All About Pastry and Baking > A Little History of Cupcakes

The cupcake craze knows no boundaries - people love these little individual cakes! Created in the United States, these little treats are baked in paper cups, covered with buttercream and decorated according to the occasion or the baker's whim. They're served at birthdays and parties. And they're practical: they don't require a plate and fork!

In New York, people line up around the block for them, there are turf wars over their design and heated public debates over whose are best. No longer are they simply slathered or piped with icing - they've become veritable works of art.

In London, they were a hit at last year's Fashion Week, and celebrities are clamoring to order them from a ritzy East End baker, with no thought to calories.

Australia, too, is catching the fever. In Sydney, the recently opened Cupcakes on Pitt is wowing fans with its gorgeous creations, while in Melbourne the mini cakes are popping up at corporate events, product launches, weddings, 21st birthdays - you name it.

The humble little cupcake that was once the province of children's parties has come up in the world. Adults can't resist this little delight that summons up a wave of happy childhood memories. 

What's the origin of the word "cupcake"?

The history of the cupcake goes back to the late 18th and early 19th century. There are two credible explanations for the origin of the name:

The term 'cupcake' is first mentioned in E. Leslie's 'Receipts' of 1828, a time when the tradition of measuring ingredients by weight was giving way in the US to measuring them in cups.  According to "Baking in America" by Greg Patent, this was revolutionary because of the tremendous time it saved in the kitchen.

Other sources, drawing on evidence from old cookbooks, say that the word cupcake is derived from the mold the batter is baked in. In the old days, cupcakes were baked in heatproof individual dishes, such as terra cotta teacups.

For special occasions
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Cupcakes have replaced the traditional wedding cake as the focal point of stylish receptions. Flavored with coffee, vanilla, chocolate - you name it - they're decorated with sugar pearls or transparent crystals and arranged on tiered platters to form a big white cone. They can then be adorned with white flowers or a big ribbon.

I've seen a tower of cupcakes decorated for a wedding with white flowers and frosted pears to add a note of pale green. Magnificently simple!

Garden party
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If you're planning a little garden party, give your cupcakes a spring look with almond paste decorations: daisies, butterflies - let your imagination run free! Choose colors that match your table decorations.

Just for fun
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The flavor, the paper cup, the decoration and even the shape can be infinitely varied. For Valentine's Day, ice them in red with little hearts, for the 4th of July, they can be decked out in red, white and blue. And why not some owls for Halloween?

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See our "cake" section for some great cupcake recipes.

Join the cupcake craze!
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Fabulous little cupcakes, long popular, are now making a splash in London to celebrate the wedding of Will and Kate. Decorated with a crown or Union Jack, they've taken over bakery shelves - and even the Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, baked cupcakes for one of the many street parties organized to celebrate the royal wedding as a benefit for the "Save the Children" fund.

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