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The science behind a muffin and a cupcake

Marnely Rodriguez-Murray is the author of the food blog Cooking with Books. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she has worked as an overnight bread baker in Colorado and a chocolate maker in Virginia. She currently resides ...

So alike, but oh so different!

Why do we think having a muffin for breakfast is okay but not a cupcake? Is it the sugary icing? Or how we like to pretend that our double chocolate chip muffin is "healthy"? Discover what makes them each different, but equally delicious.
Cupcake vs. muffin
Muffin or cupcake

Whoever said baking was a science, was dead on. You can't really throw a pinch of this and a cup of that and expect to have a fluffy, perfect cake. If you want that, you should be making a pot of soup, not a cake. Flour, sugar, baking powder and fat are ingredients that need to be measured and (most of the time) be incorporated into the batter/dough at the precise time.

But don't get me wrong, baking is also one of the most relaxing activities you could do. It's also great if you get the kids involved!

Creaming is for cupcakes

When making a typical cupcake batter, you're creaming. The word comes from the action of whipping a solid fat like butter with your sugar. The solid fat does not have to be butter — it could be lard or coconut oil (that has been chilled). This can be done by using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (the whip attachment will add too much air to the mixture), or by hand with a wooden spoon. Make sure your fat is at room temperature to make it easier to incorporate the sugar.

Commonly used for cakes and cookies, this method creates tiny air capsules that result in a tender crumb. Make sure to not overcream the butter and sugar: The butter will start to melt, and it will also destroy those precious air capsules.

Blending is for muffins

Muffins are the uglier, but just as delicious, cousins of cupcakes. They're also easier to make, since you just need a bowl and a whisk/spoon. The blending method is done by gently blending the liquid fat into the sugars. Your liquid fats can be anything from melted butter, olive oil or even melted duck fat, depending on the type of muffin you're baking.

Commonly used for muffins, carrot cakes and brownies, it's a labor-friendly method and results in a denser crumb than cupcakes but full of flavor.

Just remember, each method has an exact result. If you're looking for a fluffy muffin, keep on dreaming! Now, if you want a fluffy cupcake, use the creaming method. Craving a dense and moist muffin? Use the blending method!

Check out these reference cookbooks for more information on baking methods: 

More on baking

Creative cupcake recipes and baking tips
Cappuccino muffins with chocolate chunks
How to make the best brownies

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