Cupcakes vs. Muffins, plus a review of some Chicago cupcakes

In yesterday's Chicago Tribune, reporter Trine Tsouderos finds a culinary expert to delineate the difference between cupcakes and muffins:

The difference . . . between a cupcake and a muffin is not in the eye of the beholder--or on the tongue of the taster--but in the hands of the baker.

"Cupcakes contain a batter that can be thoroughly beaten and is usually not sensitive to over-mixing," [Klaus Tenbergen] says.

"Cupcakes are usually very sweet and often meant to be iced or frosted," he adds. "Cupcakes are considered a form of dessert and are usually not meant to be served for breakfast, but there are always exceptions to the rule. A cupcake is a hand-held, mini dessert cake. A cupcake is a sweet handful that needs no knife and no fork. All you need to do is to peel back the paper, eat them and enjoy."

Muffins, on the other hand, are made from a batter that should not be over-mixed, Tenbergen says.

Muffins "are not usually iced, but rather have the addition of toppings like streusel or the like. Muffins are often served with coffee or tea or as a breakfast bread or snack. Muffins are often sweet, but also can be savory. A muffin is a hand-held mini quick bread."

In essence, cupcakes are the one thing you remember about your 1st grade birthday party--besides the fact that some kid cried. Muffins are little quick breads you couldn't imagine serving to a crowd of party-hat-wearing 5-year-olds, but that would be perfect for brunch.

Tsouderos also reviews cupcakes from the following Chicago locales: Cafe Selmarie, Atwood Cafe, Cupcakes, HB: A Hearty Boys Spot, Southport Grocery and Cafe, and Sweet Mandy B's.

To our Chicago readers (and I'm sure there's some of you out there), let us know if you agree with her assessments!


Sarah Retzloff said…
Hello~never thought about cupcakes and muffins in the same thought...who'd a thunk it?
Anonymous said…
I'm trying to make pumpkin cupcakes, you'd think there'd be a recipe somewhere but all I can find are pumpkin muffins! They definitely don't have a mix for it, so I guess I'll make the muffins and see what happens when I frost them - crazy...right?
Anonymous said…
To the poster above, what are you talking about?

There are close to 6000 results for pumpkin cupcake if you search for it in Google. Even Wilton has a recipe for them.
Anonymous said…
heres a great pumpkin cupcake recipe:


4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. canned pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl, add next 6 ingredients and mix well with an electric mixer. Spoon batter into paper lined muffin pans, filling 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool. Frost.


1/2 pkg. cram cheese, softened
3 tbsp. butter, softened
2 1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Combine cream cheese and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients. Beat until smooth.