Cupcakes are a universally loved, individual-size cake that can be customized with frosting, sprinkles, flavor mix-ins, cake-mix variations, and much, much more. These indulgent treats offer a sweet personal touch with different ways to design and decorate. Each cupcake offers the perfect ratio of cake to frosting, too! Because they are festive and so easy, they are the perfect treat for birthdays, bake sales, showers, parties and even weeknights. We love that you can change up the flavor with just a few ingredients and that you can use a cake mix for a quick fix!

What Are Cupcakes

Cupcakes are individual, cake-like desserts made in a muffin tin and are usually topped with frosting. No one knows for sure when the first cupcake was made, and even the experts argue about when the first cupcake recipe appeared in a cookbook. It was either in the late 1700s or the mid-1800s, depending on the source. There’s even some confusion about how cupcakes got their name. Was it because these dainty treats were first baked in cups or because of the measurements used to make them? While there are variations on cupcakes in many cuisines—the British have fairy or Queen cakes, the Dutch are known for their traditional cakejes—what everyone knows for sure is that cupcakes are delicious!

Cupcakes used to be the baked good of choice for children’s birthday parties, but lately the cupcake has gone upscale, appearing at adult dinner parties, on the dessert menus of upscale restaurants, and at center stage at weddings.

What Is the Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins

Although cupcakes and muffins are strikingly similar in appearance, the taste and texture of the two are quite different. Cupcakes are a small, individual cake. They are lighter, cake-like and sweeter. Muffins are defined as a quick bread, usually denser. Another difference between cupcakes and muffins is that cupcakes are almost always topped with frosting and muffins are not.

Different Cupcake Flavors

Along with the explosion of the cupcake’s popularity, there has been what can only be called a creative revolution when it comes to flavors. While the classics endure—yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, red velvet topped with cream cheese frosting, and devil’s food dripping with fudgy deliciousness —you can now find cupcakes that are clearly made with adults in mind. Try our Boozy Bourbon Chocolate Cupcakes for a grown-up twist on dessert.

Different Types of Cupcakes

Cupcakes are one of the most easy-to-personalize desserts that you can make. For one, you can choose to make mini cupcakes, standard size or giant cupcakes, depending on the muffin pan that you use. Second, you can either follow a from-scratch recipe or start with a cake mix. Beyond that, you can change up the flavors easily by adding in different ingredients or by using different cake mixes. And of course, the frosting options and decorating ideas are endless.

Cupcake Substitutes

If you’d like to make a cupcake that is lower in fat without sacrificing the decadent flavor, there are a number of substitutions you can consider. Applesauce and plain yogurt are excellent fat substitutes in most recipes. For maximum texture and flavor, replace no more than half the amount of the fat listed in the recipe. If a recipe calls for ½ cup of butter, you can substitute ¼ cup applesauce, saving 44 grams of fat and 400 calories.

Mashed ripe bananas also work well as fat substitutes if you are making carrot cake or banana cupcakes. You can also mix in fruit puree mixtures for chocolate, spice and carrot cake cupcakes.

For an egg substitute, try replacing one whole egg with ¼ cup of fat- and cholesterol-free egg product or two egg whites. By swapping these egg replacements in, you can save more than 10 grams of fat and around 100 calories.

What Are Cupcake Liners

Cupcake liners are paper or foil baking cups that make it easy to remove cupcakes from the pan. They come in both mini and regular sizes and in a variety of colors and designs, making it a fun and decorative addition to the sweet treat. Look for cupcake liners in your supermarket, dedicated baking stores, craft stores or online.

How to Make Cupcakes

As mentioned, you can either make cupcakes from scratch or from a box of Betty Crocker cake mix. You can find directions for easy cupcakes on the back of the box. We’ll show you how to make one of our five-star cupcakes from scratch—it’s easier than you think!

What You’ll Need:

How to:

Step 1: Gather your cupcake ingredients.

2 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup water
3 tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Step 2: Preheat oven to 325°F. Place paper baking cups in 24 regular-size muffin cups.

Step 3: In large bowl, mix the flour, granulated sugar and salt with a whisk. Set aside.

Step 4: Using a one-quart saucepan, heat one cup of butter, water, and three tablespoons of baking cocoa to boiling.

Step 5: Remove from heat and pour into flour mixture. Mix to combine. Add buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla, bourbon and eggs. Mix well to combine and then fold in chopped pecans. Divide the batter evenly among muffin cups, filling them two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Step 6: Meanwhile, gather your ingredients for the frosting.

Step 7: Using a one-quart saucepan, heat butter, baking cocoa and milk to simmering. Remove from heat; beat in powdered sugar and bourbon. Spoon warm icing over warm cupcakes and top with pecan halves.

How to Decorate Cupcakes

One of the most enticing reasons to make cupcakes (besides their irresistible taste) is because they are so easily customizable; you can change up the color and flavor of frosting, add sprinkles or crystals, pipe or spread the frosting, and the list goes on.

