Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Rise of Cupcakes...with Frosting!

Warning: This article does not involve any vegetables.
I come from a long line of professional bakers: my father was a cook/baker in the military, his grandfather owned a bakery in Kingston, Ontario, his father before him...we have icing sugar in our veins. And one favorite of the family was cake. Cake was the king of all deserts in my house, even the raisin pie my dad made was humbled before his chocolate cake. It didn't hurt my mom was awesome at baking too.

Cupcakes however, were never in their repertoire. They are in mine though as I love these mini cups of heaven. Over the last five years, there's been an explosion of cupcake specific bakeries across Canada. Now the first flush of love is dying down, many of these places are now offering assorted cookies and other pastries as well. But the passion of the cupcake got me thinking...who was the first to develop cakes and cupcakes specifically?

Thank You Miss Simmons!

Cup Cakes (called Fairy Cakes in England) were first mentioned in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons in 1796, the first cookbook written by an American. She was probably a domestic cook in a family and was an orphan. Simmons probably knew about cupcakes from English bakers who made the lighter and smaller version of the cup cake. She writes:
A light Cake to bake in small cups:
Half a pound sugar, half a pound butter, rubbed into two pounds flour,
one glass wine, one do rose water, two do. emptins, a nutmeg, cinnamon
and currants.
Lovely Fairy cakes - note the absence of a tower of icing. But the designs are modern.

Another type of cup cake was the number cake, or 1234 cake, or quarter cakes as the baker could remember how much of what ingredient would go in.  One such Victorian era cup cake recipe that would have been a number cake:

Two cups of sugar, one cup of butter, one cup of milk, three cups and
a half of flour and four eggs, half a teaspoonful of soda, large spoon
cream of tartar; stir butter and sugar together and add the beaten
yolks of the eggs, then the milk, then flavoring and the whites. Put
cream of tartar in flour and add last. Bake in buttered gem-pans, or
drop the batter, a teaspoonful at a time, in rows on flat buttered

To this recipe may be added a cup of English currants or chopped
raisins; and also another variety of cake may be made by adding a half
cup citron sliced and floured, a half cupful of chopped almonds and
lemon extract.

"Hey...let's get nuts and make tiny cakes? What do you think guys...guys?" - English Bakers in Victorian era.

The 20th Century Rises

Further refinement to cup cakes came int he 20th century. As you can tell from the two recipes from above, icing wasn't used. Cupcakes were finally decorated with frosting in the 1920’s and only with chocolate or vanilla. Taking a cue from modern baking methods, the first commercially produced cupcakes were launched around 1918, originally produced by the Taggart Bakery - then bought by Hostess. Early in the 20th century, the advent of multi-cupcake molded tins brought modest mass production methods to cupcake making, and a modern baking tradition was born! (Thanks University of Florida for the info). During the 1940’s cupcakes were available with Malted icing. Then it got even easier to make your own: Cake mixes, sold by Duncan Hines and others, made it easier and more popular to bake cakes and cupcakes at home.

The overwhelming popularity of cup cakes came about in early 2000s with the first cupcake only bakeries in America. Before this, cup cakes were made by general bakeries or at home. Magnolia Bakery in New York gained fame with their cupcakes from the huge hit show Sex and the City. One of the first cupcake only bakery was Sprinkles Cupcakes in 2002 in Beverly Hills.

Here's an amazing infograph just on cupcakes for you to enjoy before you head to the baking bowls to make your own.

history of cupcakes