06 Jul2007

I asked the question. So I figured I should try and answer it. A similar question seeking clarification between jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves was raised months ago and I actually did the research for that but never wrote the post. So here is my answer to the question – muffin or cupcake? The first reference book that I reach for in situations like this is The Oxford Companion To Food, compiled by Alan Davidson. It is within arms reach of my desk/computer, and it is my favorite food book. Davidson describes a muffin as being derived from the French word moufflet, which was used to describe a “soft” bread. This makes total sense when referring to an English muffin (the most common reference in the U.S. would be a Thomas’s English Muffin) which is a flat, yeast based bread that I personally love and used to halve using a fork (not knife, you heathen!), toast and then watch a big blob of sweet butter melt into the nooks and crannies. When says “nooks and crannies” my mental vision is a Thomas’s English Muffin, which you can sometimes find in the frozen section of Rustan’s groceries if you are lucky and don’t mind the exorbitant price asked for it. This form of muffin has written references as early as the 1700’s and there are recipes for it published around that time, so let’s just say that is a pretty good description of an “original” muffin. This type of muffin was often enjoyed at tea-time, and purveyors used to go around villages selling them and ringing a bell…not unlike our own taho vendors today…

The AMERICAN muffin, according to Davidson, is a small, squat round cake which may be yeast leavened though baking powder is used instead to get that “rise” in the cake. It is usually sweetened, though not always and often flavored with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc. These muffins are baked in MUFFIN pans or cups and served primarily for breakfast, though some types are served for dinner (most notably corn and savory corn variations). Seeking more information, I turned to Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery Cookbook and she describes her muffins as substantial little cakes that are simple to make but which can carry complex and unique flavors. She too relies on baking powder rather than yeast and she has an amazing selection of muffins such as Banana-Cocoa Muffins, Browned Butter-Pecan Muffins, Lemon-Ginger Muffins, Ricotta Muffins and surprisingly, Yam Muffins. Ms. Silverton goes further to suggest a topping or Streusel is a nice addition to a muffin (as in the Wild Blueberry Muffins I wrote about here) and encourages toppings that hint of the muffin itself…hence a touch of brandy soaked prunes or a white lemon glaze. Turning to Martha Stewart, in The Baking Handbook, she like Silverton, prefers the use of ½ cup capacity muffin pans. Both eschew the humongous muffins often sold in breakfast places or delis in many U.S. cities. Stewart’s suggested concoctions include Plum Coffee-Cake Muffins, Cranberry-Zucchini Muffines and Date-Bran Muffins. Both specify that these are simple, easy to make,yet delicious baked goods (and frankly, are world’s apart from the ENGLISH muffin, described above).

Cupcakes on the other hand, are described by Davidson as a name given to small cakes baked in a cup-shaped mould or paper (sometimes waxed) cups… and he says this name became popular during the 1800’s in Britain and at about the same time, North America. He further explains that in North America, it may have gotten its name because the measurements for the confection revolved around cups as in pound cake where the simplest version use a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, flour, etc. (geez, they were dummifying recipes even then!). Davidson says there is a reference to a cupcake recipe from 1828 where the ingredients include “a cup of cream, a cup of butter, two cups of sugar and four cups of flour. The prepared mixture is then baked in little tins.” Checking my cutesy (I don’t like cutesy in general) cupcake specific cookbook called The Artful Cupcake by Marcianne Miller, she describes a cup cake as having a cake base and a yummy topping or frosting. She goes further to define a cupcake as “an individual cake that spent some part of its creation in a MUFFIN pan.” Her basic recipes call for cake flour and in general, they must result in a lighter puffier cake than an AMERICAN muffin. Bizarrely, she then goes on to describe cupcakes as small cakes, UNLESS “they are like a pie, cookie, custard, cheesecake, etc.” Now that it just stretching the definition a bit far, if you ask me. There probably wasn’t enough material to write a whole book on a basic cupcake… You can see why I think poorly of this last book… Finally, I should mention that I did a surprisingly HOT post which elicited so many comments on Cupcakes by Sonja, the leading purveyor of these goodies in Manila at the moment. The Kid bought a peanut butter cupcake at Sonja’s the other day and the place was totally empty. And the price at PHP65 or so seemed lower than I remembered them to be…could it be they are heeding the call for more reasonably priced cupcakes?

At any rate, I like many of the comments on my previous post on Kalamansi Muffins, trying to differentiate cupcakes from muffins. I especially like the one that says a cupcake thrown against a wall goes “poof,” while a muffin flung against a wall goes “thud.” Let’s just say I am more of a muffin kinda guy than a cupcake… Any more concerns on this topic???



