I Love Cupcakes


This past weekend I whipped up a huge batch of cupcakes topped with fresh strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream. I have no events planned, no birthday party or bake sale. I just wanted a sweet and tasty treat. I really do just love me some cupcakes. As I was popping one of those teeny cakes into my mouth, I thought hey… I should write a cupcake blog! 

I am not alone in my love for cupcakes. In recent years these miniature cakes have had quite the popularity boom. Bakeries that sell only cupcakes have become widespread, heck you can even buy cupcakes out of special cupcake ATMs now! I lived in Cairo, Egypt in 2010, and just in my neighborhood alone were three, yes THREE, bakeries specializing in American style cupcakes. I may or may not have been a valued customer! Even Food Network has a show dedicated to cupcakes called Cupcake Wars. Cupcakes are not just for children’s birthday parties anymore. Brides are opting for cupcake towers instead of wedding cakes, and gourmet cupcakes come in all kinds of sumptuous flavors. In his Mastering Modern Sugar Flowers Craftsy class Chef Nicholas demonstrates how to turn mini cupcakes and regular cupcakes into realistic succulent floral arrangements; they are almost too beautiful to eat. Craftsy has five classed dedicated to cupcakes, and many of the other cake decorating classes do have individual sections on cupcakes. At ISAC we have offered numerous cupcake classes in Studio B, and they have proved very popular with our students. Bottom line- everyone loves a cupcake. Immediately below you will see some of Chef Nicholas’ cupcake designs!

Mini Succulent cupcakes

Yes, those are cupcakes. Chef Nicholas is a genius.

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Chef Nicholas’ winter themed cupcakes from Open House last year

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Sophisticated Christmas cupcakes

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Easter Bonnet cupcakes

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How cute is this Bunny Bum cupcake?!

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Perfect pirate cupcakes!

I took a walk through history with my lovely cupcakes this week, so that I could share the story of our sweet little friend. 

Let’s begin with the name. Cupcake or Cup Cake? That little space can speak volumes. There are two theories on the name: cupcakes are baked in small cups (teacups, small ramekins or pottery) and cup cakes are created by using ingredients measured in cups (cup of flour, cup of sugar, etc.). Both theories have historical evidence and recipes, but CUPCAKE seems to be closest to what we would consider a cupcake today. A cup cake (also called a 1234 Cake) was often made with 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. This recipe would yield a dense cake, more like a sugar cookie; it is also somewhat related to a pound cake which was so named because you would measure its ingredients out by the pound. But I digress, let’s get back to the cupcake. 

The first known recipe to explicitly state it was to be baked in small cups was published in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons in 1796. For what it’s worth, the recipe was not entitled cupcake (or cup cake), it was titled “A Light Cake to Bake in Small Cups.” The recipe is as follows: Half a pound sugar, half a pound butter, rubbed into two pounds flour, one glass wine, one do. [glass] Rosewater, two do. [glass] Emptins, a nutmeg, cinnamon and currants. I had no idea what emptins were so I looked it up. According to Merriam-Website it is, “a liquid leavening usually made at home from potatoes or hops and kept from one baking to the next.” This recipe is pretty simple and straightforward. And it also puts the origins of cupcakes around 219 years ago! Oh, and as an unrelated note- This cookbook, American Cookery, was also mentioned in my History of the Holiday Cookie Blog. It is considered to be the first American cookbook by food historians; and the cupcake recipe is just two pages after the Christmas Cookey recipe I shared! If you would like to check out this cookbook, I found a copy of the first edition online here, it is part of the Feeding America project at Michigan State University.

American Cookery

Photo from Michigan State University online library.

