Muffins vs. Cupcakes

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The difference between a cupcake and muffin depends on who you ask, and their answers can include such things as the amount of frosting, ingredients, and time of the day that you eat it!

In this post, I provide some general guidelines on the differences between the two.
cupcake vs muffin
1. Cupcakes have frosting. Muffins do not.

2. The ingredient ratio is different. “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,” wrote Diana from Diana’s Desserts. When the fat, sugar, and egg to flour ratio in a recipe reaches double that of a muffin, you create a more open crumb and a sweeter end product – a cupcake. When the ratio is right and you get a cupcake, it’s a joyous thing!

3. The cupcake has a finer crumb while the muffin has a bigger/coarser crumb.

4. Muffins have more of a domed top than cupcakes, often overflowing out of their wrappers.

5. 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,” says one of my readers, MooCow_The Baker.

6. Some say that a cupcake eaten in the morning is a muffin!

7. Muffins are healthier than cupcakes. Because they don’t have frosting, they automatically have less calories than most cupcakes. But don’t be fooled; as NBC News reported, “The 3-inch muffins grandmother made had only 120 to 160 calories. But today’s giant bakery muffins contain from 340 to 630 calories each, without any butter or other spread.”

Is There a Difference Between a Cupcake Pan and a Muffin Pan?

cupcake pan

Image from Amazon

Muffin pans and cupcake pans are exactly the same. However, in yet another difference between cupcakes and muffins, cupcakes always use liners and muffins are often baked without liners.

If you are baking muffins, be sure use a nonstick pan. Even with a nonstick pan, I typically grease the pan well to be absolutely certain that nothing sticks.

Is There a Difference Between Cupcake Liners and Muffin Liners?

tulip baking cup

Image from Amazon

Again, the answer is no! Cupcake liners and muffin liners are the same thing.

However, you may see taller liners like the tulip baking cups [paid link] above being used with muffins because muffins are often domed and unfrosted. The tulip baking cups don’t work as well for cupcakes because they hide the frosting.

Cupcake Recipes

Best Vanilla Cupcake

To get started with cupcakes, try these foolproof cupcake recipes:

Muffin Recipes

Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins fully baked in muffin tin

Your Thoughts

Since writing this post, I’ve received lots of feedback. Be sure to read through the comments and chime in with your opinion!

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  1. Grandma Bonniesays:

    Since Holloween is about to happen a few days and I will be making some cupcakes for my greats today. I was wondering are they cupcakes or am I really making muffins? So I googled my question, and I Love all the answers. My answer to the question is that if you are making your treats for the wee ones and your putting lots of sweet gooey things on top of them and they are small and fluffy and colorful, and the wee ones must remove the little paper skirt so they can eat it, it is a cupcake.
    Now if what you are making is Bigger and has high mountain top, with a sweet crumble or a touch of glaze on top and maybe a bit of it fruit inside, I would call that a muffin.
    My answer to me is, Today I will be making Cupcakes, for my Greats and putting all the Love I can inside each and everyone. Love to see there chubby little hands grabbing one, then a Tricking and Treating they will go. Thank you all for answers I enjoyed it so very much.

  2. Csays:

    I think when i was a kid, the was more of a distinction between cupcakes and muffins. Cupcakes were clearly sweet fluffy cakes, and muffins were clearly less sweet, more bread like, and healthier. But these days you see so many iced, very sweet muffins in the stores. Double chocolate muffins? As a kid, those would have been obviously cupcakes to me. But they are marketed as muffins. I think it’s to give it an aura of “healthiness” when it’s really not healthy at all. Same for scones. Those huge, icing covered sweet things they sell these days did not exist when i was a kid. A real scone isn’t that sweet and isn’t iced, IMHO.

  3. Philip Bakersays:

    Your description of muffins is totally different to traditional muffins. They are a kind of bread, flat and round, and not like cakes at all. I have known muffins all my life in the United Kingdom (I am 66) and they are still widely available. They are, of course, called muffins, not English muffins. American muffins (the things like cup cakes) have only appeared in this country relatively recently, through American coffee shops, fast food chains and the like, and like so many other American terms ‘muffins’ is now taking over from its original meaning here and edging out our terminology almost altogether. I did some research on muffins and found that they date back at least to the 10th century. How did Americans come to give this name to a more recent product that is entirely different?As I said, in England they are known as muffins, not English muffins. I have heard that what Americans call ‘English Muffins’ are in fact crumpets, also very popular. Crumpets and muffins are about the same size, but that is the only similarity. Crumpets are made with a sort of batter mixture. They are very light and have lots of holes in the top side (good for letting butter soak into). Muffins are made with a bread mixture. They are heavier and more dense than crumpets. They do not have holes in them.

  4. Judisays:

    So when I am feeling lazy, I put my muffin batter into a cake pan to bake then cut in squares when cooked. I still call them muffins but my friends disagree and think it is cake. I think I am right!

  5. Backdirndlsays:

    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

  6. Muffin Mansays:

    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!

  7. shallomxsays:

    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

  8. Anonymoussays:

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

  9. Anonymoussays:

    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 (:

  10. Mariannesays:

    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?

  11. Monster Kookiessays:

    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.

    • Anonymoussays:

      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.

  12. Anonymoussays:

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

  13. Karen Espeysays:

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

  14. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  15. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  16. Anonymoussays:

    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?

  17. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  18. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  19. Anonymoussays: this is the best explanation….

  20. Anonymoussays:

    I like turtles.

  21. Anonymoussays:

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

  22. Mistysays:

    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.

  23. Mistysays:

    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

  24. M§Aƞŧᵸ®ᴕṕῨsays:

    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

  25. Anonymoussays:

    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!!!!

  26. Joshisays:

    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 :-)

  27. Anonymoussays:

    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.

    • Anonymoussays:

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

  28. Anonymoussays:

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

  29. cupcakegirlsays:

    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!:)

  30. Serenasays:

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

  31. Anonymoussays:

    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!

  32. Anonymoussays:

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

  33. Anonymoussays:

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

  34. Itsasays:

    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…

  35. juliassays:

    they both rock a lot

  36. Anonymoussays:

    muffins are to bread what cupcakes are to cakes.

  37. Anonymoussays:

    RE: The difference between icing and frosting.

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

  38. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  39. Anonymoussays:

    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.

    • Anonymoussays:

      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.

    • Anonymoussays:

      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

  40. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  41. LalooTarrsays:

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

  42. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  43. Anonymoussays:

    I’m with “Anonymous”

  44. FlyingRoosays:

    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.

    • ashleysays:

      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?

  45. Anonymoussays:

    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?!?!

  46. Yannasays:

    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.

  47. Anonymoussays:

    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.

  48. Monniesays:

    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!

  49. Katie Fsays:

    Muffins are simply ugly cupcakes.

  50. MooCow_the Bakersays:

    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.

    • LaurieSsays:

      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.

  51. Lottesays:

    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.


  52. Thomas Bsays:

    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.

  53. Cupcake Decorationssays:

    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” !

  54. bushrasays:

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

    • Ksays:

      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.

  55. Sybilsays:

    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

    • LaurieSsays:

      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.

  56. Stefsays:

    Hah.. I love it.

  57. PrissyCooksays:

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

  58. Chellesays:

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

  59. Stefsays:

    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.

    • Anonymoussays:

      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.

    • Anonymoussays:

      @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 dansays:

      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.).

  60. Chellesays:

    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?

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