I recently returned from a family trip to Tuscany, Italy during which I met up with my long-lost Italian relatives, found myself stuck in traffic behind a flock of sheep, and ate more (way, way more) than my fair share of food. It was just so good… In my two weeks in Tuscany I saw everything from a three-legged sheep dog to medieval towns built on the edges of cliffs. I did not, however, see one single cupcake. In fact, most of the Italians that I had the pleasure of speaking with didn’t even know what a cupcake was. -Gasp!-
My friends at Treat shared my horror and surprise. Following the initial shock, we began to wonder why I hadn’t found a single cupcake abroad. Was it because I hadn’t been in any major Italian cities? Or, are cupcakes solely an American phenomenon? Where did cupcakes come from, anyway?
Evidently the origin is unknown. The first mention of a cupcake is said to be traced back to a 1796 recipe for cakes baked in cups (ta da: cupcake!) written in American Cookery, by Amelia Simms. The recipe calls for ½ pound sugar, ½ pound butter rubbed into 2 pounds flour, 1 glass wine, 1 glass Rosewater, 2 glass Emptins (a type of yeast obtained from the remains of the brewing process), a nutmeg, cinnamon, and currents . Another popular theory is that the name “Cupcake” or “Cup Cake” was born out of the original measurement system, which called for cups of ingredients. These recipes would later become known as 1234 cakes: 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs . Unlike the first theory, these cakes were not necessarily baked in individual cups.
We can trace the cupcake back hundreds of years, but the treats didn’t actually rise to fame in America until 1919, at the end of World War I, with the introduction of the Hostess Cupcake: a devil’s food cake that originally lacked the crème filling and curly, white icing we’ve come to know and love. In more recent years, with the help of mainstream Television and Martha Stewart, cupcakes have become an extremely popular, diverse and customizable American desert.
In my research I discovered that cupcakes do exist outside of America, but not in their same wide-spread glory. Upon google’ing “cupcakes in Italy” I was able to find one bakery in Rome that does sell cupcakes. I also learned that cupcakes, or better yet “Fairy Cakes,” can be found in Britain as well as other European countries. It seems, therefore, that I just hadn’t been looking hard enough to satisfy my cupcake fix.
Returning from vacation is always bittersweet. Actually, if you work at a cupcake store it is supersweet. While I had an amazing experience in Italy, it is good to be back home. Especially since I don’t have to work very hard to find a delicious cupcake. And now, speaking of tastey deserts, I’m going to treat myself to a Pistachio Turtle cupcake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, pistachio frosting, pistachios). My mouth is watering just thinking about it.