Let’s Talk Food: The difference between a muffin and a cupcake

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson A Costco muffin.

Iwas reading “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” to my soon-to-be 3-year-old granddaughter, Artemis, and she started to tell me the moose got a cupcake, not a muffin. How can she tell that it is a cupcake and not a muffin when most adults can’t tell the difference?

Well there is a difference in the mixing before you bake. Cupcakes are made by creaming the butter and sugar together to create a smooth, fluffy batter. Cupcake batter is mixed for a longer time to create a smooth, fluffy batter, with air bubbles. Muffin batter is beaten briefly and is relatively lumpy. Usually muffins are more dense than cupcakes.


You usually frost a cupcake, but wouldn’t frost a muffin. Removing the frosting from a cupcake would not make it a muffin!

So then, Artemis went to Kona with her family and brought back blueberry muffins from Costco. The light texture of the “muffin” surely looks like a cupcake so I can understand Artemis’s confusion. If this is the criteria, does Costco blueberry muffin pass the test for the muffin?

Cupcakes are usually sweeter, versus a cornbread muffin, which is savory.

Cupcakes are often frosted, muffins tend to have no topping. It may have a crumb topping though.

Cupcakes usually have a lower top and muffin dough, because it is usually a thicker dough, is topped off more, so their top is larger, like a mushroom.

Muffins usually develop texture, especially on their tops and could be crispy or crunchy, cupcakes are usually do not have that texture.

So using these criterias, how does the Costco “muffin” measure up?

The Costco muffin is sweet and cake like — cupcake

The Costco muffin has no frosting — muffin

The Costco muffin has a higher top than its bottom — muffin

The Costco muffin has no texture but is light like a cake — cupcake

So we will let Artemis decide — is the Costco blueberry muffin a cupcake or a muffin? She says it’s a cupcake!

Here’s a muffin recipe that is versatile and can be personalized by what you have in the refrigerator or pantry.

Basic Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir together dry ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour

1 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup white sugar

In a 2-cup measuring cup, beat in and mix with a fork:

1 large egg

Stir in:

1 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients and lightly mix with fork, do not overmix.

To personalize your own muffin, add:

1 cup fresh blueberries


1 cup finely chopped raisins


1 cup finely chopped dates


1 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese


1/4 cup crispy cooked bacon, broken into bits

Pour batter into paper lined muffin pan cups. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden.

Vanilla Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes

Line muffin pans with paper cups. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat until fluffy with an electric mixer, for 5 minutes:

1 stick unsalted butter or 1/2 cup

1 cup sugar

Sift in a large bowl:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten free flour

1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Beat in, one at a time:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

After incorporated, add:

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Reduce speed to medium low, add in half of the flour mixture, then all of:

2/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature

Then add remaining flour mixture until just combined. Fill each muffin 3/4 full. Bake until the toothpick comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Cool

For 5 minutes on a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Royal Frosting:

Whisk in a double boiler over simmering water until mixture is warm and sugar is dissolved:

4 large egg whites

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch salt

Beat egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 15 minutes. Bear in, a few pieces at a time:

2 sticks butter, cut into piece, softened

Continue beating until smooth.

If you don’t have five egg whites waiting to be made into frosting, here is my favorite buttercream frosting:

Buttercream Frosting

With a standing mixer, mix together:

1 stick butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk

When well incorporated, add:

1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted

Beat until the mixture is creamy and smooth. If it is too thick, you can add more milk.


If you want to make chocolate frosting, add 1/2 cup cocoa powder and add more milk to make it creamy and spreadable.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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