A Short History of the Cupcake

The cupcake has come a long way in the last several years. Once sidelined as food for kid’s parties, cupcakes have skyrocketed to one of the most famous deserts today. Bakeries devoted entirely to cupcakes have sprung up all over the world, and the amount of TV shows focusing solely on this tasty treat is growing.

While it seems like cupcake popularity is at an all-time high, this isn’t the first time these mini cakes have had the spotlight.

When cupcakes were first invented, people preferred them over regular cakes as the confection of choice for early 19th century bakers and home cooks. This is due in part to the fact that they baked quicker than full-sized cakes and had easier ingredient measurements.

The history of the cupcake gets a little foggy in the beginning, as 19th-century cookbooks have a distinction between cupcakes and cupcakes. At times it is difficult to tell if the term “cupcake” is referring to the treat as it is known today, or using cups to measure a cake in smaller tins or cups.

Early cupcakes were sometimes referred to as “number cakes” because of the simplicity in remembering the number of each ingredient when measuring. This was especially beneficial for a population that was still mostly illiterate.

It’s unclear who came up with the idea of cupcakes, but one possibility is that bakers poured leftover batter from cakes into small clay cups and baked the smaller “cupcakes” alongside the full-sized cake to make the most use of a hot oven when fuel was limited.

Because hearths and early ovens cooked irregularly, standard cakes often emerged burned. Cupcakes faired much better because of their smaller size.

The early 20th century brought the first cupcake tins, and from that point on, cupcakes were an item for mass production, albeit in on a smaller scale than today.

In 1919, Hostess emerged with the “CupCake,” a personal, snack-size cake. Around this time, the first cupcake bakery opened in America.

The modern cupcake craze began in the early 2000s, though no one is exactly sure how it started. In 2003, Sprinkles Cakes began selling gourmet cupcakes starting at $3.50, and they credit themselves as the primary instigators of the fad.

Others say that public interest ignited after an episode of “Sex and the City” where Miranda and Carrie ate cupcakes from Magnolia’s Cupcakes. The show was the start for various trends in fashion, so its no surprise that a culinary fad emerged from this popular show, as well.

A slew of reality TV shows centering around baking and cupcakes emerged on a variety of stations looking to cash in on the craze during this time. While many of these shows were short-lived, viewers continued to eat up anything cupcake-related. From its humble beginnings as a ramekin to an icon in American culinary television and pop culture, cupcakes have remained one of the country’s favorite treats, and will probably remain so for years to come.