Quite a number of people can’t tell the difference between muffins and cupcakes, some even assuming they’re the same. Cupcakes aren’t over-the-top muffins. Cupcakes are cupcakes while muffins are muffins. They may look similar, but, a single bite changes everything.
Sure they share the same ingredients, as both usually contain flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and milk. Although, muffins sometimes substitute all-purpose flour with whole wheat, oat, or even nut flours. Muffins are filled with a variety of mix-ins like dried fruits, nuts, or chocolate chips, and could replace butter with liquid fat such as vegetable oil. Cupcakes have more butter and sugar compared to its muffin cousin.
Consistency and mixing process also differentiate these baked goods. A cupcake is made by creaming butter and sugar together resulting in a smooth, fluffy batter, which is beaten significantly longer than that of the muffin, to even out the air bubbles. Meanwhile, muffin batter is beaten briefly and remains relatively knobbly, making it usually a drier and a far more dense bread.
There’s a notion that muffins are healthier, that’s why it may be part of a breakfast meal. On other hand, cupcakes are dessert items, and may well be considered mini-cakes as they are sweet, and come in flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and red velvet, among others. It is possible to have savory muffins, but not cupcakes.
Physically, a cupcake has frosting while muffins may be glazed. The former is topped with cream as the latter has slightly sugared, thinly glazed tops.
In the simplest explanation possible, the cupcake is a miniature cake and the muffin is small, quick bread.