Which raises an interesting question…

A few readers have registered complaints about my tender muffin rhetoric. They claim that if muffins are tender they’re indistinguishable from cupcakes. That of course raises the question: what’s the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? Though you might not think it, muffins and cupcakes are quite different under the hood.

Even a very tender muffin is nowhere near as a light of crumb as a cupcake. Muffins also have, in general, quite a bit less fat and sugar. A quick bread is what a muffin is, not a cake.

Compare the below blueberry muffin recipe to my yellow cake recipe. The cake contains 13 ounces of cake flour compared to the muffin’s 10 ounces of all-purpose flour. Using that as a base of comparison, the cake has well over double the fat, almost triple the egg yolks and a little less than twice the sugar. Yes, the cupcakes contain sour cream (18% fat), but you see where I’m going here. Muffins and cupcakes aren’t quite apples and oranges, but they definitely aren’t the same thing.

12 thoughts on “Which raises an interesting question…”

  1. Maybe it’s an issue of semantics. I think everyone wants “tender” as opposed to chewy and highly structured like bread. But there’s a different difference between a genoise and a bundt cake and I think that’s the one that’s really in question here.

    Personally, I think of it as density or maybe just texture. I much prefer the substantial density of muffins, bundt cakes and quickbreads to the airiness of cupcakes et al. These things are not tough or glutenous. They’re just, by nature, heftier with a corresponding density of flavor. No doubt because of just the components and ratios you describe.

    Whatever. I’m all for it!

    BTW, I use my muffin, bundt and quickbread recipes interchangeably depending on what pan suits the mood of the day, the portability or the presentation.

    1. I think you’re right on the money there, Rainey. They are denser just by nature. I think that’s why they go down so well for breakfast.

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

  2. Okay, so if muffins and cupcakes aren’t the same thing, are muffin tins and cupcake tins the same thing? I’ve always thought of a muffin as large and a cupcake as small, yet my “muffin tin” is actually cupcake sized.

    1. Great question, Jacki! In fact the molds are the same, though of course cupcakes are made in liners since they’re so delicate. Muffins don’t need liners due to their tougher crumb.

      – Joe

  3. I asked my son, he was about 8, the difference between a muffin and a cupcake. His answer…”frosting.” 🙂

  4. I agree with rainey. I think that the density of the muffin is much more preferable to a cupcake. I’d pick a muffin over a cupcake any day.

    Is it the added fat that makes a cupcake so light?

    1. Hey Samantha! It’s a combination of factors (the pastry flour, leavening, sugar, etc.), but all the fat definitely makes the cupcake extremely tender, much more so than a cupcake.

      – Joe

  5. I totally agree- muffins are denser by necessity. Could you imagine trying to spread some butter or jam on a light fluffy cupcake? The crumb would tear and fall apart. The cake batter already has more fat and flavor and doesn’t need the extra spread.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *