I would like to experiment more with muffin recipes, but I don't want to stray too far and end up with inedible product. Are there basic parameters I should follow in creating my own muffin recipe?

What makes a muffin a muffin, as opposed to a cupcake?

What proportion of wet to dry ingredients should I use?

What is a good method for converting one fruit/veggie ingredient to another? So if I have a great apple muffin recipe, how do I know how many berries to use instead? Or grated carrot or squash?

4 Answers 4


Michael Ruhlman's Ratio defines a muffin as a form of a quick bread. The basic quick bread ratio is:

  • 2 parts flour
  • 2 parts liquid
  • 1 part egg
  • 1 part fat

So you can make a muffin with those basic ingredients in about that ratio. Remove any of those ingredients, and you no longer have a muffin. Substantially change those ingredients, and you've moved somewhere else in the dough continuum or even towards a batter.

Personally I'd classify a cupcake as a type of cake. The ratio for pound and sponge cake are both:

  • 1 part butter
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 part egg
  • 1 part flour

The differences between cakes are often the mixing method - creaming versus foaming, for example. You can see, though, that in a muffin your flour-to-fat ratio is higher than in a cake. Muffins also don't require sugars. Cakes and cupcakes do.

From the basic quick bread ratio, you should be able to add any fruit or other ingredients (try bacon or turkey bacon), substitute in dry ingredients for flour such as bran or oatmeal (or another grain), and make a lot of other interesting changes. Just make sure you stick to the basic proportion of a quick bread. If you add a very wet ingredient, remove some liquid. Change tastes by adjusting oil versus butter (or browning your butter). Add sugar, baking powder or soda for leavening, spices, extracts, etc.

  • If you hadn't recommended Ratio, I would have. ;~) The perfect place to start as far as I'm concerned.
    – wdypdx22
    Aug 16, 2010 at 18:01
  • 1
    That book is now on my birthday wish list! So, how are the parts measured? Weight or volume? And is one part egg = 1 egg? Would you use 1 cup flour, 2 cups liquid, 1 cup egg, 1 cup fat, or would that be just 1 egg instead of 1 cup egg? Aug 17, 2010 at 1:33
  • 1
    @JustRightMenus - He usually measures parts by weight, because a cup of flour usually ranges anywhere between 4.5 and 6 ounces, which can get to be a big change. For eggs, you can follow the guideline that a large egg is 2 oz. For muffins specifically, try the Google books preview (which has the basic recipe on p. 71): books.google.com/…
    – justkt
    Aug 17, 2010 at 11:50
  • +1 for an excellent explanation of the difference between muffins and cupcakes. Jun 24, 2014 at 7:07
  • Hmm... but most people consider banana bread a quick bread, yes? The classic banana bread recipe calls for 1c flour, 1c sugar, 1 stick butter, and 2 eggs. According to Wolfram Alpha, that's 4.2 oz flour, 3.7 oz egg, 3.3 oz butter. That's much closer to the 1:1:1 of cakes than the 2:1:1 of quick bread. And then 7 oz sugar, which makes it even sweeter than cake! (I don't know how much liquid goes into it - it mostly comes from the bananas, which also add even more sugar.) Most banana bread recipes even call for creaming the butter and sugar, like you would in a cake.
    – Josh
    Feb 12, 2016 at 1:47

Whew. This isn't as easy as you'd think. The short of the "cupcake" question is simple though: often there is no difference. Many big breakfast chains will serve you cake batter "muffins" in a heartbeat. A true muffin will be a bit coarser, a bit more bread-y. It's like the difference between a biscuit and a scone.

The basic muffin (oil,egg,milk,powder,flour) is easy. The problem is when you start mixing in flavor. For heavy stuff (pumpkin leaps to mind) you need to add more baking powder and baking soda as well. I also tend to separate my eggs, and fold in some beaten egg whites for a little extra lightness.

For berries and wet things, shake 'em in some flour first, so all the fruit doesn't settle to the bottom of the muffin. I'd shake them in the flour you plan on using for the muffins, so you don't get too much flour in your batter. If you're using frozen fruit, don't bother to thaw.

