The Maths of a Cupcake

Unprofessional Cookery

I kinda sorta don’t really like cupcakes.

Well, maybe kinda sorta is too definitive.  I mean, I like the frosting on top of a cupcake quite a bit.  Sometimes, such as in the case of a Hostess or Butter Lane variety, I like what’s nestled in the middle.  The paper wrappers can be kind of attractive too.  Perhaps I should just call it what it is then. I just don’t like the cake part of the cup cake.  Also, I’m not thrilled how a vehicle for frosting has been snapped up with gender specific marketing ploys to make them as cute as humanly possible with sparkles and fondant.  (That, I actually find quite infuriating.)

Anyways, my opinions on this aside, I got to wondering where the cupcake came from.  If you think about it, have you seen the Pilgrims tear into a cranberry walnut ganache covered minicake?  There also are precious few paintings of George Washington scarfing down a pink sparkly cupcake anywhere.  So who invented these petite sugar bombs..  and why?

The cupcake was probably born both out of practicality and illiteracy, in all honesty.  Although people probably have been finding inventive uses for excess foodstuffs for centuries and there were small dainty cakes being made for the uppercrust, the first evidence of the modern cupcake surfaced somewhere around the turn of the 18th century.  Lets take a look.

If we ratchet back the clock hands of time a few centuries we can see that there wasn’t much to offer in the way of modern amenities.  Chances are the home cook had a gigantic fireplace to cook on for everything that day and they could get quite sizeable.  Huge!  As in you could sometimes stand up in them!  Thus, temperature regulation wouldn’t have been the easiest thing to monitor and foods with a high moisture content as well as surface area would stand a better chance to burn.  So- a behemoth of a layer cake would probably scorch a lot faster while leaving a raw center while the tiny cupcake would cook through and not burn.  Smart.

Secondarily to this, cupcakes were an easy way to not waste food.  In modern times we have things like measuring cups (and Duncan Hines) to make sure that we don’t make more cake batter than our pans will hold, but two or three centuries ago home cooks were playing it free and easy with their measurements.  Sometimes there was just too much batter to go around with this laizzes faire measurement system.  Rather than waste a lot of hard churned butter it would have been a good choice to bake a small cake in a ramekins as well as a larger one.

There were actual recipes for cupcakes printed as far back as 1826 in American cookbooks, but the term cupcake wasn’t meant in the same way that WE would know cupcakes.  The original point of a cupcake was meant as a point of measurement and the result was probably most in kind to a pound cake or a 1-2-3-4 cake.  As literacy could kind of skate in the early days of the colonial kitchen, most recipes were memorized rather than written.  Thus, it would have been only natural to remember recipes in easy quantities.  The end result would have been baked in a regular cake pan rather than the current metal divoted variety.

The modern cupcake, awash in sprinkles and color, really took off more towards the end of the 19th century as cooking technology improved.  What was once a necessity simply became a desire.  In the early years of the 20th century cupcakes went from simple affairs to much fancier creations involving fillings, frostings, all kinds of stuff.  Hostess started selling the first prepackaged filled cupcakes in 1919, also fueling the fire for snack cake one-upmanship.  Time marched on and this subdivision of cake became ever more detailed, eventually reaching the frenzy of insipidity that we’ve reached today.

Not that, you know, I’m biased.  Anyways, once I realized the practical implications for these sugarbombs, I now have less disdain for these cutesy-wootsey itty bitty squee sugarbombs.  I can save my ire for the more important things in life, such as pens designed specifically for my gender.

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