The Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins | Cupcake Project

The Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins

The Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins

To find out the difference between cupcakes and muffins, I turned to Cupcakes Take the Cake, an amazing source for cupcake information and inspiration. They say:

The quick-and-dirty answer on this is that cupcakes have frosting, whereas muffins do not. However, in researching, I found an excellent formulaic definition of the difference courtesy of Diana’s Desserts: ‘A basic formula for muffins is 2 cups flour, 2-4 tablespoons sugar, 2½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 egg, ¼ cup oil, shortening or butter and 1 cup milk. When the fat, sugar and egg ratio in a recipe reaches double or more than this, you have reached the cake level.

Your Thoughts on the Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins

Since posting this answer, I’ve received lots of feedback about your thoughts on the difference between cupcakes and muffins.  Be sure to read through the comments and chime in with your opinions!

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87 Responses to The Difference Between Cupcakes and Muffins

  1. Chelle May 31, 2007 at 7:08 am #

    Is frosting the same as icing? I have seen muffins with icing… St. Louis Bread Company used to have a cobblestone muffin that had icing. I also know that some scones have icing, so why not similar muffins?

  2. Stef May 31, 2007 at 8:10 am #

    I did some research on this important subject and I think the answer that best summed it up was on the Food Timeline website ,

    “Icing. A term often interchangeably with “frosting” and preferred in America to describe the sugar-and-water mixture used to decorate and cover cakes…”Frosting” actually precedes “icing” in print, the former appearing around 1610, the latter in 1760, with icing considered a somewhat lighter, decorative glaze than frosting. But in America it became normal to used “icing” (and the verb “to ice”) to describe either form of the confection.”
    —Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 166)”

    I think I will opt to continue to use them interchangebly.

    That being the case, I think you have a great example of an iced muffin. I think I’ve even had that one. MMMMM.

    • Anonymous August 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      I have to disagree. Where I live in New York. there is a big difference between icing and frosting. Frosting usually has a dull luster is made with lots of butter or shortening, and remains soft when spread. Icing on the other hand is mostly sugar and water or milk and has a shiny luster. It gets hard after it’s spread. Think of it as a very thin fondant.

    • Anonymous January 5, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

      @Anonymous, that makes a lot of sense! When I think frosting, I think of covering a cake–Icing, the decorative yummy stuff atop a cupcake.

      HOWEVER, I also thought that the usage of those two vary in region. For example, I’m from the South and tend to hear Icing used more in conversation. My friends north of the Mason Dixon line tend to say frosting.

      EITHER WAY. They are both fabulous!

    • dashing dan May 2, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      i’d say that an icing is the thin sugar and water mix that you see on some doughnuts and other treats. frosting is made using a fat base of some sort (milk, butter, cream cheese, lard, etc.).

  3. Chelle May 31, 2007 at 8:30 am #

    Thank you, Stef. You are always a wealth of information!

  4. PrissyCook July 26, 2007 at 6:56 am #

    I stand firmly on this one; A muffin is just a confused cupcake.

    • Anonymous April 26, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      Good one

  5. Stef July 26, 2007 at 7:04 am #

    Hah.. I love it.

  6. Sybil May 23, 2008 at 1:22 am #

    I’ve been having this debate with my friends at uni. Once I got home and got talking to my wise mum… who said that muffins have oil (and usually fruit) while cupcakes have sugar and butter, thus muffins are better for you, while cupcakes less so

    • LaurieS July 12, 2012 at 6:51 am #

      As I’ve been preparing “cupcakes” for my husband’s summer company party, he and I fell into this discussion of what’s a cupcake vs. a muffin.

      In general a cupcake sounds sweeter, but as to fruit…I’m putting mashed bananas in my cake portion and cherry bits and 1 cherry plopped into the center of my cream cheese/butter icing on top.

  7. bushra June 8, 2008 at 7:38 am #

    princess said…
    I think that muffins will always taste better then cupcakes:)

    • K April 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      Agreed. I just found this blog post because both my husband and I were commenting on how neither of us like cake at all but like muffins.

  8. Cupcake Decorations November 13, 2008 at 1:48 am #

    The best description of the difference between a cupcake and a muffin that I have heard is this one:

    “If you throw a cupcake against a wall you get a sound like “pouf”; if you throw a muffin against a wall you get a sound like “thud” !

    • Lovlie August 20, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      That’s cool! I actually like this definition! :)

    • Christina March 30, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      That one just made me chuckle :-)

    • julie August 7, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Oh, that’s funny, and I would agree since I always think of muffins as having a heavier, coarser texture than cupcakes.

    • Al September 27, 2013 at 4:42 am #

      Why would you want to throw either against a wall? What a waste!

  9. Thomas B December 7, 2008 at 8:37 pm #

    Perkins sells Boston cream “muffins” with mountains of cake frosting and sprinkles on them.

    They are a sugary dessert, and quite clearly just oversized cupcakes.

  10. Lotte October 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    I just had a 20 minite conversation with my friend about tihs on the train. then i searched it up- cupcakes are made of cake, whereas muffins are more breadlike.


    • Anonymous April 14, 2012 at 9:54 am #

      I think this is the best description. Tx!

  11. MooCow_the Baker November 24, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    Here’s what i have heard, If you throw a cupcake against a wall it will make a “POOF” sound. However, if you did the same with a muffin it would make more of a “THUD” sound. hope that clears things up.

    • LaurieS July 12, 2012 at 6:55 am #

      This is very funny! But yes, I typically find muffins are heavier than cupcakes. But due to the excess sugar in cupcakes, I’d feel less guilty having a morning muffin than a cupcake.

  12. Katie F November 25, 2009 at 10:47 pm #

    Muffins are simply ugly cupcakes.

    • Christopher James Whitson June 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      CUPCAKES SUCK. I will take a chocolate muffin any day.

  13. Monnie November 26, 2009 at 2:15 am #

    Things that I’ve heard:

    Cupcakes have the butter and sugar creamed together before adding other ingredients one at a time. Muffins throw everything in at once and mix together.

    Also, muffins are much more dense than cupcakes which are light and airy. I know that muffins are too much for me to eat while cupcakes are easier to get through!

  14. Anonymous January 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    I have had muffins with frosting. I have had cakes with no frosting. I have had cupcakes with fruit (apples, blueberries, bananas). I have made muffins with butter and I have made cakes with oil. I think the formulated answer is correct.

  15. Yanna January 20, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    I’ve always thought that muffins are breads and cupcakes are cakes, which basically just puts the formulaic answer into layman terms. Once you get to a certain ratio, its either cake or its bread.

  16. Anonymous February 20, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    i really don’t care if i’m eating a muffin or a cupcake (just as long as i get one) whats the biggie? why are people making such a fuss over this?!?!

  17. FlyingRoo April 12, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    It’s not only that the cupcakes have icing or that muffins contain fruits, nuts, etc.

    The truth is the only thing they have in common is their shape.

    But cupcakes are cakes while muffins are quickbreads. Any recipe for layer cake can be used to make cupcakes, the same is not true for muffins.

    Also, the preparation is different: for muffins, the dry and wet ingredients are mixed separatedly and then put together. Cupcakes are usually made with the creaming method.

    • ashley November 21, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      so if i buy cornbread muffin mix and pour it in a bowl and add the milk and egg it’s a muffin. If I buy cake mix and pour it in a bowl and add pumpkin pie filling and dried cranberries it’s a cupcake or a muffin?

  18. Anonymous June 22, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    I’m with “Anonymous”

  19. Anonymous July 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    I think it is great that this debate goes on. Isn’t it great to live in a time where you can think of something and look it up with just a clik of the mouse. The ratio is correct and will always be.

  20. LalooTarr July 14, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    I have not seen a muffin with frosting, but I have, however, seen a “cupcake” without it.

  21. Anonymous September 8, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    no, whey your wife is younger, you called her cupcake. when she is older with double chin, you call her muffin.

    in short muffin tend to overflow the cup shape sort of like double chin.

    • Mom July 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      Don’t know when I have laughed so hard looking up recipes.

    • Anonymous December 17, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      haha! that’s a good one!

