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Sunday
Jun012008

Cupcakes Vs. Muffins: An Epic Battle and Some Big Questions

 

Faceoff time
Muffins versus cupcakes. It's a heavy--nearly epic--subject to tackle, but we've bravely wandered into this storm to better understand this mighty battle of the baked goods: who are they? How are they different? And ultimately, which is more lovable?

Cupcake, Magnolia Bakery, DowntownMuffin
Part 1: The Difference between Cupcakes and Muffins

First off--is there a difference between the cupped treats? There are certainly different schools of thought, as we found out:
According to our dictionary, a cupcake is defined as "a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold," whereas the muffin is defined as "a small, cup-shaped quick bread, often sweetened." Strangely, the definitions don't touch on the subject of frosting, which to many seems to be a defining characteristic of a cupcake. However, they do touch on the subject of sweetness, citing that muffins are "often" sweetened, thus leaving it open to interpretation that they are often but not always sweet, and it does touch on their texture by defining them as a quick bread, which is often more dense than cake (think of the difference between say, a dense banana bread and the oft-lighter Hummingbird cake).
Or, as a commenter in an internet forum says, "If you threw a cupcake against the wall, you would hear something of a 'poof!' If you threw a muffin, you would hear a 'thud!'"

 

EATS Market CupcakesChocolate Cream Cheese Muffins, Metropolitan Market

While the above seems to lean toward differences in texture and sweetness, these days the line can be even further blurred with the addition of products such as carrot walnut muffins with a cream cheese glaze or black-bottom cream cheese and chocolate muffins (which kind of sound like cupcakes to us). To that point-- In a recent New York Times article, when one of our favorite food writers Melissa Clark asks a pastry chef friend what the difference is while devouring one of his particularly sweet and buttery muffins, his opinion on the difference between cupcakes and muffins is as follows:
'Nothing,' he said, explaining that when it comes to breakfast, Americans have a Puritanical inhibition. 'Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast'

Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes at Saint CupcakeMuch Ado about Muffin

And as a bit of curiosity: We also noticed that there's a difference between the words when used in slang. While both words are used as a term of affection (say, to refer to a child or loved one), "muffin" also has a negative connotation--the term "muffin top" rather indelicately refers to "the phenomenon of overhanging flesh when it spills over the waistline of trousers or skirt in a manner that resembles the top of a muffin spilling over its paper casing." Owch.


Cupcakes. And Muffins.
Part 2: We put it to the test
After having researched the above, we were left unsatisfied--so we decided to do a little experiment. What did we do? Well. We baked one batch of muffins, and one batch of cupcakes, with recipes found online--both for batches of 20 in a similar flavor, apple spice. They're both pictured above. Can you tell the difference?
Now, we realize that there are all sorts of recipes out there, so we're not saying this is going to be true in every case, but with our two recipes, the major differences were as follows:
  • Oven temperature and baking time: the cupcakes were baked at 350 for 30 minutes, and the muffins were baked at 375 for 25 minutes.
  • Mixing: With the muffins, our recipe said to mix until the dry ingredients were mixed with the wet, but not until smooth; with the cupcakes, we creamed the butter and mixed longer, until there were no lumps.
  • Flour: There was significantly more flour in the muffin recipe.
  • Sugar: No difference! Both recipes called for the same exact amount of sugar for a batch of 20.
Not a Cupcake.This is a Cupcake.
We then did two taste tests: on the first, we served one from each batch frosted: a frosted muffin (left) and a frosted cupcake (right). And you know what? Nobody could tell which one was the muffin. *Although to clarify, our tasters could tell that each item was different, they couldn't say with confidence which was the muffin and which was the proper cupcake.
On the second taste test, we served both varieties unfrosted. This time, all of our tasters could tell the difference instantly--without that sweet mask of frosting, the difference between texture quickly betrayed the muffin as the more dense and bread-like cupped treat.


