Cupcakes: Deliciously Retro

Retro Staff Comments

Nostalgic Cupcakes SignCupcakes. Who can resist these single-serving baked treats? A miniaturized cake, they carry the same core elements – a baked base, frosting, and, sometimes, sprinkles or other embellishments.

Reports vary, but the term ‘cupcake’ is thought to have been first mentioned in E. Leslie’s Receipts, published in 1828. Back then, it was traditional to weigh ingredients, and newer recipes emerged instructing cooks to use cups for measuring flour, butter, and other ingredients whilst baking.

Cupcakes were also referred to as miniaturized 1-2-3-4 cakes, because of a standard recipe that called for a basis 1-cup butter, 2-cups sugar, 3-cups flour, and 4-eggs.

It is believed the name cupcake was used also because they were initially baked in individual pottery cups, teacups or a similar mold (the muffin tray wasn’t created until the turn of the 20th century). In Britain they were called fairy cakes due to their size.

History lesson: The shift to measuring, opposed to weighing, was a significant, welcome change as it saved a great amount of time in the kitchen. This lent to the popularity of the cupcake as much as their uniqueness.

Cupcake-Shaped Cookie Jar

Cupcakes were more convenient to bake and also saved on energy costs. Thus, they gained popularity throughout the 1900s.

It is believed that frosted cupcakes became widespread in the 1920s, with the typical flavors being chocolate and vanilla. The 1940s introduced malted icing.

Hostess recognized the cupcake trend, and introduced the snack cupcake in 1919. But it was in 1950, when Hostess executive D.R. “Doc” Rice added the company’s signature squiggles and vanilla-creme filling, that these tasty treats really took off. Quickly, the new Hostess CupCake became the best selling snack cake.

These treats also became popular bakery items as you could buy them by the dozen in varying flavors and icings. Sprinkles and other toppings were also popular.

Some argue that the “retro” factor of the cupcake relies more upon childhood memories than an increased popularity during the ’50s and ’60s. After all, they had already been a norm in many American households for decades. But it was the 1950s when we saw the major shift in the design and toppings used for the cupcake we know today. Even bakeries began spending more time making the smaller cakes look prettier. That, and more colorful signage was use to advertise them.

In the early 2000s, the traditional cupcake gained immense publicity as shows like Sex and the City featured unique bakeries, like Magnolia Bakery in New York City (which, by the way, makes a mean red velvet cupcake). Since then, specialized shops have emerged across the country and, just this year, California-based bakery Sprinkles introduced the first cupcake ATM.



Of course, the most recent cupcake craze has called for heftier prices, too. Many “gourmet” cupcakes cost $4 to $5 each. Convert that to the year 1950, and a cupcake would cost almost twice that for a gallon of gas…

The cupcake craze has expanded beyond just eating them, too. Entire web sites and social pages are dedicated to cupcakes, and cupcake themed home decor and collectibles continue to gain popularity.

Do you love cupcakes? What’s your favorite flavor and topping? And what do you think about the latest craze that’s literally sweeping across America?



Last updated: Jun 11, 2012
Filed under: Retro Food and Recipes, Retro Memories Tagged with: food, gourmet cupcakes