Cupcakes are sweet, little cakes that are the perfect dessert snack that everyone can relate to. While cupcakes aren’t exactly what you would expect to see being served at Mardi Gras, your average cupcake does share some amazing similarities to what a King Cake represents. Let’s find out more about how cupcakes are related to King Cakes.
The cupcake history we nearly forgot
If it wasn’t for our rich European heritage, there wouldn’t be a country called America, and certainly not the one that many kids today are trying to forget has a detailed history. Europe is an entire continent filled with millennia of situations that have endured war, famine, peace, and prosperity. It’s not always our fault that a few bad apples come along and spoil good intentions that are part of our integral history and heritage.
The cupcake is one such sweet treat that is a lot older than most people give it credit for and has a foggy interpretation when it gets lost in the US history books. It’s not even mentioned officially (by name) in a recipe cookbook written by Amelia Simmons which refers to it as a light cake baked in small cups. The actual name ‘cupcake’ was invented by chance in 1828 that had been written by Eliza Leslie.
For all that it’s worth, this little dessert recipe has origins that date back to 1725 by a royal chef who was appointed to the Four Monarchs under King William. His service to the King spanned from 1650 to 1702 and detailed his mastery in the royal kitchens to a special treat that was crowned Queen Cakes’. These were likely cakes that were baked for Queen Mary (who died in 1694) and later Queen Anne (1702 to 1714).
It seems that Queen Cakes are (in fact) directly related to King Cakes in their recipe ingredients, however, there is a distinction. The original Queen cakes contained crushed almonds whereas the King cake contained currants. The French were the originators of this recipe, which was often shared by court-appointed chefs at that time. This is further backed up in history by the Gateau a la Reine in 1685 which was later republished in 1824.
These little cakes were originally served to Kings and Queens as little snacks but were not as elaborate as the cakes that later evolved into the Twelfth Night Cakes. If you know anything about your history of the 12th Night, this is a major connection to Royalty and the intended celebration of King cakes as we know them. And- if you know anything about Mardi Gras, the embodiment of ancient Roman deities is a vital part of Mardi Gras parties!
Another history replaces the older
Those crafty Romans and their old gods had a knack for worshiping Saturn as their god of agriculture. During the celebration of Saturnalia (in the winter solstice) which starts around December 21st, Romans would rejoice in feasts and exchanging gifts. It wasn’t until Christianity found a clever way to replace Paganism. The new holiday for December 25 would replace Saturnalia and had some interesting rules.
The first rule was too fast for 40 days before Christmas. But after Christmas happens on the 25th, it was allowed to celebrate for 12 Nights eating as you like. This all ends by the evening of the 6th of January which is the Epiphany. As the story goes, the night when the Three Kings (The Magi) come to pay a visit to Mary and baby Jesus presenting gifts. This is the evening where the Three Kings cake became a celebration of the 12th Night festivities.
It also contains many fruits, nuts, and guess who- a little baby Jesus. So essentially, the Queen and King cupcakes had been merged together into one big cake for the celebration of Epiphany. As you might expect, they still celebrate the old Roman themes for Mardi Gras while observing the festive links of Christianity. Mardi Gras is indeed a celebration that breaks all the rules including dancing naked in the streets during their celebration of Saturn.
A cupcake is born
The recipe for your average cupcake has changed over the years from being a dense little cake to a light and fluffy sponge cake. It also replaced the original sweet glazes with light and creamy frosting. It literally looks nothing like the original Queen Cakes that used to be popular in England in the 1800s. This is likely why the recipe (and history) became so foggy. Since there was a big change in how the ingredients for cupcakes were followed, they became easier to make -more or less.
Before having an actual name, cupcakes were often called ‘number cakes’, since the recipe was simple to remember. It was literally 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. There was also 1 spoon of baking soda to help them to get fluffy as they baked. For early American colonists, this was easy to remember and share with others. The first cupcakes were baked in Ramekin tins that were greased with butter.
As time moved forward, paper inserts were added so it made the cupcakes come out easier. For whatever reason, cupcakes just didn’t have the same meaning in America as they did for Europeans. Now, cupcakes are more related to birthdays and children’s parties. Who would ever expect that cupcakes were a private treat for Kings and Queens? Then again, search the history and origin of the potato chip, and you’ll wonder if all of our favorite snacks are Royal.