Muffins & Cupcakes: Why they are different.

I found a lot of talk and misconceptions about the similarities and differences between a muffin and a cupcake online. Some say a muffin becomes a cupcake when there is frosting on it. Some say that cupcakes are smaller than muffins. That is incorrect, here is my take on it. Let’s conquer the cupcake first.


  • A cupcake is essentially the same as a whole cake. It is simply baked and served in a portion to serve one individual.
  • It is usually frosted (like those in the photos above) and decorated. It is common to see it at birthday parties and weddings.
  • It is sweet and hence eaten mostly as a dessert or a sweet treat.
  • An un-frosted cupcakes does not equate to a muffin.
  • Butter is usually used in a cupcake recipe.
  • Conclusion: A cupcake is a cake.


Source: Wikipedia

  • A muffin is one of the easiest things to bake (although I’ve had my fair share of failures, will give you tips to succeed in baking a muffin). It is simply mixing the wet and dry ingredients together and some recipes do not even require the use of an electronic beater or whisk.
  • It can be frosted or not frosted. For fruit muffins, I like to use a crumble on top (recipe in the next post).
  • It can be sweet or savoury and is mostly eaten during breakfast or tea.
  • A frosted muffin does not equate a to cupcake.
  • Oil is usually used in a muffin recipe.
  • Conclusion: A muffin is a type of bread (quick bread).

I hope this clarifies the difference between a cupcake and a muffin better. Watch out for my next post on my experience with baking muffins.

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69 Responses to “Muffins & Cupcakes: Why they are different.”

  1. Rosie Says:

    This is a great post and you are so right about cupcake or muffins 😀

    Spooky thing – I just made white chocolate muffins today!

    Rosie x

  2. bodytreats Says:

    Babe, you know what, after baking for so long, and eating so many cupcakes and muffins, I still cannot explain their differences. Your post makes it really easy to understand and remember. Cupcake = cake, muffin = bread, and the rest of the differences will fall into place.

    I want to bake next week! 🙂

  3. amsiewong Says:

    Rosie: Thanks! 🙂 Mmmm sounds like delicious muffins, gosh I haven’t baked for a while now.

    bodytreats: Glad I managed to help my dear, yes to baking! It surely de-stresses.

  4. Fruit Muffin Crumble Topping Recipe. « Curious Foodie. Says:

    […] Curious Foodie. I seek to feed the curious soul in my tummy. « Muffins & Cupcakes: Why they are different. […]

  5. Venus Muffinpants Says:

    Nice explanation!! But what really matter is that both are damn yummy!!!


  6. amsiewong Says:

    Venus Muffinpants: Yes yes, I have to agree with that. 😛

  7. Stef Says:

    This is such a hot topic. I posted about it here:

    And then again when I made steamed cupcakes:

    I do really like your description. Although, it is so often broken. I’ve had many a muffin that is more of a cake than a bread.

    • Kay Says:

      He/she mentioned that muffin is a quick bread (like brownie), not bread-bread. Quick bread is a mixture of leavening agents and yeast, not just yeast alone, which explains the texture difference compared to bread. While cupcake is just a smaller whole cake with the same texture.

      • David Says:

        A quick bread does not have yeast, that is why it is a quick bread. the leavening agent requires no time to rise as it does so while cooking, whereas yeast bread must be risen before it is baked.

  8. amsiewong Says:

    Stef: I like your second post on steaming cupcakes, its cool! Next time I’ll try and let you know how it turned out. 🙂 Thank you for the links.

  9. Vanilla Versus Vanilla « Diet, Dessert and Dogs Says:

    […] A few Googled pages later, I discovered that the cupcake versus muffin debate was already in full swing among bloggers and other writers (two good sources are recipezaar’s concise take on the issue, and the more detailed viewpoint on Curious Foodie’s blog). […]

  10. zanazainal Says:

    thanks…at last what I search for,I’ve already found…I can use it to expalin to my students…

  11. amsiewong Says:

    @zanazainal: Glad it is useful 🙂

  12. Natalia Says:

    Hi, thanks for the explanation, I wanted to know the difference. I am from Chile and we usually make big cakes, not individual cupcakes or muffins. I want to ask you something about the recipe. I make cakes since I was a little girl and my recipe has been: you mix a cup of sugar with a little of oil, then you add two eggs and beat it very well; then you pour two cups of sift flour and one spoonful of baking soda and beat it. I add half cup of milk to the mix, I think that is optional, but that soften the mix a little. My family likes the cake that way, but I prefer it a more crumby and soft, like cupcakes. How do you make them?

