Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The History of Cupcakes

When I started writing the Cupcake
Bakery Mystery Series,
I happily
immersed myself in all
things cupcake.
In fact, I’ve been
haunting my local cupcake bakeries,
Lulu’s and Sprinkles, all in the
name of research and inspiration
of course, and I’ve playing with my
own recipes until I get them just right.
It’s been just brutal, as I’m sure you
can tell from the photo below.

These are my very own
Tinkerbell Cupcakes (a lemon
cake with a raspberry
buttercream icing)! You can
find the recipe on my website
which is listed below.

While writing, one of the things
I became curious about was the
history of the cupcake. Where did these little beauties come from?
Who was the clever cook who thought them up?

There are a variety of answers. The cupcake, as it has come to be known,
was originally called a “number cake” as a mnemonic device to remember
the ingredients: One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour,
four eggs, one cup of milk, and one spoonful of soda. These cakes were cooked
in actual cups, including teacups, allowing for more even baking than large
cakes in the hearth ovens of old. Another source for the name cupcake comes
from the fact that this was the first time ingredients were measured by the
cup instead of being weighed, which saved enormous amounts of time in the
By the turn of the 20th century, gem pans, like the cast iron one pictured
here, became readily available. Designed for breads and muffins called “gems”
these pans were useful for cupcakes and developed over time much like the
cupcake itself into the cupcake tins we know today.

Because I find ingredients so

interesting, I’ve included a few

historic cupcake recipes that I

(a fascinating site)!

"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
a nutmeg, cinnamon and currants."
Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 2nd edition (p. 48)

"Cup cake.
5 eggs.
Two large tea-cups full of molasses.
The same of brown sugar, rolled fine.
The same of fresh butter.
One cup of rich milk.
Five cups of flour, sifted.
Half a cup of powdered allspice and cloves.
Half a cup of ginger.

Cut up the butter in the milk, and warm them slightly. Warm also the molasses, and stir it into the milk and butter: then stir in, gradually, the sugar, and set it away to get cool. Beat the eggs very light, and stir them into the mixture alternately with the flour. Add the ginger and other spice, and stir the whole very hard. Butter small tins, nearly fill them with the mixture, and bake the cakes in a moderate oven."
---Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, By a Lady of Philadelphia [Eliza Leslie](p. 61)

"Cup cake. Cup cake is about as good as pound cake, and is cheaper. One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs, well beat together, and baked in pans or cups. Bake twenty minutes, and no more."
---American Frugal Housewife, Mrs. Child (p. 71)

There’s my short history on the cupcake. Join me next Wednesday when I talk about my
misadventures while trying to bake a mug cake in the microwave!

Jenn McKinlay
SPRNKLE WITH MURDER -- Berkley Prime Crime -- March 2010
For more recipes and information visit:


  1. That's fascinating! I had no idea what a history cupcakes have.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Wonderful post, Jenn! Love your quote from the "American Frugal Housewife" cookbook. That's me these days, LOL!

    I just printed out your Tinkerbell cupcake recipe from the recipe page on your Web site. Light lemon cake and raspberry icing sounds heavenly. Going to try soon with so many fresh berries available at the green grocer now.

    Also wanted to let people know that I was lucky enough to get an early peek at Jenn's SPRINKLE WITH MURDER, the first book in her upcoming new culinary mystery series and I really enjoyed it!

    Have a great day!


  3. I love the history lesson on cupcakes, Jenn! Who knew? I'll enjoy them even more in the future. Thanks!

  4. Fascinating history, Jenn! I'm a cookie girl myself, but would never turn down a cupcake. Those pictured look delicious. I'll definitely be looking up that recipe, mmmm.

    Can't wait for your cupcake mysteries!


  5. Love the history. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Wow, thanks for the history of cupcakes and the recipes. I want to look into baking them in actual cups. Sounds like fun.

    Best of luck with your Cupcake Mysteries.

    Delores Fossen

  7. Oh, yum, Jenn! I just made zucchini bread yesterday, but cupcakes sound better!


  8. Oh, Jenn! Now I'm hungry! Thanks for the history lesson;)

  9. Interesting topic. I had no idea cupcakes were so involved.

  10. Funny, I was wondering if there was a "mug cake" as soon as you got into the I gotta look up cheesecakes.....and if Scotland's Stone of Scone (ceremonial coronation place) has any relation to confection.
    ah, the trails!

    great post Jenn!

  11. Me want!!! Enjoyed your post,Jenn.


  12. Hello Jenn,

    My name is Margaret Ban and I am from Malaysia. I love your cupcakes and what is more I love those beautiful CUPCAKE plates. Where can I buy them and how much do they costs?


  13. Thanks all! It was a fun post to research!

    Margaret, I love those plates, too.
    They were a gift from a friend
    when I sold my cupcake mystery series. She found them at our local grocery store, but the company who manufactures them is called
    Boston Warehouse.

  14. LOVED the history lesson! I have several recipies from my grandmother that only say "a good amount" or "large pinch". One even says you have to bake it (a cassarole) 3X's before you can eat it!!!
    Can't wait to make some of your recipies - I can almost taste the lemon cakes with raspberry icing right now...yum.

  15. Who invented The Fricken Cupcake!?!?!?!!?!

  16. How cool! Never thought about the history of cupcakes even as a baker myself.