  22. Anonymous September 15, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    simply theryre the same thing.. like cakes cake no matter whats in it… but the one difference is a cup cake is made in the paper cups and a muffin is in a tin form… there it gets its name “cupped cake” = cupcake and muffin is just a cupcake without cup.

    • Anonymous January 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

      This is not even remotely true. Muffins also have paper cups. The tin is the thing you put the cups in in order to bake.

    • Anonymous February 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      Do you need to use a muffin tin to cook muffins? Or can you just use a cupcake tin? Also, in my family, we’ve always refered to cupcakes as buns… is this correct or are buns another thing that needs to be compared to muffins??! :D

  23. Anonymous September 18, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    WikiAnswers says the following
    “A muffin is any quickbread (mixed by muffin mixing method & does NOT contain yeast) that is in the shape of a cupcake. A cupcake is any cake batter mixed with the straight method or creaming method made into the shape of a cup. Cupcakes (traditionally) have frosting on top, while muffins have no frosting, but muffins can have a glaze on top. Many people think that the difference is either frosting or no frosting, or that it’s “in a paper liner” or not, but that is a common mistake. Either one can be made with or without a paper liner; it’s just the baker’s preference. A quickbread (or muffin) CANNOT be baked like a sheet cake or round layered cake because it won’t bake properly. The same goes for a cupcake batter- a cake batter (or cupcake) cannot be baked in a loaf or bundt pan because it will not bake properly. But, since both can be baked into a smaller shape, everyone seems to want to declare that they’re the same.”

    Hope that helps.

    • Anonymous February 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Don’t muffins rise like they are about to explode and the surface splits and cracks… they look like alvioli!

  24. Anonymous September 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    RE: The difference between icing and frosting.

    We ice cakes. Frosting is something women in Newark put in their hair.

    • Anonymous January 6, 2013 at 7:21 pm #


  25. Anonymous December 20, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    muffins are to bread what cupcakes are to cakes.

  26. julias February 28, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    they both rock a lot

  27. Itsa March 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    its a pretty good argument. check out this site, its accually based on the very argument and defends the “a cupcake without icing is a muffin” side of it. pretty funny…

  28. Anonymous May 1, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    Muffin Break have icing on their sweet muffins and none on their savoury ones. They call them bith muffins.

  29. Anonymous May 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    It’s easy to talk with a cupcake your face.

  30. Anonymous July 7, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    my understanding was that a cupcake is based on aa butter/sugar mixture then adding the other ingredients and a muffin is dry in one bowl, wet in the other and mix together, hence oil is used!

  31. Serena July 12, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    i feel(and know)that the muffin is more healthy than a cupcake.

  32. cupcakegirl July 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    omg!i thought it was me who was thinking about the cupcake vs. muffin war!my!my friend fight about it all the time!im like so obsessed with cupcakes!!!!!!!well a muffin is indeed an ugly cupcake&a cupcake is a muffin with a fancy hat!lol!and the trowing of the wall theory is a fact!and the war will never end!but they could combine forces&become muffcake or cupfin!:)

  33. Anonymous August 19, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    I whole heartedly agree with cupcake girl, from now on I am calling my pumpkin (whatevers) muffcakes!

  34. Anonymous August 30, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I am a chef (De Moura Way Winery) and I know that other chefs have debated this. I am not a pastry chef but…

    You can’t see the formula if it’s a product that you have not personally baked.

    Yes, you can ice/frost a muffin, cupcake, or bread. However generally muffins are not iced and cup cakes are frosted.

    A cup cake is a more traditional thing to consume with your morning coffee than a cup cakes.

    Take any cake batter and bake it into lined muffin tins and you have a smaller cake- thus the name cup cake. Just like you shrink the big dog breed and you get a smaller dog ie tea “cup” dog.(noisy little yappers)

    Lets face it~ most can point out what is a cup cake or muffin by sight. What is it that they are seeing? It’s the hardiness or lack of. Cup cakes are more delicate and normally frosted as well as decorated in some dainty manner.Muffins are heavier, substantial and normally but not necessarily contain fruit, chocolate or nuts etc that make them more substantial. Cup cake can have fillings and fruit but a lesser amount to remain dainty. The textures are different when you bit into each.Muffins are usually larger than cup cakes.