    Yesterday I tried to make cupcakes with four eggs instead of two, only one cup of flour, half cup of butter and one grated apple with cinnamon. First they were very high but then it started to low, and they got plane.

  13. Are These Just Cupcakes Or Are They Muffins? « Nibbles of Tidbits, a Food Blog Says:

    […] […]

  14. Are These Just Cupcakes Or Are They Muffins? @ Real Quick Bite Says:

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  15. amsiewong Says:

    @Natalia, hey thanks for the visit 🙂 For me what makes cupcakes and muffins different is precisely the ratio of all the ingredients. It’d be great to experiment within the ratio the recipe states 🙂

  16. CulinaroNYNY Says:

    Strictly speaking, muffins are not bread at all, contrary to popular belief. bread is made from dough. Cake is made from batter. It matters not whether the end product is sweet, if it’s made frm batter, it’s cake. Even some things we traditionally call “bread, ” such as banana bread, pumpkin bread, zuchini bread, and yes, even cord bread and quick bread, are all batter based, and therefore, cake. The difference between muffins and cupcakes is the kind of flouer used and the amount of fat used. Most traditional cakes are made with fine cake flour, where as muffins and other “quick breads” are usually made with an all-purpose flour. Yes, I know, we have all used all-purpose flour in our cake recipes, too, but we usually mix it at higher speeds and this has a tendency to smooth out the batter and increase the effects of the gluten in the flour.

    Muffins are made with all-purpose or “baker’s flour” and are hand mixted to a sometimes lumpy batter. There is also a much higher fat content in muffin batter. A pan of 6 huge or 12 medium-sized muffins might require a whole stick of butter or more, as well as some milk or cream.

    So, call it what you like, but if it comes from batter (even if it’s shaped like a muffin or a loaf) it’s still technically cake.

  17. Jake19 Says:

    now what are the muffin cupcake hybrids at resturants like famous dave’s for example? What would you call that? It’s kinda cake like, it crumbles like a cake but doesn’t strike me as a cupcake its kinda sweet but i dunno if id decorate and frost it up.

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  19. Flyboy Says:

    That is the worst post I’ve ever read… so basically a cupcake is a little cake (no, really? … in a cup?), eaten at parties and a muffin is not eaten at parties but for breakfast and tea… Well hoo ha… Can we please have a description of the tangible difference… ie: The different ingredients…

    … and can I have a cupcake with my tea? … Pretty Please… Does that make it a muffin?

  20. erica Says:


  21. shirese Says:

    The best way for me to get clarification is to see a basic or same flavored muffin/cupcake recipe that would yield the same amount of product. For instance a chocolate muffin vs a chocolate cupcake that both yield the same amount.

  22. Tran Diep Hue Man Says:

    Thanks for your sharing. Now I have a clear thoughts of cupcake and muffin.

  23. cat Says:

    tks for your post, im trying to share it in chinese, hope u dont mind.

  24. Sweet Pea Chef Says:

    Thanks for the info! Funny how there’s so much controversy around this subject. 🙂

  25. josephmartins Says:

    I decided to research this today just to read what others have written about it.

    My conclusion…the difference comes down to ingredient quantities and preparation. Everything else is irrelevant and largely subjective.

    I have used the same types of ingredients in both types of recipes (muffin and cake/cupcake)…including oils, butter and several different types of flours.

    The only consistent difference: the amounts of each ingredient, and somewhat less, the method of preparation.

    • amsiewong Says:

      Hi Joseph, your explanation is sound, concise and objective – thank you for your inputs, I really do appreciate it. 😉

      Readers like you help make this blog entry (in it’s entirety) a valuable one for the online food community. 🙂

  26. I'm a full-time mummy Says:

    Thanks for the clarifications. I was wondering whether I’m using the right terms… phewww…

  27. Muffins de ciocolata pentru Halloween « Bucataria Adrianei Says:

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  28. When is a Cupcake not a Cupcake?…This and Other Eternal Life Questions… « {love+cupcakes} Blog Says:

    […] The Curious Foodie has a very short (and quite convincing) explanation, here. […]

  29. Alexandra Says:

    I just want to say that, while I find your descriptions helpful, there are a few things that don’t really serve as differenciators. As a vegan who bakes a lot, vegan cupcakes do use oil, and no butter; so these 2 points are not really universal differenciators between muffins and cupcakes.

  30. Sue White Says:

    Hi amsiewong
    Great explanation. I’ve been baking muffins for quite a while now but my first try at cupcakes today. Didn’t have any paper cases (I haven’t been able to find any here in South Africa) though so I put the mixture straight into the tin. Now I know why you need the cases for cupcakes – I had to wash the tin but muffins just roll out. Yes I’m going to have a go at “posh” icing them aswell see what my grandchildren think of them. Unfortnately I still had to alter the ingredient amounts as I live 6000 ft above sea, but at least I know that’s necessary. Thanks for the info, I think it’s really good and easy to understand. Regards

  31. Banana 20muffins | Mydaddysitter Says:

    […] Muffins & Cupcakes: Why they are different. « Curious Foodie.Even some things we traditionally call “bread, ” such as banana bread, pumpkin bread, zuchini bread, and yes, even cord bread and quick bread, are all batter based, and therefore, cake. The difference between muffins and cupcakes is the kind of flouer used and the amount of fat used. […]

  32. Lemon Muffins on a Whim « trufflehogs Says:

    […] the presence of frosting is the key difference between muffins and cupcakes. Did a quick google and curiousfoodie claims there’s more difference than meets the eye. But anyway, if my lemon […]

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    Hello curious foodie. I have offered a link to Muffins and Cupcakes: Why they are different on my latest post bc I was trying to prove a point that you happen to cover very thoroughly right here. I hope that’s okay with you 🙂

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  38. Brittney Says:

    Hey I need to do science project on cupcakes using different oils like sunflower canola vegetable and saffola oil can yu give me some research please thank you brittney.

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  40. mizarwen Says:

    now i understand more 🙂

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  44. lauriet Says:

    My wife bought M&S Muffin recipe book last week. Total disappointment. Not those big shop “muffins” but solid texture. Seems double flour and loads of liquid doesn’t equate with light airy results! So if you want a shop-type muffin, cook cupcakes or fairy cakes as we used to know them.

  45. lauriet Says:

    I have to add that the illustrations in the muffin book indicate them to be soft and airy. Something wrong here

  46. Cupcake versus Muffin | tickledpinkpatisserie Says:

    […] take on the debate is at Curious Foodie, where it is argued that the difference lies in the type of baked good they are. Curious Foodie […]

  47. Wraggamuffins Says:

    I wrote a blog post about this explaining the differences. It’s not just about icing, or size… they are actually very different:

  48. James Becker Says:

    So if I bite into a bite-sized cake-like buttermilk bread type cupcake then I might call it either a cupcake or a muffin.

  49. Says:

    Hi there! This post could not be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this information to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a great read. Thank you for sharing!

  50. sam Says:

    From the explanation I think you are correct

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  52. manpreet Says:

    cakes and muffins…………..could never differentiate.i bought a muffin when it was labeled as muffin and cupcake when labeled as cake .thanks for a satisfactory answer


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  54. Ncamiso Mavimbela Says:

    Thanks for explaination

  55. Ncamiso Mavimbela Says:

    Thanks for explaination

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  60. Philip Baker Says:

    The muffins I know are entirely different to the things that you describe as muffins. They are flat, round and made of a bread mixture. I have known muffins all my life in the United Kingdom (I am 66) and they are still widely available. They are, of course, called muffins, not English muffins. American muffins (the things like cup cakes) have only appeared in this country relatively recently, through American coffee shops, fast food chains and the like, and like so many other American terms ‘muffins’ is now taking over from its original meaning here and edging out our terminology almost altogether. I did some research on muffins and found that they date back at least to the 10th century. How did Americans come to give this name to a more recent product that is entirely different?As I said, in England they are known as muffins, not English muffins. I have heard that what Americans call ‘English Muffins’ are in fact crumpets, also very popular. Crumpets and muffins are about the same size, but that is the only similarity. Crumpets are made with a sort of batter mixture. They are very light and have lots of holes in the top side (good for letting butter soak into). Muffins are made with a bread mixture. They are heavier and more dense than crumpets. They do not have holes in them.

  61. Different Between Muffins & Cupcakes | yannzcakecupcakecom Says:

    […] It can be frosted or not frosted. It can be sweet or savoury and is mostly eaten during breakfast or tea. A frosted muffin does not equate a to cupcake. Oil is usually used in a muffin recipe. Conclusion: A muffin is a type of bread (quick bread). Source : […]

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