Who Invented The Cupcake?

Cupcake also known as cup cake and fairy cake

cupcakes in a box
Nate Steiner/Flickr/CC0 1.0

A cupcake by definition is a small individual portioned cake baked in a cup-shaped container and usually frosted and/or decorated. Today, cupcakes have become an incredible fad and a booming business. According to Google, "cupcake recipes" are the fastest growing recipe search.

Cakes in some form have been around since ancient times, and today's familiar round cakes with frosting can be traced back to the 17th century, made possible by advances in food technology such as: better ovens, metal cake molds and pans, and the refinement of sugar.

While it would be impossible to say who actually made the first cupcake, we can look at several firsts surrounding these sweet, baked, desserts.

Cup By Cup

Originally, before there where muffin tins or cupcake pans, cupcakes were baked in small pottery bowls called ramekins. Teacups and other ceramic mugs were also used. Bakers soon evolved standard forms of volume measurements (cups) for their recipes. 1234 cakes or quarter cakes became common, so named after the four main ingredients in cake recipes: 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs.

Origins of the Name Cupcake

The first official use of the phrase "cupcake" was an 1828 reference made in Eliza Leslie's Receipts cookbook. A 19th century, American author and homemaker, Eliza Leslie wrote several popular cookbooks, and incidentally also wrote several books of etiquette. I have included a copy of Miss Leslie's cupcake recipe at the bottom of this page, in case you would like to reproduce her recipe.

Of course, small cakes without being called cupcakes existed before 1828. For example, during the 18th century, there were queen cakes which were very popular, individually portioned, pound cakes. There is also a 1796 recipe reference of "a cake to be baked in small cups" made by Amelia Simmons in her book American Cookery.

I have included Amelia's recipe at the bottom of this page as well, however, good luck on trying to reproduce it.

However, most food historians give Eliza Leslie's 1828 recipe for cupcakes as being the most significant, so I am giving Eliza the distinction of being the "Mother of the Cupcake".

Cupcake World Records

According to Guinness World Records the world's largest cupcake weighed 1,176.6 kg or 2,594 lb and was baked by Georgetown Cupcake in Sterling, Virginia, on 2 November 2011. The oven and pan were custom made for this attempt and the pan was unassembled easily in order to prove that the cupcake was fully cooked and free standing with no support structures in place. The cupcake was 56 inches in diameter and 36 inches tall. The pan itself weighed 305.9 kg.

The world's most expensive cupcake was a fondant topped cupcake appraised at $42,000, embellished with nine .75 carat round diamonds, and finished with one 3 carat round-cut diamond. This gem of a cupcake was created by Areen Movsessian of Classic Bakery in Gaithersburg, Maryland on April 15, 2009.

Commercial Cupcake Liners

The first commercial paper cupcake liners for the US market were produced by an artillery manufacturer called the James River Corporation, motivated by the dwindling military market of the post-war era.

During the 1950s, the paper baking cup became very popular.

Commercial Cupcakes

In 2005, the first nothing but cupcakes bakery in the world was opened called Sprinkles Cupcakes, the folks that also brought us the first cupcake atm.

Historical Cupcake Recipes

Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats - By a Lady of Philadelphia, Eliza Leslie 1828 (Page 61):

  • 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.

A Light Cake to Bake in Small Cups From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons:

  • Half a pound sugar
  • Half a pound butter
  • rubbed (combine the sugar and butter) into two pounds flour
  • one glass wine
  • one glass Rosewater
  • two glasses Emptins (probably some kind of leavening agent
  • nutmeg, cinnamon and currants (no mention of amounts)