  1. lojet says:

    To me cupcakes usually are dainty, light, and rise within the confines of the paper cup making possible the application of icings and frostings whereas muffins are dense and huge on top and spilling over the cup giving rise to the urban term muffin top.http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=muffin+top

    Jul 6, 2007 | 12:35 pm


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  3. Mandy says:

    very timely indeed, i just bought a cupcake at marta matute’s breadshop a while ago. it was really good–a moist butter cake with buttercream frosting. yummy. i have not gone back to sonja’s–maybe i’ll give it a try again when i go to serendra.

    i used to buy english muffins in the grocery–it was a local brand that i can’t recall right now. but it was years ago since i last bought them. wonder if they’re still available…

    Jul 6, 2007 | 1:39 pm

  4. bluegirl says:

    I just finished reading the “Cupcakes by Sonja” post. Whew, that was a long one! But interesting!

    Marketman, did you ever get to try the other cupcakes mentioned? Like Roshan’s, Martha Matute, Becky’s, and Ibaeta (I think that’s wrong… I knew I should have written it down)? I am totally curious how you found their products!

    Jul 6, 2007 | 2:42 pm

  5. Marketman says:

    bluegirl, I had Roshan’s chocolate cupcakes, they were quite good if I recall correctly. I had a cake from Martha Matute, but not her cupcakes yet. The Cake was fabulously decorated. I don’t think I have had a Becky’s cupcake. And I have had Baba Ibazeta’s rhum cake and cookies, but not her cupcake. I really wanted to do a cupcake taste-off, by quitely ordering say two dozen cupcakes from each purveyor then doing a blind taste test with 12 volunteer marketmanila readers…but it just seemed so HOT an issue after the Sonja’s post. And I have a Magnolia Bakery post in the weeks ahead…the place that seems to have started the recent resurgence in cupcake (cutesy ones)mania…

    Jul 6, 2007 | 3:26 pm

  6. mila says:

    Just to throw in another name into the hat, the “english muffins” are very close to what the brits call crumpets. They’re served slathered with butter, those holes are perfect for soaking in all the melted goodness.

    Jul 6, 2007 | 3:41 pm

  7. Marketman says:

    mila, then we head into scones country… :)

    Jul 6, 2007 | 3:44 pm

  8. allen says:

    Muffins seem “healthier” than cupcakes?

    Jul 6, 2007 | 5:11 pm

  9. Katrina says:

    Oh, I miss real English muffins! Like Mandy, when I was young we used to buy a local brand in Rustan’s that had those wonderful little holes — given my love of butter, I jsut loved how they soaked it up! Recently, I saw a nice-looking box of English muffins (I think Village Gourmet?) and got all excited to eat them again. I tried prying it apart with a fork, but it wouldn’t split, so I had to use a knife. Imagine my disappointment when I saw it was almost flat inside, no nooks and crannies! :-(

    Jul 6, 2007 | 6:12 pm

  10. paolo says:

    Stirring the pot more…

    Are Thomas English Muffins, muffins?


    Jul 6, 2007 | 6:49 pm

  11. paolo says:

    as oppose to this kind of muffins:


    Jul 6, 2007 | 6:52 pm

  12. jingle says:

    Will our very own “makabayan” or “kababayan” fall into a muffin category? it did bounce after hitting the wall.

    Jul 6, 2007 | 7:24 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    paolo, yup, I think thomas’s are characteristic of an English Style Muffin, dating back to the 1700’s, while the wikipedia muffins are characteristic of an American Muffin, which probably came later… jingle, good one… I actually snickered when I read that… if in the shape of tiny muffin tin, I suppose one could say they qualify as a “muffin”… actually, more than bounce, I would think they would stick to the wall…hahaha. :) allen, maybe the healthy connotation comes from the fact that popular muffin flavors in the U.S. include oat, bran and corn muffins?

    Jul 6, 2007 | 7:26 pm

  14. Apicio says:

    To Jingle, yes I would consider our “kababayan” a muffin. On the other hand, “mamon” is a sponge cup-cake. In Toronto, English muffins are interchangably called crumpets. They are cooked like hot-cakes in griddles in conjuction with pastry rings. Scones are baked and are closer to bakingpowder biscuits.

    Jul 6, 2007 | 8:31 pm

  15. Myra P. says:

    MM, your should try baba ibazeta’s mini cupcakes. One cupcake, one mouthful…. just peel off the wax and pop the whole thing in your mouth. Like cupcake sushi! Perfect for mindless eating.

    Ive had Magnolia and Buttercup cupcakes in NYC, the icing is what makes the difference, but if i compare cake to cake, I actually prefer baba’s yellow cupcakes :) A quick aside, you should try her coconut cake one day. To die for.

    Jul 7, 2007 | 12:08 am

  16. Maria Clara says:

    Thomas’s English Muffin is the base for an egg benedict. Cupcakes are served in most office monthly birthday celebration for ease of serving and any leftovers travel well for employees to take home. It stays fresh longer since the cupcake is not exposed to humidity the bottom sitting in paper cup and top sealed with frosting. Each alphabet of the famous Happy Birthday greeting is piped into an individual cupcake and arranged in a box with a lacy board.