    But lastly and more importantly they are mixed differently. Muffins use the muffin method and cup cakes do not.

    • Anonymous February 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      I’m trying to make my own muffins but don’t know which muffin ‘formula’ to use… got any advise? Also, what is shortening?

  35. Joshi September 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    Kafie F; how could you said muffins are simply ugly cupcakes.. muffins are just over-sized yet they still taste nice and does not need much decorations.. In other words, cup cakes are designer cakes :-)

  36. Anonymous October 3, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Hi! My name is Christy and i am a fitness and health teacher/coach and trainer. I find this question to be interesting between the cupcake and muffin. One issue is examples like chocholate chip muffins and then carrot cupcakes. They both are equal if fat, sugars etc. when the differences in name is the fat and sugars? HELP!!!!

  37. M§Aƞŧᵸ®ᴕṕῨ November 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    I have a sticker that says muffins are just ugly cupcakes lol Both are delicious! I would think that maybe, besides the icing/frosting and paper/no paper is maybe the density? It seems muffins are heavier and denser than cupcakes to me. Just sayin

  38. Misty November 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Just wondering why you cant bake cupcake batter in a loaf pan and why you couldnt bake muffin battter mixrure in a cake pan… I assume the depth has factor but what would happen or go wrong if you flipped them….couldnt you just adjust the temp and bake time to have them turn out in the opposite baking pans….with that said i agree that cupcakes do seem to be more cake like and muffins are more dense and more bread like, however then you have cake cookies and breads that melt in your mouth like cupcakea too…perhaps just wrongly named or a whole other argurement on there own lol

  39. Misty November 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    On another thought maybe someone could list a base muffin recipe and a base cupcake recipe. If most can agree the listed recipes are correct maybe the changes between the two could answer the question more. I know with the addition of some ingredients to custom each recipe would at times require to adjust the base recipe though too. I read that it seems to debate one uses butter and sugar vs the other too…im not much of a baker so sorry if this seems silly to ponder on my view. As far as how the mixture is made i usually always dump all ingredients together at once so not sure what mine would be considered either lol….sorry to ramble on but i think this is a interesting topic and been wondering myself the real answer.

  40. Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 4:17 am #

    YOU’RE ALL WRONG! There are no cucakes or muffins. It is all just an illusion.

  41. Anonymous January 10, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    I like turtles.

    • Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm #


  42. Anonymous January 15, 2012 at 11:42 am # this is the best explanation….

  43. Anonymous January 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    To me, there are differences among glaze, icing, and frosting. A glaze is a thin drizzle, usually made with something like confectioner’s sugar and flavoring (lemon juice, orange juice, etc.) Icing is thicker than glaze, but thinner than frosting. Frosting is very thick. Think buttercream, for example. This is just my theory. The difference between icing and frosting is thickness.

    I’ve read different explanations about the difference between a cupcake and a muffin. The simplest ones I’ve see are: cupcakes are frosted; muffins are not. Muffins are for breakfast; cupcakes are for dessert. (Although you can eat either one for a snack, so I think that explanation is out the window.) The scientific explanation from “Diana’s Desserts” is the one that works best for me.

    Personally, though, I think a cupcake is just a cloying, smarmy muffin. It’s sweet; wanting to be all things to all people. A muffin, on the other hand, knows what it is and is proud of it. A muffin proudly says, “Take me as I am; if you don’t like it, sc**w you!” I guess you could say that a muffin is a cupcake with attitude; that’s why it doesn’t need frosting. Also, muffins I like; cupcakes I’m not that keen on.

  44. Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    My interest in the debate lies in the fact that the ingredients are similar but the method of mixing them results in totally different products. I always wondered why you could beat cupcake batter endlessly but muffin batter just a few strokes. I actually witnessed the gluten in my muffin batter ‘tighten’ when I stirred it one time too many. The formulated explanation is the only one I’ve ever heard that makes any since.

  45. Anonymous March 4, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    My only problem with the mixing methods way of differentiating muffins and cupcakes is that when making a vegan cupcake you substitute the butter for a vegetable oil so you have use the “muffin” method of mixing. So does that mean there are no vegan cupcakes, only vegan muffins?

