After listening to a Radio 4 programme about cupcakes (someone tipped me off ok!), I got to pondering if the cakes I make really are cupcakes. One of the luminaries on the panel insisted that cupcakes were a basic sponge that must also include oil in the mix to make a lighter sponge. The cakes should also have some kind of cream or butter cream frosting.
My ‘standard’ sponge recipe cakes don’t include oil – I did consider it after working with diary-free spread and producing such a light (and longer lasting) sponge, but after some experiments, I think the only important thing is to get the butter as soft as possible (yes, in the microwave is fine as long as you’re careful, and this is certainly better in food safety terms than leaving your butter in the sun all day), and then beat it ... a lot until it’s really light. No oil required.
I also don’t restrict myself to standard sponge recipes; one of my earliest recipes was a gluten-free cake recipe made with ground almond rather than flour (more like a brownie mix) and I make dairy-free cakes with oil and fruit (which are more like muffins), so are these not cupcakes?
That dodgy yet democratic information source, wikipedia states:
A cupcake, or fairy cake in British English, is a small cake designed to serve one person, frequently baked in a small, thin paper or aluminum cup. As with larger cakes, frosting and other cake decorations, such as sprinkles, are common on cupcakes.
The term "cupcake" was first mentioned in 1828 in Eliza Leslie's Receipts cookbook. In the early 19th century, there were two different uses for the name "cup cake" or "cupcake". In previous centuries, before muffin tins were widely available, the cakes were often baked in individual pottery cups, ramekins, or molds and took their name from the cups they were baked in. This is the use of the name that has persisted, and the name of "cupcake" is now given to any small cake that is about the size of a teacup. […]
The other kind of "cup cake" referred to a cake whose ingredients were measured by volume, using a standard-sized cup, instead of being weighed [eg a pound cake]. Recipes whose ingredients were measured using a standard-sized cup could also be baked in cups; however, they were more commonly baked in tins as layers or loaves.
In sum, a cupcake is a cake made in a cup….
I then found lots of useful info on chowhound.com about the difference between a muffin and a cupcake, which is essentially the technique – a muffin being a “quick bread” for which you just bung all the ingredients together; a cake requiring creaming of butter and sugar first.
So, probably some of my cupcakes are not, strictly speaking, cupcakes, but I won’t tell if you don’t!