Cupcake Head,     Artist: Elizabeth Ocean

Heartaches by the number:

It’s funny that Sherri mentioned the show on the Cooking Channel that discussed the origin of the cup cake as being from the 18th century. While I didn’t watch that  show, I have been reading about cakes and breads  of the time. In general, I find that I can adapt a lot of these early recipes for my mother who is hypoglycemic, has food allergies  and has hereditary high blood pressure that can’t be controlled with meds . The early receipts are straight foward, incorporate simple and fresh ingredients and because there is not the chemical factor to take into account for preservation or shelf life, I would imagine the tastes to be truer.  With some tweaking for sugars and fats, the foods are both nutritious and tasty.

One of the problems for a diabetic (hypoglycemics follow the same restrictions) is making dessert treats and breads and the early receipts are wonderful for that because they lend themselves to sugar substitutions  and Eggbeaters or using two egg whites to every yoke without compromising taste or texture.

With the reemergence of the cupcake as being the latest retro craze, I’ve been looking for early recipes and found that they in fact did come to fore in the 18th century.  Lynn Oliver, editor of the Food Timeline researched a cupcake recipe that dated back to 1796 (receipt below)  .  Some say that the name stems from the emergence in Colonial  American cooking of  the measuring of ingredients by volume instead of weight. Others say they were baked in small clay ramikins or tea cups and it was kind of like our Twinkies today as they were fast to bake, easy to carry and easy to store  rather than like the time consuming large cakes. They had history on both sides of the Atlantic were also known in England as Fairy Cakes and Queen Cakes.

Fairy Cakes may be a tiny spongecake type cupcake or just a little cake that fairies can eat.

Queen Cakes are cupcakes that are richer in that it incorporates a filling like a jelly doughnut does. You cut it in half, scoop out the guts and put in what you want,  whipped cream, a custard, a jelly and ice it elaborately after  you put it back together.

“Publication: The South Carolina Gazette
Date: September 9, 1745
Title: Advertisements.
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Notice is hereby given, That Joseph Calvert Baker from London, makes
and sells the best sort of Houshold Bread, hot Rolls in the Morning,
also several sorts of Cakes, viz Queen Cakes, Chelsea Cakes, Ginger
bread, and Biscuit for Shipping. He likewise intends to heat his Oven
every Day for the Convenience of such Families as shall send Meat,
Pies, Puddings , to be bak’d for Dinner.

The said Joseph Calvert brews extraordinary good Old England Table
Beer, and sells it at 15 sh. per Dozen Bottles (the Buyer finding
Bottles) or 5 sh. per Gallon. Such Persons as will favour him with
their Custom may be kindly used, at Mr. Daniel Thomas’s School
Master, in Broad street, Charlestown.

N.B. At the said Place Shrewsbury Cakes and Wigs are sold as usual.”

Possibly the first Cupcake was called a Numbers  Cake. When you read the recipe, you can figure out why and think how easy it was to remember it for people who may not have been able to read.



Ingredients:1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
nuts and spices
(this part, updated for today)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 teaspoons baking powder (before baking powder was invented they used yeast or lots of eggs to help the levening process)
Powdered sugar (for dusting the top of baked cake with)
Preheat oven to 375°Grease and flour cake pan (or muffin tins, if converting recipe to cupcakes)Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Add this, alternately with the milk to the butter mixture. Beat after each addition.Seperate eggs and add yolks and vanilla batter mixture. Beat well.Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into batter.Pour into cake pan and bake for 1 hour, or fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake for 18-20 minutes or until top springs back when touched.Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with fruit.Source: recipe from 1796:”A light Cake to bake in small cups. Receipe: Half a pound sugar, half a pound butter, mixed with two pounds flour, one glass wine Rosewater, two do.[glass] Emptins, a nutmeg, cinnamon and currants.” Below is the 19th century (1828) American Cupcake recipe for a customary-sized cup measuring system, indicating that volume measurements progressively became the routine in American home kitchens. 19th century (1828) American Cupcake recipe
5 eggs. 
Two big tea-cups filled with molasses.
Two big tea-cups filled with finely grinded brown sugar. 
The same of fresh butter.
One cup filled with rich milk.   
Five cups filled with screened flour. 
Half a cup of powdered allspice and cloves.
Half a cup of ginger.
Cut  the butter in the milk, and warm them to some extent.                                             
Also warm the molasses, and swirl it inside the milk and butter: then stir in, progressively, the sugar, and keep it away to get it cooled. Hit the eggs very lightly, and stir them into the mixture with the flour alternately. Add the ginger and other spice, and stir the whole very hard. Butter small tins, nearly fill them with the mixture, and bake the cakes in a moderate oven.”  

Up until the 18th century, breads and cakes were almost un-differentiated because both used yeast as the leavening agent. The split came in around our time period when eggs ,well beaten to incorporate air , were used to give the cake height and lightness. I ran across the term “wigs” in Savory Faire discussions and thought that those people were nuts until it was explained that it was a kind of bread-cake, made with corners, individualized like the cupcake. (that article and recipe is to come next)

Finally, folks, what will it take to keep the age old cupcake out of politics? read on:

Culinary historian talked about “cupcakes” and more!

Every kind of cake imaginable- be prepared for a sugar rush!