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Ask Paul: What is the Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins?

By Paul Adams Published

Are they cousins or identical twins?

This question came up over a so-called red velvet muffin. With its dainty dab of frosting and seductive vanilla-cocoa fragrance, this bakery item seemed for all the world like a cupcake. In what way, exactly, did it deserve the name muffin?

Classic, familiar muffins—the corn or blueberry ones that nobody suspects of being cupcakes—are often made using a mixing method called the muffin method. The combined liquid ingredients, including melted butter or another liquid fat, are mixed into the combined dry ingredients just enough to make a batter; lumps in the batter translate into a somewhat coarse, breadlike crumb when the muffins are baked. (Often—not always—the batter is coaxed into a bulging, overflowing top by baking at a higher temperature than other baked goods.) 

Cupcakes (like cakes) are commonly made using the “creaming method”: Solid fat and sugar are combined, trapping some air; then dry and liquid ingredients are added, producing a finer, more delicate crumb. 

Seems like a reasonable rule of thumb; simply ask the baker how the baked good was made, and if it was the muffin method, you can be confident you’re eating a muffin. If the baker’s already left for the day though, is it safe to judge by the texture? 

Maybe not. As baking expert Paula Figoni writes in How Baking Works, “muffins are often mixed using the muffin method” but “[the] creaming method produces lighter muffins with the finer crumb of a cake.” So if some muffins are made using non-muffin mixing methods, is there a hard-and-fast rule? Perhaps we can simply trust our instincts: if it has the sweet richness of a cupcake, the tender, compact dome of a cupcake, might it still be a muffin?

Personally, I stand by the elegant and simple rule presented in Joseph Amendola’s book Understanding Baking: “If it is too rich to tolerate a pat of butter, it’s not a muffin.”

Recipe Best Blueberry Muffins

The best guarantee of a great blueberry muffin is to start with great blueberries. We wanted a recipe that would work even with the watery supermarket kind.

Recipe Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling

There’s only so much chocolate you can cram into a cupcake before the texture literally falls apart. To get our fill, we had to think beyond the batter.

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JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.