I am a sucker when it comes to food. Stick the phrase "free food" on an invitation, you can pretty much bet I'll be there. I grew up in a food house. My mother cooked in both high quality and high quantity, so I grew up with a distinct love for cooking. My mother's baked goods are phenomenal, and I typically can't eat others' baking without being disappointed—it's just not my mom's. They had a bake sale at work for a really good cause, so I bought things that my mother doesn't normally cook, namely baklava and lemon poppy seed bread. The following morning, a co-worker was sharing her bake sale bounty when I spied a distinct shape. It was a chocolate chip cupcake. But it was still early in the morning; I couldn't eat a cupcake for breakfast. Right next to it was a muffin, apple strudel or something of the sort. Then I started thinking—what made one pastry a cupcake, and the other a muffin?
The line between cupcake and muffin is a thin and wavy one. One might say that cupcakes have paper while muffins do not. This chocolate chip conundrum did not have paper. Other definitions may indicate that cupcakes are dessert while muffins are for breakfast. I had no idea where this pastry fell, since it was chocolate chip I leaned toward cupcake, but it didn't have frosting, making it largely un-cake-like. To make myself feel better, I called the mystery food a "chocolate chip muffin" to make myself feel better, for they do exist.
Further investigating this concept (since I am truly a scientist, and have nothing better to do with my time besides investigate… and knit), I went to dictionary.com to see if the website could give me definitive differences:
Cupcake, n: A small cake baked in a cup-shaped container.
Muffin, n: A small, cup-shaped quick bread, often sweetened.
Aha! This was the start of something. Cupcakes are like cake (logically), while muffins are like bread. Cakes and bread are totally different baked goods. Once they are transformed into the cup shape, however, their differences diminish slightly. To my knowledge, chocolate chip cake and chocolate chip bread can both exist. And why shouldn't they? Both contain chocolate and therefore are equally tasty. Most of the breads that we normally think of when we hear the word "bread" are typically yeast breads, anyway. Using the phrase "quick bread" skews the definition just enough that the difference is small.
I needed to know, pound for pound, what the core difference was. So I pulled up a pair of recipes to compare...
|Flour||2.5 cups||1.5 cups|
|Sugar||1.5 cups||0.5 cups|
|Baking Powder||2.25 tsp||2 tsp|
|Salt||0.5 tsp||0.5 tsp|
|Liquid|| 0.5 cups evaporated milk|
in 0.5 cups water
|0.5 cups milk|
|Lipid||1 cup butter||0.25 cups oil|
|Chocolate Chips||1 cup||1 cup|
Where the muffins lack in sugar they make up for in chocolate. The muffins are most likely drier, too, due to the lesser amounts of moisture, especially eggs. But these are just two recipes. There may be muffin recipes that call for butter and plain old milk. I've seen cookie recipes take several different kinds and amounts of flour, not to mention all manners of lipid. When it all boils down to it, perhaps the only real indicator of muffin versus cupcake is the taster's nomenclature.
Therefore, I say, eat cupcakes for breakfast. You can call them muffins and feel better about yourself. Then, serve your guests healthy muffins for dessert. If you call them cupcakes, they'll never be the wiser. Though no one's pastries will ever match my mother's, I still enjoy the occasional non-Mom-sanctioned dessert (especially Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, which they serve in the cafeteria at work). Enjoy your pastries, no matter what you deem them.
For further muffin madness, feel free to visit Muffin Films.