Here’s what you’ll need if you want to decorate cupcakes:

  • Pastry or decorating bags. You can also use a resealable food-storage plastic bag and snip a small corner off to create a piping bag.
  • A decorating tip set with various shapes and sizes.
  • Food colors available in liquid, gel or paste.
  • Assorted colored sugars, edible glitters and pearls.
  • Assorted candy sprinkles in a wide variety of colors and shapes.
  • A wide variety of premade decors made from sugar including flowers, hearts, stars and other decorative shapes.

Here are some of our favorite ways to decorate cupcakes:

  1. There are plenty of options between types of sprinkles and different colors. Jimmies, confetti, crystal sugar, nonpareils are just a few of the types of sprinkles you can choose between.
  2. You can change the color of the frosting or even the cupcake batter by adding food color.
  3. Use a decorating bag with different tips to add design to your cupcake. You can create drop flowers, leaves, petals, stars or rosettes by changing your decorating bag tips.
  4. You can use a food writer pen or a writing tip to add words like “Congratulations!” or “Happy Birthday!” to your cupcakes. These Monogrammed Cream-Filled Cupcakes are a perfect example.
  5. For an edible finishing touch, add chocolate curls or shavings, coconut, candies, grated orange peel, nuts, or drizzled chocolate on top of your frosting.

How Long to Bake Cupcakes

Most cupcake recipes are baked at 350℉ for about 16-25 minutes. If you are making cupcakes from cake mix, follow the directions listed on the back of the box. If you are making from-scratch cupcakes, follow the time guidelines listed on the recipe. Mini cupcakes will require less baking time while jumbo cupcakes will require more baking time.

How to Tell if Cupcakes Are Done

As your cupcakes bake in the oven, a sweet cake aroma will fill your kitchen. When the timer goes off, take the cupcakes out of the oven. They should be golden brown on top. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cupcake. If it comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.

How Long to Let Cupcakes Cool For

After you take cupcakes out of the oven and have determined they are done, let them cool in the pan for five to 10 minutes. Then remove cupcakes from the pans and place them on a cooling rack to continue cooling. Make sure cupcakes are completely cooled before frosting. If you are using the same pan for multiple batches of cupcakes, allow the pan to cool for about 15 minutes before adding more batter.

How to Keep Cupcakes Fresh

It’s difficult to resist not indulging in fresh-out-of-the-oven cupcakes right away, but if you’re making them for a party or to give to a friend, then follow these tips for how to keep cupcakes fresh:

  1. Cool cupcakes completely before covering to keep the tops from becoming sticky, about 30 minutes.
  2. Frosted or unfrosted, cover cupcakes loosely with foil, plastic wrap or waxed paper.
  3. Store cupcakes with buttercream frosting at room temperature for up to two days.
  4. Refrigerate cupcakes with cream cheese or whipped cream toppings.
  5. Frost cupcakes with fluffy frosting on the day they’ll be served.

How to Store Cupcakes

Here are a few tips for keeping cupcakes fresh:

  1. Cool them completely before covering to keep the tops from becoming sticky.
  2. Frosted or unfrosted, cover cupcakes loosely with foil, plastic wrap or waxed paper.
  3. Store cupcakes with buttercream frosting at room temperature for up to two days.
  4. Refrigerate cupcakes with cream cheese or whipped cream toppings.
  5. Frost cupcakes with fluffy frosting on the day they’ll be served.

How to Refrigerate Cupcakes

You can refrigerate cupcakes for about two days. Before refrigerating, allow the cupcakes to cool completely. Then cover them loosely with foil, plastic wrap or waxed paper. Cupcakes with cream cheese or whipped cream topping are best stored in the refrigerator, but buttercream-frosted cupcakes can be left at room temperature.

How to Freeze Cupcakes

You can get a head start by baking cupcakes ahead of time and freezing until you need them. Unfrosted cupcakes freeze better than frosted and frozen cupcakes are easier to frost.

When freezing unfrosted cupcakes:

  • Cool unfrosted completely, about 30 minutes, before covering and storing to keep the tops from becoming sticky.
  • Place cupcakes in cardboard bakery boxes to prevent crushing, then tightly cover with foil, plastic wrap or larger freezer bags. Properly packaged, unfrosted cakes can be kept frozen for two to three months.

If you choose to freeze frosted cupcakes, creamy frostings freeze best. Fluffy frosting or whipped cream frostings freeze well but may stick to the wrapping.

  • To prevent frosting from sticking, freeze cupcakes uncovered for one hour, then insert a toothpick in the top of the cupcake and tightly wrap. Frozen frosted cupcakes keep two to three months.
  • Thaw cupcakes in the refrigerator or on the countertop. When thawing on the countertop, loosen or remove wrapping to prevent condensation from forming.

Decorating gel, hard candies and colored sugars do not freeze well because they tend to run during thawing.