Thursday, February 16, 2012

The History of the Cupcake

Most of the time when you think of cupcakes, you probably think of a fun alternative to a birthday cake. But where do these cupcakes come from? Where did it all begin? Most devoted cupcake-eaters would be surprised to learn that cupcakes did not originate as individually portioned cakes. Their name has two derivatives, as the Food Timeline states: (1) "the first recipes used measurements by the cup to create these cakes," and (2) "These cakes were originally baked in cups that could withstand oven temperatures, to save time,". Cupcakes were sometimes referred to as 1234 cakes to help bakers remember the recipes. The numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 corresponded with ingredient measurements. The original ingredients were similar to that of pound cakes, making these cakes quite decadent. Small pound cakes were quite popular in England during the 18th century, but they were referred to as Queen cakes. They were both individually portioned cakes, but ingredients and uses varied.

Image courtesy Google Images

But no one knows the true origin of cupcakes, leaving us with a lot of speculation. What we do know is the earliest recorded cupcake recipe dates back to 1796 and is as follows:

"A light Cake to bake in small cups.
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."
---American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 2nd edition (p. 48), 
Courtesy of The Food Timeline

This recipe seem somewhat straight forward, but slightly different from the cupcake recipes we are used to today. It is very rare to see a glass of wine in cupcake batter and the rosewater* was most likely used as a flavoring agent, but emptins-what is that? After some careful digging it was determined the emptins was a leavening agent. It's purpose was to give the cakes an lighter quality.

So how does this all sound to you? Here at my little cupcake we are very curious what those first cupcakes tasted like! Would you be willing to help out? Bake up a batch of these cakes and let us know how they come out. Exact measurements might take some tweaking, but the force will be with you. Good luck!

Stay sweet,

my little cupcake

*my little cupcake recently made rose cupcakes for Valentine's Day!


  1. I think that it is very interesting that cupcakes existed back in 1796. However, the recipe seems very different from the ones that we use today, because I have no idea what currants are and I've never used rosewater in my cooking either. Other than that, though, do you think that there was much difference in how the 18th Century cupcakes looked compared to how they do today?