are less dense and less expensive than quarter cakes or pound cakes because they use about half the ingredients.

Mug and Jar Cakes

Mug cakes and jar cakes are just as they sound. They are cake that is baked in a mug or a glass jar. You can thank the internet for its popularity. 

Mug cakes are meant to be an easy alternative to baking a standard cupcake because they can be baked in the microwave. Yup, you read that right! I like to think of mug cakes as the median between traditionally baked cupcakes and the mass-produced, pre-packaged snack cake.

Popular baking brands have even started marketing their own version of cake mix that can be mixed in a mug and baked right in the microwave. All in less than 5 minutes.

I’ve tried one made by Betty Crocker and I wasn’t overly impressed. I enjoyed the simplicity of it but found myself preferring a more traditionally baked cake. Try one for yourself and see what you think.

Cake Pops and Mini Cupcakes

A lot of people are familiar with cake pops but don’t necessarily know how they are made. Spoiler alert: they are not tiny cakes baked into spheres. 

Cake pops are actually made of cake crumbles mixed and pressed together with frosting. They are then dipped in chocolate and decorated to look yummy enough to grab on sight. They’re usually decorated with different types of sprinkles or sugar candy. 

Mini cupcakes are a bite-size version of standard-size cupcakes and provide a more dainty appearance. They are a big hit at kids’ birthday parties because they are small enough for kiddos to have one of their own without a huge sugar rush.

Gourmet Cupcakes

Gourmet cupcakes are the most recent variation of cupcakes. They are slightly larger cupcakes that are filled with some type of frosting, topping, or jam. 

The best part about gourmet cupcakes is they’ve introduced a much larger variety of cupcakes with tons of flavor possibilities. They can also, but not necessarily, be ornately decorated for different themes and celebrations.

For example, instead of a giant wedding cake, this cupcake lover had a tower of cupcakes at my and my husband’s wedding. They were beautifully decorated to look like flowers in our wedding colors, and I think we had about five different flavors. 

Because of all the flavor and decorative options, gourmet cupcakes gained a lot of popularity over the past few years. This popularity led to a trend of bakeries that only sell gourmet cupcakes.

Common Ingredients

Cupcakes are made with the same main ingredients as regular-sized cakes – butter, eggs, sugar, and flour. Any batter used for standard cakes can be used for cupcakes.

How Are Cupcakes Baked?

No surprise – cupcakes bake faster than regular cakes because of their smaller size. They were originally baked in any cup-shaped vessel that could withstand the oven heat.

Nowadays, they are usually baked in muffin tins or a cupcake pan. Both can be made of metal, stoneware, or silicone. Specialty muffin tins can also come in different shapes and sizes.

Notable Cupcake Shops

Cupcakes have certainly grown in popularity over time. Some brilliant person even created National Cupcake Day!

This rise in popularity led to a trend of cupcake shops, especially in the United States. Indeed, the cupcake craze has become a big business for many bakers. Here’s a sampling of some of the more well-known cupcake shops.

  • Georgetown Cupcake – the first cupcake bakery in Washington, DC.
  • Magnolia Bakery – started in New York and made popular by its presence in TV shows such as Sex and the City.
  • Crumbs Bake Shop – started in New York and, at one point, was the largest cupcake shop chain in the US.
  • CamiCakes Cupcakes – a black-owned cupcake bakery started in Georgia known for its numerous flavor varieties.
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes – started in Beverly Hills by the owner, Candace Nelson, who has been a judge on shows on Food Network and Netflix. Sprinkles is most notably the first to create a cupcake ATM.

The Yummy Basics of Where the Cupcake Evolved

I hope you enjoyed nerding out on all the yummy basics of where the cupcake evolved. Feel free to impress your friends the next time you’re out having cupcakes. And if you and your friends don’t go out for cupcakes – shame on you!

Quick Facts

Where Did Cupcakes Originate?

Cupcakes originated in the US based on their earliest known descriptions.

When was the Cupcake Invented?

Cupcakes were invented as early as 1796.

Who First Invented Cupcakes?

Amelia Simmons is credited with inventing cupcakes with a recipe for “a light cake to bake in small cups” in her cookbook American Cookery.