Who Invented Cupcakes? | CoachSweetTooth

As you bite into your favorite cupcake and let the sweetness and flavor fill you up, you must have wondered, who invented cupcakes?

Cupcakes seem to have been around forever. At least, that is how most of us see them. But who was the genius who came up with the idea of making a cake the size of a small cup?

The history and invention of cupcakes are somewhat blurry. But most believe that the origins of the cupcake can be found in a book called American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. This was also the first-ever cookbook to be published in the USA and was dated 1796.

Modern cupcakes have become popular as tiny cakes baked in aluminum cups or paper molds. One cupcake is considered to be a single serving to satisfy one person. But we are sure we can differ on that, especially considering the size of the cupcakes in history.

Experienced bakers know that for those who have fallen in love with cupcakes, there is no better way to satisfy their sweet tooth cravings. They believe that the main reason behind the popularity of cupcakes is the convenience they offer and how readily available they are. You can get all the flavors of cakes in bite-sized packages and don’t even need a plate or a knife to enjoy one.

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History of Cupcakes

Cakes have been around for much longer than cupcakes. Several cake recipes have been passed down through generations by sharing with family members and friends. Everyone tried and made their own modifications to the recipe, resulting in better cakes with each generation.

Some historians believe that cupcakes were not exactly invented. Instead, they came about when the bakers, who were primarily working at home making cakes for their friends and family, decided to make a cake for everyone that did not need to be sliced. Everyone knows how kids are, and they were no different back then. Nobody loves to share cake, so it could have been possible that a creative parent came up with the idea of giving each kid their own cake so the family could live in peace and harmony and enjoy their cake time without fights and tantrums.

A theory suggests that since running an oven was quite expensive back then, commercial bakers decided to make smaller cakes, which took less time to prepare. This helped them cut down on the fuel costs, and they could earn better profits.

Yet another theory suggests that in the early days, it is possible that someone decided to bake a cake in a tea or pottery cup, which is also known as a ramekin, or other cup-shaped containers, which led the cupcake to get its name. This name was so catchy that it has stuck on, and now almost any small cake is referred to as a cupcake.


Invention and Development of Cupcakes

The history of cupcakes is quite foggy, and there is no concrete evidence to prove when these tasty treats were actually invented. But the first evidence of small cake recipes can be traced back to the cookbook titled “American Cookery.” Amelia Simmons wrote this book in 1796. However, many believe that she did not use the term cupcake to refer to her recipe. Instead, they were referred to as number cakes since they were always baked in specified numbers according to the people who would eat them. This name stuck on until 1828.

The earliest documentation to contain the name cupcake is another cookbook titled “75 Receipts for Cakes, Pastry, and Sweetmeats.” This book was published in 1828 and authored by Eliza Leslie. Little did Eliza know that she was laying the foundation for what was to become a dessert that almost everyone around the globe would enjoy for centuries to come.

Eliza’s recipe became quite popular even during the 19th century. In 1871, a baker decided to modify the recipe to develop a second official recipe for the cupcake. This recipe also became popular and sold like hotcakes (pun intended) for decades to come.

In 1919, an American bakery called the Hostess introduced the cupcake on a commercial level for the U.S. market. This was the first time you could walk into a bakery and purchase a cupcake of your own without going through the hassle of baking or dealing with recipes. From then onwards, the “number cakes” or cupcakes, as they were now known, became available in numerous restaurants and bakeries as desserts.

The cakes had an elegant appearance and were small and bite-sized. Even with their small size, they looked well-balanced and attractive, which was essential for both consumers and bakers. They served as economic and delicious treats. From then onwards, they only became better!

A year after the commercial launch of cupcakes, some genius baker added frosting to the cakes in 1920. Frosted cupcakes quickly became popular, and nearly everyone loved them because how can you go back to plain cake when you have had it with vanilla or chocolate frosting?

Over the next two decades, there were no significant changes in cupcakes. After all, most people thought small bite-sized cakes with frosting on top were the best invention since sliced bread. However, in the 1940s, bakers tried to cut down the cost and added malted icing to the cake instead of frosting. It was just as delicious but less expensive.

It was not until 1947 that a baker called D.R. Rice, or as his friends called him, Doc, was able to redesign the cupcakes to a shape and size similar to what we consume today. Before his redesign, cupcakes were relatively small and bite-sized. Doc increased the size and started selling larger cakes, which continue to be found until today.