Part 3: Our Conclusion


We do believe that there are differences between cupcakes and muffins--to our way of thinking, cupcakes will always be the finer-crumbed, delicate and sweet treat, whereas the muffin is the more dense and hearty option, more likely to have savory flavors or "healthy" stuff added. However, we also believe that the line between the two is blurry in our current age, with more and more sugar and sweet toppings creeping into muffin recipes.
And our preference? Well, duh. Ultimately, it's the cupcake that is first and foremost in our hearts--because for us, cupcakes are always frosted, and that's simply the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments (71)

No contest! Cupcakes have frosting and often sprinkles! What could top that? (No pun intended!) I love the cupcake vs. muffin drawing by the way!

June 2 | Unregistered CommenterMischa

Great post! For some reason (all mental, obviously) I feel muffins are healthy and cupcakes are an indulgent treat. I can't decide which I prefer, but I'd have to give the edge to cupcakes for yummy frosting!

June 2 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

sooo damn yummie !!

but i've never really seen a frosted muffin! although i agree that muffins are basically cake, for sure -- why don't people realize that? i'd much rather have a cupcake for breakfast than a muffin anyways. and don't get my started on donuts....

June 3 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

Hi cakespy, i love your blog and your drawings. I have to say cupcakes win no problem. I made a repleca of the cupcake vs. muffin sculpture in ceramics class. I'll put a picture of it up soon. I just posted a comment at bakerella and i told her that you and her have inspired me to open my own bakery when i get old enough. PLease visit my site when you get a chance. Oh, and i am also an artist. I took A.P. studio art in high school class this year. My last 12 paintings had to be similar (it was called my concentration) and i did sweets. I set up pictures of that too. Thanks for making the world a better place one cupcake at a time.

June 3 | Unregistered CommenterCaitycake

Haha I really love that person's definition of cupcakes and muffins about throwing them against a wall. It seems the most accurate! And I have to agree with what the pastry chef said about how muffins are an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. But whatever you call them, they're delicious!

Cupcakes are the clear winner!!!

June 4 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

i feel slightly less guilty when i eat a "muffin", even when it calls for 3 cups of sugar.

Both muffins and cupcakes are good!

June 5 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

The cupcake for me is never eaten on run, but in a bakery with a cup of tea and usually with the company of a good friend. The muffin is solitary act, something I might eat on the go while rushing through my day.

J: As you can see, I am catching up from being WAY behind.

LOVE this quote: 'Nothing,' he said, explaining that when it comes to breakfast, Americans have a Puritanical inhibition. 'Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast' I remember once my friend said to me a similar thing, about how I was basically eating cake for breakfast...especially when buying them out, and not making them oneself (because you can make muffins at home pretty darn healthy)

LOVE your comparative facts -- awesome!

June 8 | Unregistered CommenterBethany

http://blisscupcakes.com.au/
these cupcakes are teh num nums

June 10 | Unregistered Commentersighmon

ah, finally an answer to that age old question...

Next week on cakespy, is meaning of cake really 42??

:D

October 22 | Unregistered Commenterkittie

i really enjoyed reading this - down to the taste test. I think my favorite line was "the difference between texture quickly betrayed the muffin as the more dense and bread-like cupped treat."

keep writing :)

November 8 | Unregistered Commenterveena v

Um, muffin muffin muffin.

I have always like cupcake frosting. As the youngest, I was the most likely to be the frosting bandit, whereby one cupcake on the table would be suspiciously missing all the frosting, but completely uneaten.

Muffins on the other hand come in delicious solid flavors, unlike the powdery light and often, often, often bland cupcakes. Sure there are fine cupcake estabishments, but I still prefer the heavy muffin, for every flavor. Vanilla muffin, chocolate with chocolate chip muffin, poppy seed lemon muffin, red velvet cupcakes might be the most notable exception, as they are often moist.

Can I have a frosted muffin, or is that against the rules?

January 8 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I was searching for that answer. Now I want to know the difference between bread pudding and french toast.

March 5 | Unregistered CommenterCamila

I quoted and linked to you inmy article, Searching for cupcakes in the Netherlands: http://www.expatica.com/nl/lifestyle_leisure/dining_cuisine/Searching-for-cupcakes-in-the-Netherlands_13771.html

March 13 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

My office companion says, "It doesn't matter. They both stick to (her) thighs."

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September 3 | Unregistered Commenterrosetta stone
It is pleasure to see how many different shapes muffins have
March 26 | Unregistered CommenterHealthy muffin
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