The history of cupcakes

We all know that trends come and go in home baking just as in any other part of life, and nobody can fail to have noticed that over the past year or two we have, literally, gone cupcake crazy. We simply can’t stop making these delicious little tasty treats, whether they are for special occasions or simply to act as a dessert after tea. Many think they are a brand new invention but they have actually been around for centuries, and this is their story, so far.

There isn’t much factual evidence to be found regarding the inception of cupcakes, and there is no dramatic story where they were first created specifically for someone, ala peach melbas. They made their first appearance in American cook books between 1790 and the early 1800’s, and were described as larger than a bun but smaller than a cake. They were served in a paper case with icing or sprinkles on top at afternoon tea or birthday parties.

The actual term cupcake was first used in another American cookbook in 1826, and this is thought to have come from the new and preferred measuring system, the cup, where ingredients started to be measured in volume as opposed to weight and a cup of everything went into making these cakes. They were also often cooked in cups to make them larger, so between the two it was inevitable that they would be christened cupcakes.

They became instantly popular in the US as it saved a great deal of time by making up batches of these smaller cakes that lots of larger ones and they were soon appearing in homes the length and breadth of the States. As the years went by the cupcake invariably evolved and they started to appear in shops in varying sizes, types and flavours. Once the frosting was added they became the cupcakes we know and love today, and it wasn’t long before it made a trip across the Atlantic.

Today, the cupcake is as much a part of our culture as jam and bread or beans on toast. They come in every variety you can think of, and bespoke bakeries can charge a fortune for these little treats depending on how expensive the ingredients used are and how elaborately they are iced. One area they are fast taking over the number one spot is in weddings, where you are more likely now to see a fancy stand full of cupcakes that the traditional tiered wedding cake.

There are now more people knocking up a batch of cup cakes in their kitchen than almost any other kind of cake, and finding a recipe for cupcakes is easier than ever thanks to the Internet. We in the UK have also, finally, fully embraced the frosting that was so long an American trait while we stuck to our icing. With the addition of a bit of food colouring and various other embellishments, there is a cupcake for every occasion and this seems to be a trend that is going to stick around indefinitely.