~ The Differences Between: Cupcakes and Muffins ~
Cupcakes and muffins. Past their shape and portable-foodness, they have less in common than one might think. The fast, simple generic answer is: Cupcakes are fancy little cup-sized cakes and muffins are plain little cup-sized quick-breads. Served with an ice-cold glass of milk or cup of piping hot coffee, rare is the person who would take a pass on either. That said, I will always choose a muffin over a cupcake. Sorry cupcake -- this post is going to be a bit biased.
Shape. They're both baked in multiple-cupped pans, to produce individual-sized, portable portions. Prior to the invention of the pans, they were baked in cup-sized pottery ramekins. Sometimes, for ease of serving, paper liners are placed in the cups, except: paper liners prevent browning on the outside (which I think is fine for cupcakes but not for muffins) so, I only use them for coarse, crumbly, bready corn and/or cheese muffins.
Cupcakes require a cake recipe. Muffins require a bread recipe -- Never the twain shall meet.
A cupcake is made from a cake recipe, often with cake flour, rendering it light and soft. Cupcake batter is the same smooth consistency of cake batter: thick enough to mound slightly when dropped from a spoon back into the bowl, and thin enough to pour from the bowl to the pan. Baking cakes and cupcakes is a precise sport: for best results, all of the dry and wet ingredients should be weighed and measured carefully and at the proper temperature.
A muffin is made from a quick-bread recipe (a quick-to-mix bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a dense, crumby texture. Once the dry ingredients are added to the wet ingredients, while it's important to incorporate them, it's important not to over mix them, even if the mixture appears a bit lumpy. Each mixture looks a bit different and many recipes do not even require an electric mixer -- they just get stirred together.
Cupcakes get frosted &/or decorated. Muffins do not.
Like cakes, cupcakes are piped or slathered with frosting on their tops -- like cakes, some cupcakes are elaborately decorated. Muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops. Both sugar and streusel will add a pleasant crunch to a muffin's top. As a purist, I am here say: muffins should never be glazed or frosted after-the fact (like cinnamon rolls or coffeecakes, which beg for a sweet, creamy enhancement), although there's always a bakery or coffee shop happy to do it and sell it.
A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat: Muffins (like corn or cheese muffins) can be savory too -- a cupcake is sweet 100% of the time. Cupcakes are dessert. Muffins can surely be served for dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast fare. That said, savory muffins (like corn and/or cheese muffins) are great with chili or a stew for lunch, or, a juicy steak or a rack of ribs for dinner.
Savory corn and/or cheese muffins are muffins made from cornmeal and are popular all over the USA. Corn muffins are basicially muffin-shaped cornbread, but, are usually sweeter. Common add-ins are corn kernels, cheddar cheese, bacon bits and or jalapeño peppers. Because corn muffins are made with a healthy amount of cornmeal, they will not have the signature domed-top that other kinds of muffins and their cupcake cousins, which are made with all-purpose flour or cake flour, do.
Muffins are healthier than cupcakes? Add-ins = calories.
Cupcakes and muffins were originally baked at home and the home cook knew that muffins were not as sweet as cupcakes, so, in their basic form, muffins are healthier than cupcakes. When coffee shops and cafés became trendy, muffins were marketed as the healthier alternative to donuts and other pastries. Nowadays, many muffins are so sugar-laden and chocked-full of add-ins, the calorie count is higher than the calorie count in the doughnuts and pastries -- it's seriously deceiving to the unsuspecting consumer. It's lucky for me I like muffins made with bran or oatmeal a lot, so, in the face of danger, that's what I choose when in my local coffee shop.
For anyone to say that muffins are inherently healthier than cupcakes is a misconception -- the muffins at your local bakery or coffee shop often have as many as 600+ calories. Wow.
Fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit purée, nuts, seeds and grains (usually bran or oats) are common additions. As mentioned above, in the recent history of muffins, chocolate, cinnamon, peanut butter, and/or toffee bits have become popular additions too. The latter list of sweets, while not my favorite, are not going to prompt me to call the food police. Even I like a chocolate chip or a toffee bit thrown into my homemade mix occasionally.
That said, when it comes to fruity add-ins to muffin batter, experience has taught me that dried fruits and berries work better than fresh, juicy and/or water-laden ones. For example: Dried cherries or papaya work better than fresh cherries or fresh papaya, and, mashed fruit or thick fruit purées, like applesauce or mashed bananas, are preferable to all liquid fruit juices.
Given a choice between a cupcake or a muffin? My winner is: