Tiny cakes wrapped in colorful paper cups, popular with all age groups, and covered in a fluffy buttercream frosting and sprinkles–we’re talking cupcakes, of course! But what’s the difference between a sweetly topped cupcake and a muffin? We’ll get to the bottom this question and, along the way, give your our tips and tricks for perfect muffins and cupcakes, how to convert cake recipes, and which toppings (other than buttercream) fit the bill.

What’s the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?

What makes a muffin, a muffin?

Thought to have been derived from the German word mouffin, muffins are individual, baked goods or quickbreads that can be either sweet or savory. They’re popular all around the world, and are super fast and easy to make. Simply mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine them and stir just until everything is incorporated. Portion them (ice cream scoops are prefect for this) into a greased or lined muffin tin and they’re ready to bake!

Unlike cupcakes, muffins can be a meal. How about bacon and egg muffin cups for your next lazy weekend breakfast? Maybe follow that up with pizza muffins for dinner? Even spaghetti carbonara can be turned into muffins! Try these Mediterranean muffins as an alternative for side for various comforting soups.

Pumpkin soup with mediterranean muffins

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Muffin toppings are usually not nearly as lavish as cupcake toppings (we’ll get to that later), but it’s quite popular to cover them streusel or dust their tops with confectioner’s sugar. They can also be filled with chocolate spread, pudding, or jam—just like cupcakes. The filling can be baked or added after baking. To bake with the filling, simply add half the muffin batter to the tin, layer on the filling, and top it off with the remaining half of batter. Baked and cooled muffins can be scooped out with a teaspoon or apple corer and filled up as desired.

For those who prefer to stick to the classics, try these blueberry muffins or lemon poppy seed muffins.

Simple lemon poppy seed muffins

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What makes a cupcake, a cupcake?

Cupcakes might be more popular, but they are the so-called “little sisters” of muffins. Without their toppings, cupcakes are often smaller than muffins. At their best they have a smooth surface after baking, unlike muffins with their convex, rounded tops. Basic flavors range from vanilla to chocolate, but rich red velvet cupcakes are a favorite.

Red velvet cupcakes

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Similar to many other cake batters, cupcakes are abundant in eggs and butter and contain baking powder as well as a portion of milk. Cupcake batters are often smoother than muffin betters, resulting in lighter, fluffier cakes.

How to convert a cake recipe for making cupcakes

If you aspire to conjure cupcakes from your favorite cake recipe, the following points should be noted. Cake batter meant for a 9 ½-in baking pan produces approx. 12 cupcakes. Prepare batter as usual and preheat oven to temperature as usual. Bake cupcakes for approx. 15 – 20 min., checking after 15 min.

Toppings and frostings for cupcakes

Frosting is a sweet world of its own and serves as the crucial distinction between cupcakes and muffins. Sugar pearls, sprinkles, and chocolate shavings adorn the frosting or icing to steal the show. When it comes to cupcakes, you’re spoilt for choice between buttercream, cream cheese frosting, ganache, caramel, or meringue—the list goes on and I myself can never decide. The following marshmallow frosting is pure eye candy:

Eggnog cupcakes with marshmallow frosting

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The simplest frosting for cupcakes is buttercream. It can be colored, flavored, and is not very difficult to make. Beat confectioner’s sugar and soft butter until mixture is smooth. Add vanilla (or another)extract or food coloring. Fill buttercream into a piping bag and pipe onto the cupcake. Extravagant decorating tips are great for piping beautiful buttercream blossoms to guarantee the wow effect.

Basic Vanilla Buttercream

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For many cupcake fans buttercream is far too sweet. Luckily for them, there are a wide range of alternatives. To prepare a simple cream cheese frosting with lime, stir cream cheese with confectioner’s sugar and add grated lime zest and a squeeze of lime juice. I personally think the perfect frosting is a mixture of buttercream, cream cheese, and fruit. Find our sweet manual for cake toppings, from frostings to icings here.

The most common mistakes when baking muffins and cupcakes (and how to avoid them)

1. Overmixing the batter

Cupcakes and muffins should only be mixed until the ingredients are incorporated—no longer. To give you a head start, first mix all the wet ingredients together (milk, butter, and eggs) then all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and sugar). Afterwards, mix wet and dry ingredients to a lumpy batter. Overmixed batters lead to collapsed or chewy cupcakes and muffins.

2. Too much baking powder and baking soda

A second reason for collapsing is too much baking powder or baking soda. Too much baking powder allows the cupcakes to rise quickly but can also lead it to collapse later on.

3. Taking too much time

Less dramatic for baking results but not unimportant is to ensure fast processing of the ready-to-bake batter. If you prepare the batter but let it rest while cleaning up or preheating the oven, you’re risking that the air you lovingly stirred into the fluffy batter will escape.

4. Not greasing sufficiently

Baking frustration is bound to occur when the muffins or cupcakes can’t be easily removed from the baking pan or stick to their paper liners. That’s why it’s important to grease the tins and cups thoroughly. Alternatives to paper muffin and cupcake liners (such as silicone baking molds) are really convenient, save greasing, and can be rinsed quickly and easily. I confess that I prefer the classic version with colorful paper liners.

5. The incorrect oven setting

Always preheat the oven before you start making the batter. Every oven is different, so keep an eye on your muffins and cupcakes to avoid overbaking them. We recommend to set a timer for the minimum baking time then test them with a toothpick. If no batter sticks to the toothpick, they’re done!

Our final tips and tricks

How to store muffins and cupcakes: If there is a small cake left from time to time, you can store it in an airtight container up to 3 days. Muffins and cupcakes get dry easily and lose their aroma in the refrigerator. When you have a lot leftover, you can also freeze muffins and cupcakes as long as they are unfrosted. Defrosted and baked, they taste (almost) as good as new and can be decorated as usual.

Gluten-free or vegan muffins and cupcakes: Of course, there are plenty of options for baking gluten-free or vegan cupcakes and muffins. You can find gluten-free flours in almost every grocery store. Almond flour, buckwheat flour, millet flour, and rice flour are just a small selection of what is suitable for baking. Want more tips of gluten-free baking? Find them here. These cranberry oatmeal muffins are both gluten-free and vegan:

Cranberry oatmeal muffins

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It is even easier to replace animal-based products than flours. Use margarine instead of butter, plant-based milks (oat, almond, or soy) in milk’s place, and replace eggs. Try these swaps for yourself with our recipe for simple birthday-cupcakes:

Chocolate birthday cupcakes

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What are your favorite cupcakes and muffins? Tell us in the comments or send your favorite recipe to!

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