  46. Anonymous April 29, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    I think that from the beginning a muffin is from Europe and cupcakes, wick is a more recent pastry, from the U.S.A. How we bake differs alot. A cake in Sweden isn’t the same as a cake in America. And the same goes for muffins. I’ve eaten american muffins, wich is bigger and have another formula than here in Sweden. A cupcake is more the same, because we have imported it more recently from you guys. So I can’t say what the differens in U.S.A is, but here in Sweden the difference is size, frosting and formula.

  47. Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    Okay, okay, okay. (Cupcakes are way better than muffins, but that’s not what we are talking about). The difference is that muffins are quick-bread, cup-shaped treat, often sweetened. A cupcake on the other hand is light, airy, sweet treat topped with frosting and decorations. Now muffins can have a glaze, but that is not the same as frosting. I am obbsesed with cupcakes and have thought about this war for a year now. Cupcakes V.S Muffins is a battle that has been and will be well fought. I argue with a friend about this all the time. We had people on our sides, petitons, and then we just plain out argued. The cupcake will always have a dear place in my heart. has an article about this also.

  48. Karen Espey August 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    I just Googled this! Of course, you have the answer!

  49. Anonymous October 11, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Im founding an entire branch of science to the study of baked goods, the contributions this article has made is appreciated.

  50. Monster Kookies October 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    In my opinion:

    Muffins have their wet and dry ingredients mixed together until they are JUST combined – no more than that. If you break a muffin in half, you will notice that it is full of lots of small and large air bubbles – all sorts of different sizes. They can also be called Quickbreads, and most Quickbreads can be made into muffins.

    Cupcakes are usually made using the creaming method, where you begin by “creaming” the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy, then add your eggs and alternate adding the dry and the rest of the wet ingredients. Most cake recipes can make a successful cupcake, and they have a nice fine crumb texture to them – little tiny air bubbles, all the same size.

    Muffins are usually a little more savory and less sweet than cupcakes, I find. Sometimes muffins have icing or glaze, but not usually frosting. Cupcakes are usually frosted.

    • Anonymous October 25, 2012 at 6:42 am #

      This is the best answer. I found a similar explanation here

      it has to do with the mixing method. Cakes are made by the creaming method, and muffins are made by the unsurprisingly named muffin method. In the cake method, the butter and sugar are creamed together until light and fluffy, then the eggs are slowly mixed in, and finally the dry and wet ingredients are incorporated. In the simpler muffin method, the dry ingredients are combined, the wet ingredients are combined, and then the wet and dry ingredients are briefly mixed together. The cake method, while more time consuming, typically produces sweeter, lighter, and more tender results.

  51. Marianne November 24, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I almost daren’t ask this…. When I was a kid we had ‘fairy cakes’. No cupcakes or muffins. So are fairy cakes the forerunner to these two new breeds, or just the name given to the on the west coast of Scotland? Or another different thing altogether?

  52. Anonymous January 10, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    At the same time who really cares!?!?!? LIKE HOW IS THIS GONNA HELP US GET OUT OF DEBT IN AMERICA??? OH AND NO SMART A** COMMENTS (:

    • anonymous August 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

      Wow. You’re shouting. ;)

  53. Anonymous March 18, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    IMHO, the name cupcake was made up by people (children?) who didn’t know the proper name for such a cake is muffin.

  54. shallomx May 30, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    im a rookie when it comes to makin cake, only wanted to know what the difference is between cup cake and a muffin is…lovin what im readin, made me smile xxx

  55. Muffin Man October 21, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    This is a great debate/conversation. And while I agree that both cupcakes and muffins are an awesome treat in each their own way, they are different.

    In my humble opinion, the difference between them is in the “crumb”. The cupcake has a finer crumb while the muffin has a bigger/coarser crumb.

    Both can be iced or frosted.

    Keep on baking!

  56. Backdirndl January 28, 2015 at 7:34 am #

    Hi! :-)
    I also took some time to compare cupcakes and muffins with each other to reveal ALL the differences and make the distinguishing process super easy. I listed them in a convenient chart on my blog:

    Have a baketastic baking day,
    Your Backdirndl


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