Basics, Cupcakes, Muffins

What’s the difference between muffins and cupcakes?

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Have you ever wondered what makes a muffin, a muffin? Or a cupcake, a cupcake? Well wonder no more! I mean, assuming you were even wondering in the first place.

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    Today we are breaking down the difference between muffins and cupcakes in excruciating detail! This full guide on muffins and cupcakes will help you tell the difference between the two!

    Frosted funfetti cupcakes

    Muffins vs Cupcakes:

    Cupcakes by and large are just mini cakes. If you ask me, they have to have frosting, but that’s kind of up for debate in the foodie world. But I’d say 98% of the time, they feature frosting.

    Muffins are more relatable to mini quick breads, and typically don’t feature any toppings or frosting.

    Blueberry muffins

    Generally speaking, frosting is the biggest tell-tale sign of a cupcake. But we’re not stopping there, because there are muffins out there that have frosting, and there are cupcakes that don’t.

    There are a TON of other qualities to look out for when it comes to telling the difference. So let’s look at each one in detail!

    funfetti cupcakes stacked
    Funfetti cupcakes (unfrosted)

    Sweetness, fat & overall healthiness:

    Cupcakes are usually sweeter than muffins and feature more butter and little to no oil in their batter. Cupcakes usually use granulated or brown sugar, or a combination of the two.

    The main fat in muffins is usually oil, and recipes seldom call for butter. Muffins are also usually less generous with the amount of sweetness added. And it’s also more common to swap out granulated sugar in muffins with healthier alternatives (like maple syrup, honey, applesauce, or coconut sugar).

    For those reasons, muffins are usually considered healthier than cupcakes. Which is also why it’s considered less “appropriate” to have cupcakes for breakfast.


    Cupcakes are typically lighter, softer, and more tender in texture than muffins. That’s thanks to the method for making cupcakes (more on that in the next point). It’s also thanks to the fact that cupcakes usually feature more butter.

    Unlike cupcakes, muffins are usually denser in texture, because they involve less mixing and less incorporation of air.

    Chocolate cupcake batter in cupcake tin

    How they’re made:

    To make cupcakes, you’ll most often see recipes call for beating butter and sugar together for a significant amount of time. Then gradually beating in the egg or eggs. And finally, adding in dry ingredients and milk/sour cream.

    Of course, there are exceptions (see: moist chocolate cupcakes).

    Overall, making cupcakes is a bit more technical and labor intensive (but that doesn’t mean they’re hard to make)! They’re just harder than muffins. But it’s kind of hard to beat muffins in the simplicity field.

    banana muffins in muffin tin
    Banana muffin batter in muffin tin

    The muffin method usually involves mixing together wet ingredients in one bowl, dry ingredients in another, and then combining the two (along with any add-ins). Not much more to it.

    Speaking of add-ins …

    blueberry muffin batter (1)

    Flavors and Add-ins:

    With muffins, it’s more common for you to see add ins mixed into the batter, while most people leave cupcake batter on the plain side. Some popular muffin add-ins include dried or fresh fruit, chocolate, and nuts.

    Although additions are sometimes made to cupcake batter (see: funfetti cupcakes!), cupcakes are more often left plain (with classic flavors being chocolate, vanilla, or red velvet).

    chocolate chunk muffins

    Muffin tops vs Cupcake tops:

    This last difference has to do with height.

    There’s a lot of hype over tall muffin tops, but tall cupcake tops are a huge no, no! That’s mostly because cupcakes are usually frosted, so large, domed tops can get in the way of that.

    Ya need room for frosting!

    Muffins on the other hand are meant to have big, bold, SKY HIGH tops! It’s a must have. And that’s why muffins usually have extra baking powder added to the batter.

    The difference between tops is why you’ll see most muffin recipes call for filling the muffin tin to the VERY top with batter, while cupcake recipes warn against filling more than about 2/3 of the way.

    The point is…

    9 times out of 10, you can tell if you’re eating a muffin or a cupcake based on if it has frosting or not. But in some cases, the line between muffin and cupcake is super blurry.

    Other differences include texture (cupcakes = lighter, muffins = denser), method (cupcakes = more technical, muffins = combine wet & dry ingredients), add-ins (cupcakes = usually plain, muffins = usually studded with additions), and tops (cupcakes = flat, muffins = tall & domed).

    There are exceptions to all of these “rules.” And if you ask me, it really doesn’t matter which one is which.

    They’re both delicious!

    Looking for recipes? Check out these:


    blueberry muffins
    banana muffins
    carrot muffins
    chocolate chunk muffins


    sour cream vanilla cupcakes
    funfetti cupcakes
    moist chocolate cupcakes
    easy vanilla cupcakes


    vanilla buttercream
    chocolate buttercream
    chocolate ganache

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