The Cup Cake Myth

March 12, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Posted in cupcakes | 13 Comments

The cupcake calendar that a few people got for Christmas this year (CB) has information about the origin of the cupcake on the back …

“Cupcakes have been around since the late 18th century. The term “cupcake” is mentioned in E. Leslie’s Receipts of 1828. The name is said to come from the amount of ingredients used to make them – a cup of flour, cup of butter, cup of sugar and also because they were originally baked in tea cups or cup shaped molds.”

I thought it would be fun to try to make the “original cupcakes,” but I was sure that there needed to be a few more ingredients in the recipe. So I went out in search of the actual recipe. There’s a nifty little site out there called Feeding America. The group has scanned a massive number of old famous cookbooks. Check it out because it is the coolest site ever. I kept my fingers crossed that I would be able to find the recipe and that Feeding America would come to my rescue.

Sure enough I was able to find Eliza Leslie’s ‘Seventy-five Receipts For Pastry, Cakes, And Sweetmeats.’ It was the 1932 edition, but editions that close together rarely change too much and there were still 75 Receipts (if anyone can tell me why they called recipes receipts I would greatly appreciate it) so it had to be close.

I got through to the table of contents and saw Cup Cakes. The fact that it was two words seemed to encourage the little myth that has been floating around. Then 61 pages later I got to the recipe I was looking for, but this recipe is a far cry from what that little blurb would have you believe.

Picture from a print screen of images scanned in by Feed America

First, there isn’t a (which I take to mean 1) cup of anything, except milk.

Second, it uses 2 cups of BROWN sugar and two cups of butter.

Third, 5 cups of flour are nowhere near close to 1 cup of flour

Fourth, even though a few ingredients are measured with a tea-cup, they weren’t supposed to be baked in tea cups. The directions said tins.

Fifth, well there is no fifth, but five is a better number to stop on.
While I don’t doubt that Ms. Leslie was the original cup cake master (or at least the first to put it in a cookbook), I do doubt just about everything else in that little blurb. You would think people would do some RESEARCH before putting stuff like that on a calandar that people are going to see and believe. What is even worse, is that now cupcake companies like Cupcakes in Chicago are adding that little blurb to their site (is it me or are the two blurbs almost identical?) People please do not believe everything you read!

I’m still going to try the recipe, but I don’t have any tea cups and I don’t have enough molasses to make them tonight so this tasty little tidbit of info will have to do for now.



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  1. Thanks for that great link, really wonderful that they scanned all those cookbooks!
    And what a stupid calendar maker, like no one was going to check that 😉

  2. Crazy! Awesome website. I agree. Five is a better number. So many great sayings with 5…

    > I plead the 5th
    > I got 5 on it
    > Gimme a high 5
    > Working 9 to 5

    Can’t wait to read your post-baking update! 🙂

  3. Oh, this just reminded me that I just saw less than a week ago that the origin of cupcake was because “back in the day” they didn’t have muffin tins (obviously) so they made individual “cakes” in cups or mugs. Not sure what the real story is!

  4. Way to go, you solved the mystery! They would have gotten away with it if wasn’t for you pesky kids and your psychedelic cupcake knowledge and crazy delicious cuppy-snacks!

  5. They don’t make fairy cakes with real fairies?

  6. LINDA – that site is pretty amazing, I love it
    CB – Working 9-5 is not good … maybe working 4-5?
    CHELLE – She says tins in her recipe which makes me wonder … I’m trying to find when muffin tins were invented. It’s not going well
    BB- you know it 🙂
    LT – Oh they are so made with real fairies … they have to be hehe

  7. First of all, that recipe sounds disgusting to me. Molasses should not be in my cupcakes. I barely like it in my cookies. It is definitely going to have a spice cake type flavor to it and probably quite a crust on it with all that brown sugar. Ick. I can totally see people baking the cupcakes in tea cups just to save from having to buy a new baking pan. They didn’t have Walmart back in the day!

    I found this too, which has quite a bit of interesting info:

  8. […] History of Cakes Nikki from Crazy Delicious got me thinking about the history of cupcakes and how they were named.  In an effort to dig up some alternate theories to the one listed on her […]

  9. Tea cups wouldn’t have been used very frequently because they were expensive. Cups would make more sense, people usually used little tin cups for drinking because glass was pricey. Little kids were often allowed to use on of the cheap little cups (especially a dented or damaged one) to pretend to be a baker with, using the cup as a pie pan with a dough scrap or a cake pan for a little left over batter.

    Muffin tins seem to be common in the early 1800’s, but before that there was a pan that was similar called a gem pan that would’ve been available before then.

    *whimpers at nikki after her researching* You’re rewarding me with a cookie right?

  10. If all history were like this, I might have gone to a “real” college rather than having doodled my way through class and going to art school. Awesome!

  11. I can see you were very productive at work yesterday….rofl

  12. I never know what to believe anymore these days – the internet is great, but there is so much true& false information out there. Makes things better and worse at the same time!

  13. how precious! congrats on being an auntie 🙂

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