A great debate is raging: Are muffins, in the words of one pastry chef, “just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast,” or are they an entirely different animal? Since we are fans of both cupcakes and muffins, we think the air needs clearing.
A quick check of The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson (Oxford University Press, 1999) was all it took to set us straight. It turns out that muffins, from French moufflet or “soft bread,” originally referred to English muffins, which were leavened with yeast, shaped into rounds and cooked on griddles. “The inside should be like honeycomb,” said Hannah Glasse, the famous 18th-century British cookbook writer. The transformation to what Davidson calls, “American muffins” came when bakers began making small, round cakes, usually made with baking powder, a small amount of sugar, and fruits, nuts, or savory ingredients. Cupcakes, however, are downsized sweet dessert cakes, usually frosted and decorated. And while some, like the perennial favorite blueberry muffin, might be mistaken for cupcakes, our Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins have no identity crisis. With cornmeal, poblano peppers, and sharp Cheddar cheese and sporting a savory streusel topping, they’re perfect paired with a hearty vegetable soup or chili for fall.
—Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.