On the (interesting) subject of cupcakes

13 09 2011

After I posted the pictures of the rainbow cupcakes on my blog last week, I started pondering: where does the cupcake’s origin lie? Are there any interesting facts about it? When/ where do you serve cupcakes? I’ve probably put more thought into a simple cupcake than most people would give it (other than the obvious fact that it’s ‘pretty’ or ‘tasty’).

So, by doing a little bit of research, I learnt that no one is actually clear about the origin of the treat (its unknown status perhaps adding to its appeal?), but that recipes for the small cake have been in print since the late 18th/ early 19th century. Two hundred years of dainty delights! [NOTE: the Americans claim that they contributed the cupcake to the world of confectionary. Why am I not surprised…] I can just see the women in London during the Season, all a flutter at the treat– fanning their faces, sipping their tea, and remarking on how clever and light these small cakes were:

“How ingenious, my dear Miss Standish, for it could fit in my very teacup!”

“Quite so, Mrs Blake. Indeed they are so pretty to look at, and so small, it might break one’s heart to take a bite.”

“But they are so light and delicate, you see, that they will suit my constitution well – my strength is quite depleted after our journey from Bath, so much that I find myself faint without sustenance.”

“Have another, Mrs Blake, for the bit of sweetness does seem to have brought some rosiness back to your countenance. It would be a shame for you to miss the Duke’s ball tonight.”

“Why thank you, dear child. It would not do for us to be absent… I must ask Mrs Dentley for the recipe of this delightful treat! Indeed, it will be the talk of the ton – I would not be surprised if the Prince Regent himself shows up tonight to compliment her on her excellent taste.”

Okay, I might have gotten a  bit carried away and really stupid, but at least be glad that I didn’t spin a Banbury Tale and have them talking about fairies and mini tea parties *laugh*

What makes a cupcake such a delightful little thing? For one, it usually isn’t very sweet, unless you count the icing (aka frosting) it’s decorated with. One reason why cupcakes might seem and taste ‘plain’ against other confectionary is because the first cakes were more bread-like, i.e. not (very) sweet. [If you think about it, the original dividing line between (cup)cakes and bread is fairly thin, since they use pretty much the same ingredients.] Very basic ingredients – such as butter, eggs, flour – were used, and they only sweetened the cakes up a bit afterwards with honey, nuts and (later) dried fruit.

Oh, and of course they were named ‘cupcakes’ because they were baked in pottery cups, moulds and small bowls. But you probably deduced as much, didn’t you? What you likely didn’t know is that there’s another reason why they were called cupcakes or 1-2-3-4: because the recipe called for cupsful of the ingredients – a cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, four eggs… cups, cups, my kingdom for some cups!

Since a plain cupcake isn’t too sweet, it’s a great treat for people who don’t have a sweet tooth or who might get headaches due to the richness of some cakes. Rich chocolate cake + layers of sticky sweet mousse icing in between + decadently dark gateaux on top = worst. migraine. EVER.

Cupcakes work well for birthday parties, where mom can put a small amount of icing on top, thus reducing the little tykes’ sugar intake (which usually results in a high) and making her job of quieting them down much easier. Cupcakes feature at a kitchen tea/ tea party (where half the fun is ‘ooh’-ing and ‘aah’-ing over the various bite sized nibbles that have been prepared… the other half in eating them); Stork Parties (little treats celebrating the little bundle of joy about to arrive, perhaps signifying how plain and vulnerable it may seem, but what a delight such a sweet little thing can bring); and any other occasion that you can think of.

They are also popular at weddings! Cupcakes are small enough to satisfy everyone, plus the ‘packaging’ allows guests to take them home – it’s not like you need a plastic container to put them in, like a piece of cake, since cupcakes usually come in their own shiny/ aluminium/ paper cups. They are less messy than a large cake, what with people cutting it to pieces, getting crumbs all over the place, smearing chocolate/ icing/ mousse/ gateaux on the organza table runners you hired… you get the idea 🙂 It adds a bit of personal touch, showing that you thought of everyone and that you wanted to ensure that each person would get one (which isn’t always the case with cake; sometimes it even seems like such a bother to hang around waiting for a small slice…)

But enough about that. I promised you a few interesting facts, so here they are:

* The World’s Smallest Cupcake was baked in Great Britain and measured in at 1.5 cm (h) x 3 cm (w)!

* The first cupcakes were covered (‘frosted’) with lard to serve as a kind of gravy… *shudder*

* Winston Churchill suggested that cupcakes should have sweet frosting on top (thank you!!!)

* Apparently Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – by John Lennon – is actually about cupcakes. Huh…

* …and H.P. Lovecraft stated that an overdose of cupcakes led to him creating Cthulhu. Sure, locking yourself in a basement and getting high on the sugar from 12 cupcakes results in weird hallucinations of mythical creatures for all of us.

* There are more than 500 different kinds of cupcakes. That’ll keep cupcakes enthusiasts busy.

* There’s a record for someone consuming 29 cupcakes in 30 seconds. (I wouldn’t want to be his stomach.)

* Cupcakes, along with other baked treats, have been banned from schools in NYC in an attempt to decrease the rising rate of obesity. The sad thing, however, is that some of those kids’ parents are irresponsible and then load them up with as much sugar as their little hearts’ desire (without them getting a bit of exercise or a healthy diet).

* Cats lack the gene that permit mammals to taste sweet things… and yet, my cat seems to like cupcakes (along with other sweet treats!) Guess if you present a cat with something to eat and it doesn’t seem ‘dangerous’ or ‘offensive’, it won’t give two meows about whether it can taste it or not… So keep it all to yourself!! *nom nom nom* [Perhaps now people will stop taking and captioning pictures of cats with sweet treats. The only time it would be ‘suitable’ is if you bring in some irony/ sarcasm. Kitty is not impressed by your cute cupcake. Not. At. ALL.]

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2 responses

13 09 2011
Salóme van Lill

Loved the whole cupcake episode. Just want to add the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, as sung by the late John Lennon, was actually about the drug LSD.
Oh yes, and the “cups cups cups” reminded me of Sleeping Beauty where poor Fauna was looking for cups to use for baking.
Most enjoyable!! xx

13 09 2011
LiskeKitten

I know it was about LSD, but on the internet (not always reliable, but there you go) they said that it’s actually about cupcakes. *laugh*

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