Sour cream, yoghurt, and buttermilk can all be subbed in for some of the milk. Thicker batter needs to have proportionately more leavening agent, while looser, wetter batter should have less (so as to avoid weird bubbles). There is no "right" consistency for muffin batter: some will be thicker and some will be thinner.

With subbing in different fruits and vegetables, the most important thing to consider is their water content. Berries are pretty much interchangeable. Apples and peaches, on the other hand, aren't. I'd rate a peach as being more like a berry in that sense (I used to go to a place that made peach and cream cheese muffins that were literally worth killing for. Literally.)

  • my favorite blueberry muffins require thawing the berries - otherwise the frozen fruit lowers the cooking temperature too much. They also suggest rinsing the berries to reduce color from the skins turning the surrounding muffin great.
    – justkt
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:49
  • @justkt: Shrug. there are about a billion blueberry muffin recipes in the world. I certainly wouldn't rinse the berries, especially if they're frozen though...You're going to lose flavor. Just dredge 'em in some flour, or don't overstir. Aug 16, 2010 at 19:58

I'm basing this off of observing these recipes all from Smitten Kitchen. I'm using all the same site with the thought that I want the same person making (or at least adapting) all the recipes.

Here's a quick approximation of wet to dry for each (not including small amounts of leavening or spices or things like apples that are both wet/dry ingredients):

  • corn: 2.25 C. dry to 1.5 C. wet
  • olive oil: 2.75 C. dry to 1.5 C. wet
  • pumpkin: 2.75 C. dry to 1.5 C. wet
  • raspberry: 3.15 C. dry to 1.7 C. wet
  • ricotta: 3.75 C. dry to 2.5 C. wet
  • sour cream: 2.25 C. dry to 1.75 C. wet
  • wheat: 3 C. dry to 1.75 C. wet

As you can see, most recipes have about 3 cups of dry ingredients to 1.5 or 2 cups of wet ingredients. To be more detailed:

  • Most of the recipes have about 1 C. flour and 1 C. sugar.
  • Around 1/2 C. of fat (butter or oil).
  • Between 0-2 large eggs...so I would try 1 egg to start with.
  • Between 1/2 tsp. and 1 Tbsp. baking soda...so I would try 2 tsp.
  • 1/2 tsp. of salt.

As to your other questions, I think the other respondents nailed them:

  • Cupcakes have frosting, muffins might have a light icing at most.
  • Adjusting for berries, other fruits and so on depends a lot on the season.
  • Ratio's what matter, and those range from 2.25/1.75~=1.29 to 3.15/1.7~=1.85.
    – Cascabel
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:46
  • To second Jefromi, it's not just the ratio of dry to wet, but you also need to include fat (butter or oil), and any other ingredients without which a muffin is not a muffin.
    – justkt
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:47
  • I've updated to add a little more info. Thanks for doing the ratio math.
    – Chad
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:50

The biggest differences between muffin and cupcake:

(1) muffins are usually not frosted, at most lightly glazed (2) muffins usually just have you mix wet and dry ingredients separately, while cupcakes have you cream the butter and sugar

When substituting fruits and veggies, you don't need to worry much. Start by doing it simply by volume (1 cup of berrries instead of 1 cup of apple pieces) and you won't be too far off. If the new ingredient is significantly wetter or drier you might want to adjust the liquid a bit.

  • +1 for bringing up technique differences and subbing suggestions.
    – justkt
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:46
  • 2
    The mixing difference you mention is part of what gives rise to the difference in crumb (fine for cupcakes, coarse for muffins). I think you've also missed part of the mixing difference. As part of mixing wet and dry separately, you generally mix until just combined with muffins; overmixing is bad. Cake batters, on the other hand, can usually be mixed quite thoroughly. Of course, some traditional cakes (e.g. carrot cake) have a crumb much more like a muffin...
    – Cascabel
    Aug 16, 2010 at 17:51

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