Whenever I make cupcakes for the office, there’s someone who comes along and says, “ooooh, who made muffins?”. Conversely, when I make muffins, somebody always ends up referring to them as cupcakes.
The basis of this confusion plagues my thoughts. I have no trouble distinguishing one from the other. But why? What is the difference between them? What makes one a cupcake and one a muffin? See, if I had to guess, I might suggest it’s the frosting.
But is that the only thing that sets them apart? Muffins are typically a breakfast food (don’t get me started on the health benefits, or lack thereof, of a muffin as a way to start your day) and cupcakes are typically a dessert. Aside from the frosting, is there any other distinction? What about in the cake itself? Is there more sugar in a cupcake? Essentially, they’re both cake, baked in a cup, with a variety of ingredients.
I scoured my baking textbooks to see if there was any scientific basis for the distinction. I guess patisserie experts have better things to do than wax philisophical about the muffin versus cupcake debate. So instead, and really this is where I should have started: I went to my good friend google for some answers.
The Cupcake Project has a few things to say about the difference in a really great post here. In that post, the difference boils down to frosting.
Another take on the debate is at Curious Foodie, where it is argued that the difference lies in the type of baked good they are. Curious Foodie describes a muffin as a form of quick-bread (and I do agree on this), and the cupcake is, well, cake. Frosting or no, the muffin stands out as being typically oil based, easily put together, and if not in a small form like that, would likely be served in a loaf pan. I think of my banana bread recipe – and it does translate well to muffins, so I think Curious Foodie may be on to something. It doesn’t explain the double chocolate fudge muffin though… I don’t have a double chocolate fudge loaf recipe.