I was debating with someone today whether what we were eating was a cupcake or a muffin, but realized we didn't really know the difference. So what's the difference between a cupcake and a muffin in American English?

In case you're wondering, what we were eating had a sweet batter, but not overly; had blueberries in the batter; had no icing or frosting; was perhaps about three fluid ounces (1 dL) big; and had been baked with a paper wrapper.


5 Answers 5


There is considerable overlap between cupcakes and muffins.


From a technical point of view, muffins are made by the muffin method, making them small quickbreads. In the muffin method, the wet ingredients are combined in one bowl; and the dry ingredients are combined in another bowl. Then the two are quickly incorporated together with minimal mixing to avoid gluten development. This gives muffins a somewhat coarse crumb.

Cupcakes are small cakes, and are made by one of the traditional cake methods such as the creaming method, the reverse creaming method, the genoise method, the chiffon method, and so on. They tend to have a finer crumb than muffins.


While no single criterion distinguishes a muffin from a cupcake if you do not adopt the technical definition above, the following trends exist:

  • Cupcakes tend to be sweeter than muffins; there are savory muffins such as cornbread
  • Cupcakes are often iced or frosted, whereas muffins tend to have no topping, or a simple crumb topping
  • Cupcakes usually have a head or top no larger than the body of the cupcake; muffins are often encouraged to overflow their baking cup, so that their top is larger in diameter, giving them somewhat of a mushroom shape
  • Cupcakes are almost always, well, cupcake shaped; muffins can be made as just muffin tops
  • Cupcakes are almost never crispy or crunchy; muffins are often encouraged to brown and develop texture, especially on the tops

And cupcakes always have frosting.

For me, that's actually the real defining feature: frosting. A drizzle of glaze is one thing, but once you put frosting on a muffin, it's no longer a muffin in our mind. Hey, you have to draw the line somewhere!

  • 1
    Hello, and welcome to Seasoned advice! I was confused about your choice to duplicate another answer until I noticed you are quoting large portions of it and adding a small paragraph at the end. I removed the parts of the other answer which were not relevant to your post, and also formatted the remainder as a quote. It is a nice valid answer, it was just too hard to note what you are trying to say in its previous form.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 11:54
  • So you're saying when I made bran muffins to hide in the cupcakes that I made for a co-worker's 50th birthday, it qualified as a cupcake? That takes all of the fun out of the joke.
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 20:39

Due to thekitchn website the difference between muffins and cupcakes is the following:

A muffin is something that's relatively healthy. It's not too sweet, perhaps made with whole wheat flour, and is more likely to be loaded with fruit than candy (ex: Blueberries). A muffin can also be savory instead of sweet. The texture is usually dryer and slightly denser than their cupcake cousins.

Cupcakes are, well, miniature cakes. They're sweet by definition, coming in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet. A cupcake is tender and rich with eggs and butter. They're a dessert item, not an everyday breakfast food. And cupcakes always have frosting.

Another definition of muffins due to Diana’s Desserts is:

'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.'

Due to the preceding formulas, we can deduce that the muffin is lighter and healthier than a cupcake by having less fats (butter and milk), less eggs and sometimes whole wheat or oats instead of normal flour.

  • 3
    +1 for sourced answer, even though the sources are not clear on the demarcation.
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 14:08
  • 7
    Ugh. Muffins are not healthy. Have you looked at the calorie/fat/sugar counts on bakeshop muffins? It's disgusting. They have pretty much the same calories as a cupcake. And I strongly disagree that cupcakes always have frosting.
    – Catija
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 19:18

I took some time to compare cupcakes and muffins with each other and I listed all the differences in a convenient chart on my blog:



Have a baketastic baking day,

  • meta.stackexchange.com/q/225370
    – msh210
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 13:50
  • 2
    Hello Backdirndl and welcome to the site. It would be very helpful if you would post the results in your answer rather than just providing a link as, at some point, the link may not be available. Also, if your information came from other sources it would be appropriate to provide links to those sources. As a new user, you may want to visit the Help Center (cooking.stackexchange.com/help) for tips on how best to post questions and answers.
    – Cindy
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 18:12

Hehe, exactly as much different as biscuits and cookies 😋, if you know what I mean. Them "Americans" just created a new term out from their Brit Ancestors, like this cookie from biscuit thing, that's all. YES THAT'S ALL! Whatever tiny toony differences people are trying to show off are tiniest to the power tiniest made up just for the sake of the subject....

  • Welcome to Seasoned Advice! This is really a comment, not an answer. With a bit more rep, you will be able to post comments.
    – Luciano
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 10:18
  • 1
    Folks are flagging this for deletion. Friendly remember that flags aren't "super downvotes" and incorrect doesn't mean low quality. I will say that it would be a higher quality Answer if it included some supporting evidence, but I don't think this meets the criteria for the low-quality flag.
    – Preston
    Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 4:11
  • Don't blame "cookie" on Americans. It's from the Dutch "koekje" (little cake) ... which I think is also the Dutch word for cupcake.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 19:07

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