After this recipe there are many more that are called cupcake and cup cake, and while some follow the 1234 Cake style, many mention baking in small tins or paper cups. By 1919 the Hostess Company has begun selling commercially available cupcakes. The originally cupcakes with simple devil’s food cake hand iced with either chocolate or vanilla. After WWII the machine that had been created to put the creme filling into Twinkies had been perfected and it was modified to add some creme filling to the Hostess Cupcake too! Around the same time the devil’s food cake recipe was improved, and the icing was a purer form of chocolate, and a white stripe was added to the top. While the new and improved cupcakes proved popular, something wasn’t right. The stripe was changed up to become a looped line with seven little loops. These little cupcakes began flying off the shelves, and the price increased from 10 cents to 12 cents. In comparison, a chocolate cupcake at the Magnolia Bakery in NYC (made popular by the cupcake eating cast of Sex and the City) will cost you about $3.50. Today you can enjoy a Hostess cupcake in chocolate, orange, or red velvet flavors. 

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Photo from Hostess Cupcake Wikipedia page.

As I mentioned earlier there are loads of bakeries that specialize in only cupcakes these days. Sprinkles Cupcakes is considered to be one of the first cupcake only bakeries. On April 13, 2005 the doors opened and cupcakes sold out in three hours. Over 2,000 were sold in the first week. In 2012 a cupcake ATM was designed for Sprinkles. Running 24 hours a day (and continuously restocked throughout the day), a Sprinkles Cupcake ATM can hold 600 cupcakes (both for humans and our canine friends). Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, D.C. sells between 3,000 and 5,000 cupcakes a day (70% pre-ordered), and was featured on TLC with their own show, DC Cupcakes. Other chains such as Crumbs Bake Shop and Gigi’s Cupcakes have also found success in our cupcake loving world. 

At ISAC we love cupcakes too. Both Gretchen and Molly have taught wonderful cupcake classes in Studio B. We carry cupcake liners in every color imaginable. We sell special single cupcake holders, and cupcake stands. Chef Nicholas often demonstrates different ways to decorate cupcakes in our open house events. We even sell a chocolate mold and a cookie cutter in the shape of a cupcake… cupcakes made out of other desserts! (FYI- we do not have our chocolate molds available online, but if you call us up and ask we will be happy to ship it too you!).

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These are faux cupcakes! These are made out of our cupcake shaped chocolate mold! 

Of course the design possibilities are endless. Buttercream and rolled fondant can be used, but so can mousse, and whipped cream. You can make cupcakes look like other foods! Like tiny sweet pizza, spaghetti, or watermelon! They can be decorated in a very sophisticated manner, or simply iced at home with your kids or grandkids! Or they can be used as a teaching tool.

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Cupcakes from a children’s cupcake class that Molly and I taught in Studio B

Ida Freund was the first woman to become a chemistry lecturer in the United Kingdom. During exams in 1907 she called a study session to help her students prepare for a test on the periodic table. Ok, I know you are wondering what I am talking about and how this has anything to do with cupcakes. Well, during this study session Miss Freund had created a periodic table completely out of cupcakes! Each element was represented by a cupcake with its atomic name and number in icing! I was never very strong in chemistry, but if cupcakes had been involved perhaps I would be lecturing at Cambridge like Ida Freund! Oh, and recently the Royal Chemistry Society (the UK’s professional group for chemical scientists) recently celebrated the launch of its Visual Elements Periodic Table by taking a page from Miss Freund’s book- CUPCAKES!

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The RCS’s Visual Elements Period Table in cupcakes. Photo from www.rcs.org

Cupcakes are enjoying their time in the limelight. I know I am enjoying it too. But will it last? These days there is a new food fad every time I turn around: cake pops, macarons, red velvet everything! I much prefer cupcakes to a big slice of cake, so I hope that the cupcakes stay popular. For all my professionals out there, what do you think? Are cupcakes here to stay or is their popularity already waning? If our little cake friends are on the decline I will survive… and make lots of cupcakes right here at home! 

Now, go enjoy a cupcake of your own!

Sweetly yours, 


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  1. I love cupcakes – always have and always will but I do think their popularity is waning, but like all things trendy – they will come around again as being the “in thing”.

  2. Ha Ha! I never took Chemistry or did well in math, but often tell my daughters and young children how I use both in my baking business. Very interesting!

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