    Jul 7, 2007 | 12:27 am

  17. Mila says:

    There’s a place in New York that started selling the “muffin tops”: so many muffins were being baked extra large and with an extra overhang along the rim. Folks would eat the top part, but discard the rest of the muffin. So someone came up with the idea of just selling that part, the mushroom cap of the muffin. It was probably because with the supersized nature of the muffin, the cap was enough to fill one’s tummy. One large muffin was probably 2 to 4 servings anyway. No longer healthy eating.

    And “muffin top” also describes the overhang of a person’s tummy, usually when it hangs over a pair of jeans.

    Scones, love them when hot and fresh, with dollops of cream and jam. Not the kind you find locally that’s been sitting all day in the display case, hard and dry with a few raisins for consolation.

    Jul 7, 2007 | 12:55 am

  18. Apicio says:

    Ahh muffin tops. I am like Elaine (from Seinfeld) who only likes the tops of muffins because they are crisp and tender at the same time and they are easier to dislodge from the pan, specially when you do not use those paper cups which half of the muffin stumps (bottoms) stick to anyway. Within a few months of that (May 1997) episode airing, muffin top pans were all over the place. I even bake individual coffeecakes in them now.

    Jul 7, 2007 | 4:54 am

  19. bluegirl says:

    This is off topic but didn’t know where else to put this. I want to say a big “Thank you” to you. Because of your Meyer lemon & Key Lime post, I learned that dayap = key lime!

    I’ve always wanted to taste Key Lime but I thought it was not available here. Today, I found dayap in our Saturday market and I’m going to try something Key Lime tomorrow! Given this topic, I just might try making Key Lime Muffins!

    Now, all I have to do is to hunt for Meyer Lemons! =)

    Jul 7, 2007 | 2:50 pm

  20. Marketman says:

    bluegirl, I have a recipe for a dayap pie in the archives, it was incredibly good, but incredibly rich and sweet…

    Jul 7, 2007 | 2:57 pm

  21. edel says:

    what about the ‘bonete’ sold in the provinces? these are muffins right? though its becoming a rarity nowadays

    Jul 8, 2007 | 1:03 am

  22. Marketman says:

    edel, sorry, I am not so familiar with a “bonete”…

    Jul 8, 2007 | 2:34 pm

  23. carmina says:

    in our province (mindoro), bonete is an alternative for pandesal. it’s oilier but delicious when hot. i never considered it a muffin, but i could be wrong.

    Jul 8, 2007 | 4:46 pm

  24. Chal says:

    Speaking of cupcakes, have you tried Cuptails?


    Jul 12, 2007 | 2:28 pm

  25. liza says:

    I haven’t tried your muffins but according to some of my friends it’s really amazing. I tried sonja’s but the cupcakes there is very expensive and not as good as it looks like.

    I was looking for something that is not only appealing in the eyes. It must be affordable and easy to sell.

    If you can give me details pls keep in touch since i wanted to have a kiosk here in our mall in Lipa City.

    thanks and more power!

    Oct 4, 2007 | 12:03 pm

  26. ruby says:

    cake is done using the creaming method or foaming method where the first stage is devoted to properly incorporating air into the mixture. Blending method results to quick bread products such as muffins. the resulting crumb for blending method made products such as muffin is supposedly crumbly (assuming the baker did not overmix the batter or it will be tough and really tight…gummy as well). as opposed to a cupcake or cake, you can take the piece out as a whole and wouldnt crumble (but not tough) as compared to products made through the blending method.

    The book you cited mentioned cake flour. Cake flour is especially capable of providing the fluffiness to the cake because of the bleach in cake flour. Bleaching agent specific to cake flour production is chlorine, which deteriorates gluten and thus the starches have higher tolerance to high ratio of liquid in the batter. Chlorination of flour is now banned by the European Union because of its health risks to consumers.

    All cake flours are bleached; if it is not bleached, then it is simply pastry flour (Pastry and Cake flour come from Soft Wheat…cake flour undergoes further processing – bleaching). Cake flour is also ideal for recipes such as the pound cake (the dummified recipe you mentioned) which has high ratio of liquid and sugar to flour in the batter.

    Speaking of high ratio liquids, most of the cakes we have commercially available and mass produced contain high-ratio hydrogenated fat that has transfatty acid. The high-ratio shortening has the ability to emulsify more liquid into the batter with little quantity of stabilizer such as flour necessary, thus minimizing the cost of the baked products.

    Let’s educate Filipino consumers on what they are taking in. High ratio products taste good but consumers should be aware. Just like consumer advisories reminding customer’s about health risks associated with eating raw or undercooked products, consumers should also know the potential risks with widely utilized ingredients present in what they are eating. So even if in the end consumers still choose products containing those, it may be a health-wise sound choice, but at least, it was an informed decision for them to make.

    Sources: How Baking Works by Paula Figoni
    On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
    Baking and Pastry Book The Culinary Institute of America

    Oct 10, 2008 | 12:02 pm


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