The term 'cupcake' was first mentioned in E. Leslie's 'Receipts' of 1828 America, but according to the Food Timeline Web, food historians have said it is yet unconfirmed as to why the name "cup cake" or "cupcake" actually originated. There are two theories as to its origin: one, the cakes were originally cooked in cups and two, the ingredients used to make the cupcakes started to be measured out by the cup.
Potentially the cupcake name originated during this time because the ingredients for these cakes were measured in cups instead of being weighed, as had been the custom previously. According to "Baking in America" written by Greg Patent, this was revolutionary in the kitchen because of the massive amount of time it saved in baking. It's an interesting note that the cakes were once known as "number" cakes because of the mnemonic device for remembering the recipe: One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour and four eggs plus one cup of milk and one spoonful of soda.
Whether it was a "cup," "measure" or "number" cake, the shift to measuring from weighing was indeed a significant one, according to "The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Food and Drink." It also goes on to explain that the "cup" name had a double meaning because of the practice of baking in small containers, including at the time, tea cups.
Long before muffin tins were made readily available, the small cakes were often baked in individual pottery cups or moulds and may have taken their name from the cups they were baked in. This is the use of the name that has persisted, and the name of "cupcake" is now given to any small cake that is equal to the size of a teacup.
Cupcakes were far more convenient than larger cakes because the time it took to bake them was much quicker. When baking was down in hearth ovens, it would take a long time to bake a cake, and the final product may often end up burnt. Muffin tins became available at the start of the 20th century and the trend switch from baking the cakes in pottery cups to the tins at this time as they delivered a far more evenly cooked cake.
It took some time for cupcakes to become how we know them today. Paper liners were not used until shortly after World War I when the James River Corporation manufactured cupcake liners on machines that just a few years before were churning out artillery shells. Commercial cupcakes reached the market shortly before World War II.
Many people associate cupcakes with the popularity of homemaking of the 1950's and 60's although this is believed to be a myth. Cupcakes were no more popular during this period then they are today. It is more likely that adults associate cupcakes with memories from their childhood.
Today cupcakes are happily enjoyed by people all over the world with each culture adding its own unique culinary twist to the popular dessert. The cupcake has gone gourmet and is playful, hip and glamorous with numerous bakeries having been set up dedicated to them.