Cupcakes Continue To Be Loved Until Today

Luckily for us, we can find cupcakes in all flavors we dream of. From the traditional vanilla and chocolate, we can have cupcakes in exotic flavors such as peanut butter, avocado, cinnamon, and even dragon fruit. Modern technology has also added further treats to them, such as chocolate or cream oozing out of the bottom of the cake as you take a bite. They are also available in all sizes and shapes, ranging from tiny, medium, to large, and can be found shaped like stars, traditional cupcakes, and any other shape you can imagine.

Where diehard cupcake fans still prefer the old chocolate and vanilla frosting, cupcakes today are available with all kinds of frostings ranging from cream cheese to buttercream and so many more.

However, many cupcake fans believe that they have lost their original essence ever since these little treats have gone commercial. Companies are focusing on adding variety, developing new flavors, and maintaining high production levels instead of perfecting one recipe.

But some bakers value quality and taste over quantity. These bakers produce cakes with the right consistency and the right amount of flavor. Their cakes do not feel like you are gnawing on rocks, nor do they dismantle into crumbs as soon as you take your first bite.

Many bakers have become cupcake artists and are always trying to perfect their products. This is why you can find cupcakes in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Do you know that the largest cupcake ever made was 2,594 pounds? Georgetown Cupcake made it at their shipping headquarters located in Sterling, Virginia. They completed this cupcake on 2nd November 2011.

The First Cupcake Recipes

As discussed above, there are two documented recipes for cupcakes. One is from Amelia Simmons, and the other is from Eliza Leslie. Let us look at the recipes these two cupcake inventors came up with.

Amelia Simmons

Amelia called her cake “light cake in small cups” in her book. However, historians think that she always made a large number of cakes for many people. She often numbered the cakes as she prepared and served them to make sure everyone got one. Her cakes became more commonly known as number cakes.

Her recipe for the light cake in small cups, which is found in her cookbook American Cookery is as follows:

  • Half a pound of butter
  • Half a pound of sugar
  • Combine the butter and sugar into two pounds of flour and rub
  • One glass of rosewater
  • One glass of wine (ok, now this is getting awkward)
  • Two glasses of Emptins (we don’t know what that is. Bakers think that it might be some kind of leavening agent)
  • Currants, cinnamon, and nutmeg (the amounts of these are not mentioned in her book)

Her recipe was kept incomplete. Chances are, she did not want her innovative recipe stolen. We don’t know about you, but we would certainly not want to steal a cake recipe that includes wine and nutmeg.

Nevertheless, this recipe is the first one documented for any cake made and served in a cup. It is often classed as the founding recipe on which the following recipe by Eliza Leslie was built.

Eliza Leslie Recipe

As we discuss the recipes for cupcakes, you might have these lovely treats float around your head. But back in the 19th century, the meaning of the name cupcake was entirely different. It is hard to imagine how Eliza came up with the name because the measuring cup wasn’t even invented back then. Bakers and chefs used scales to measure the amount they would use in their recipes.

Eliza decided to omit this complicated method and measure everything using a cup. Some claim it was a teacup, while others say it was a pottery cup. But this idea became revolutionary and significantly increased the efficiency of cooks and bakers.

Her recipe was as follows:

  • Five eggs
  • Two cups of fresh butter
  • Two cups of brown sugar
  • Two cups molasses
  • One cup milk
  • Five cups of flour
  • Half cup ginger
  • Half cup powdered cloves and allspice.

Cut the butter into the milk and heat gently. Also, heat the molasses and stir them into the butter and milk mixture. Then slowly add sugar while stirring. After all, sugar has been added, put it away to allow it to cool.

Very lightly beat the eggs and then add them to the mixture while stirring. Alternate with flour, which means add one egg, then add one cup of flour before adding the next egg. Add the other spices and ginger, and beat the whole mixture very hard.

Butter small tins, add the mixture to each tin, and nearly fill them up. Bake the cakes at moderate heat in the oven.

The Name Cupcake

Historians differ on the reason behind the name cupcake. Some say that they were called cupcakes because the cakes were made and served in cups. While others believe that Eliza Leslie gave the cakes their name because she used only cups to measure the contents of the recipe.



Lori Gilmore

Lori Gilmore

Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.

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