On Chocolate Cupcake Day, A Bite-Sized Brief
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🧁 The first recorded mention of a recipe for a cupcake (although it wasn’t referred to by this name) was in Amelia Simmons’ ‘American Cookery’, published in 1796.

🧁While cakes had been a ubiquitous dessert in the Western world, the cupcake is believed to be a distinctly American phenomenon. 

🧁In 1919, the first commercially baked cupcakes were made available by the Hostess food company. 


IN 1796, a collection of recipes published under the title “American Cookery”, written and compiled by a Miss Amelia Simmons, began to do the rounds in Connecticut. Jane Austen may have gone with the byline “By A Lady”, Simmons chose “An American Orphan” for herself. 

Not much is known of her beyond the existence of this book and that she was — as her publishing moniker indicated — an orphan. She is also thought to have worked in domestic service due to her circumstances. 

Simmons’ cookbook was slim — about 47 pages in all — and it seems to have been self-published, even though it was brought out under the imprint of “Hudson & Goodwin”. Still, this slight volume would come to shape not just American cooking, but by extension American culture, for the next many decades. Cookbooks available in the colonies thus far had been by British authors, Simmons’ was the first to be written and published by American entities.

The full title for Simmons’ book was “American Cookery, or The Art of Dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the Best Modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of Cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country and all Grades of Life” — quite a mouthful as titles go, but at least it stated right at the outset what it delivered. 

And within its pages, between a recipe for Queen’s Cake (butter whipped to a cream, sugar, eggs, flour, wine, rosewater and spices) and Plumb Cake (which used 21 eggs, and plenty of dried and candied fruit, nuts, spices, wine and cream) were directions for “a cake to be baked in small cups”, which would become what we know today as the cupcake. Recipes for johnnycake, federal pan cake, buckwheat cake — all homely American fare — followed. 

The cake baked in a cup (teacups or ramekins were used before the advent of paper trays) served both practical and aesthetic purposes. Aesthetic because it looked daintier, was easier to decorate, didn’t require as much cutlery as serving out slices of cake, and practical because it baked quicker and more evenly than one large cake in the ovens of yore. 

Muffins, it must be noted, are not the same as cupcakes. It’s not only the frosting on top of a cupcake that sets it apart from the muffin. Muffins are a type of bread, cupcakes are well, a type of cake. The batter for cupcakes is a lot creamier, smoother and more airy than the one for muffins, which usually is dense and lumpy and also incorporates ingredients like berries, nuts and chocolate chips. Nineteenth century American author Eliza Leslie is credited with coming up with the name “cupcakes”, when she used it in her cookbook, “Receipts”. The cupcake became commercially available in 1919 under the Hostess brand, also known for sweet snacks like Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and Zingers. 

Coming back to Amelia Simmons, the Smithsonian describes “American Cookery” as another American Declaration of Independence. While drawing from British cooking traditions, it also chronicled a distinctly American cuisine, the concerns and challenges of American homesteaders, and relied on ingredients, techniques and methods that were familiar to the average American. The cupcake was not its only trending contribution to cookery, American or otherwise. The modern-day cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were also found in its pages for the very first time.


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