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More about the life of a Cupcake

We all love that occasional buttery, creamy, soft and tasty cupcake. Whether it be Victoria sponge with plain buttercream or chocolate sponge with ganache topping. We can all find a space for this little cup of unctuousness. So is this little marvel a new phenomenon or does it have some history. I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of delving and find out.

The first written word alluding to the humble cupcake was from across the pond in 1796 by an American lady by the name of Amelia Simms. Amelia published a book in Connecticut called American Cookery. She was a trail blazer for doing things the American way as all previous cook books originated from the UK. This appears to be the first written mention of what we now know as a cupcake described in the book as “a light cake to be baked in small cups.” The main ingredients have altered very little over the years. At one time these little cakes were called number cakes or 1234 cakes referring to the proportions of the ingredients which were one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, four eggs, one cup of milk, and one spoonful of soda. I’m not sure what happened to the last two ingredients??? These airy little cakes did not appear to make an appearance in the UK until much later in the 18th to 19th Century when the dense yeast based sweet bread gave way to the much lighter baking soda sponges. And the sponge cake was born in the UK.

It is around this time that the French Revolution was in full swing with peasants starving and roaming the streets of Paris looking for food. It was alleged that Marie Antoinette, a French princess, when advised of the starving masses said “Let them eat cake.” However, it would appear this may have been a bit of a tall tale as she was believed to have been a kind hearted humanitarian. The tag “let them eat cake” actually appears to have predated her. In fact, scholars have found similar tales around the world including in 16th century Germany where a noblewoman suggested the hungry should eat Krosem (a sweet bread). Folklore suggests that this saying or similar has been used by the wealthy and privileged around the world for eons.

These little cakes have had various name tags such as fairy cakes, patty cakes, buns and more recently cupcakes. In the UK butterfly buns are very popular. The raised dome is cut from the top of the bun, sliced in half to create wings and after buttercream is added to the top of the cake the wings are replaced creating the butterfly effect. On high days and holidays a teaspoon of jam would be added between the wings. My Grandma taught me how to make these. As I have said before, the adults around us as children can have such an effect on what we know and can do as adults.

Making a cake is very therapeutic and the eating and sharing is very pleasurable. Baking cakes including cupcakes is a bit of a science lesson. We may not understand the how and why of the science (Well I don’t) but the combination of ingredients and the baking heat creates a reaction within the mix producing a perfectly (or not on occasion) formed cake. The rise, texture and browning are all affected by the cooking process. We can make some adaptations to the method. I bake my cupcakes for longer at a lower temperature of 140 degrees C. This stops them from drying out and limits the rise. A flatter cupcake is better for my style of buttercream flower piping. This would not work for a butterfly bun as there would be nothing to slice off for the wings!!

So many famous people relate to cake in one way or another.

  • Alfred Hitchcock director of Psycho said “A lot of movies are about life, mine are like a slice of cake.”
  • Steven Wright an American comedian said “Honestly, I just go to restaurants to eat so I won’t die. If there was a pill I could take in January and then I wouldn’t have to eat again for the rest of the year, I would take it. Of course, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my chocolate cake and ice cream.”
  • Dean Koontz thriller author said “Where there is cake, there is hope. And there is always cake.”
  • Even our own Prime Minister Boris Johnson had his say on cake “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.

So, a few random facts about cakes and cupcakes. I hope you found it interesting.

Keep piping
Kerry x