How to use cupcake and muffin papers: they're more critical than you think

Cupcake pan liners. Baking cups. Muffin papers.

Whatever words you use for those paper liners that go into a muffin or cupcake pan, I’m sure you’ve heard of them. In fact, you probably have a stash of them in the back of the cupboard right now.

But what you might not know is, how do you know when to use them? And why?

Inquiring bakers want to know!

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

After doing a zillion tests (well, not QUITE that many), I discovered some interesting facts about muffin papers. So let’s jump right in here with some of the burning questions you might have – and yes, “burning” (and its prevention) is one reason you might choose to use muffin papers. Or baking cups. Whatever.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

Should I use muffin papers when I want to dress up my cupcakes?

Well, the answer’s not exactly black and white.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

Actually, it IS black and white.

When you’re baking light-colored cupcakes or muffins, definitely use all kinds of fun papers. But when you’re going the dark chocolate route, colorful papers don’t matter that much: as you can see above, the cupcake’s color bleeds through the paper, muddying its design.

If you’re determined to use papers, try doubling them; with two layers, the one on the outside helps keep things bright. Though it also won’t “stick” to the cupcake very well; Hobson’s choice.

Rule of thumb: The darker the cake, the less likely you are to get a pretty result. Unless you use foil cups; more on those later.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

Do muffin papers make cleanup easier?

Absolutely. When you use papers, you usually don’t even need to wash the pan. Without papers – get out the scrub brush. And as any cupcake or muffin baker knows, scrubbing the 12 wells in a muffin pan, individually, is just as onerous as it sounds.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

I’ve heard muffin papers can change the shape of your muffins or cupcakes. Is that true?

Well, yes and no – depends on the recipe.

The chocolate cupcakes above – one baked in a paper, one not – are very similar in shape. But the doughnut muffins below them show a definite difference – the one baked without paper peaks rather steeply, rather than forming a nice domed top.

Why’s that? Without the insulation of paper, the sides of the baking muffin set before the center, which continues to rise. With the paper’s insulation, the sides don’t set as quickly – meaning the entire muffin rises, not just its center.

So, how do you know which muffins or cupcakes rise more evenly with the insulation of paper?

You don’t. It’s trial and error – but if you have any doubt, go ahead and use the papers, just in case.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

Which brings us to another reason to use papers: they keep the muffin or cupcake sides nice and soft, and help prevent potential burning. You can see which muffin was baked in paper, can’t you?

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

If I use muffin papers, should I grease them first?

Well, they do prevent cake from sticking to the paper – sometimes just to a minor degree, as illustrated above (that’s greased paper on the left, ungreased on the right). But sometimes, with more delicate cupcakes, greasing the cups actually prevents chunks of cake sticking to the paper when you peel it off.

So again – better safe than sorry, right? Grease the papers.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

What about those aluminum foil “papers”? Do they work?

Aluminum papers are attractive in a simple sort of way; and dark cupcakes won’t show through, obviously. But if you expect to use them for stand-alone (no pan) baking – don’t. They tend to flatten out from the pressure of the rising batter.

Bottom line, muffin papers help your muffins and cupcakes in a variety of ways, some subtle, some more apparent…

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

Like this cupcake disaster.

Ever had this happen? Sure you have! I was doing a side-by-side test, papers vs. no papers, in a non-stick pan. Took the cupcakes out of the oven, got the next batch started, then circled back and removed these from the pan 5 minutes after they’d come out of the oven.

Yes, just 5 minutes, but look what happened – the papered cupcakes slipped out easily, but those without papers were absolutely GLUED to the pan.

I had to dig those bottoms out with a spoon, and even then the pan was a mess. I scraped, and scoured, and muttered various unprintable imprecations under my breath… and vowed, from here on in, to ALWAYS use muffin papers.

How to use muffin & cupcake papers via @kingarthurflour

Luckily, I’ve now got all kinds, for every occasion!

Want to play dress-up with your next batch of cupcakes? Check out our selection of papers.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Brenda from Flatbush

    But hey, you left out my favorite method: foil cups used in tin molds!!!!! Foil cups NEVER stick, don’t need greasing (I’d go nuts greasing muffin papers, they’d skitter around and the creases would flatten out), and they hold up nicely with of course no bleed-through. I’d never use them without a tin, of course, they’d sag just like your picture shows. I am rooting for them because I am finding them harder and harder to obtain in stores–the kind that for some reason come packed with flimsy paper interliners between each foil cup (I throw these away, have tried using them and–they stick!) (And I’m wayyy too lazy to grease them!)

    Reply
    1. Janet Price

      I always use the foil cups since muffins and cupcakes don’t stick to them. I bought a case of them from A–not sure if I should mention another vendor here.

    2. Helen

      Yes! I agree! Even when making a low fat or fat free recipe. Substitute apple sauce for oil in banana muffins and the foil peels off perfectly.

    3. Mary Colwell

      I make an old fashioned bran muffin in a very old muffin pan. I heat the pan while the oven is heating to 350 then put small dab of butter in each hot cup, swish it around with a pastry brush and then fill. They fall out and have a nice outside. No need to clean between batches….just another butter swish in the hot cups and refill. My recipe has apple sauce, grated apple, puréed flaxseed, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, chopped walnuts, raisins, buttermilk!!!! Oh and sweetened with honey and molasses. MMMMMMMMGood and not too sweet.

  2. Charlotte Quattlelbaum

    You left out what I think is the more important reason. Do I want a crunchy crust? I always use liners for cupcakes but most muffins (the ones more bread than cake) I want a good crust and therefore never use liners and bake them in a dark pan.

    Reply
    1. Caroline

      This was exactly what I was thinking. When I’m making fresh warm muffins I much prefer the texture of a muffin baked without a paper liner. And I spray the muffin tin for easy release and clean-up.

    2. Amy K

      I agree! In my house the liners are for cupcakes, but we like the crust on our muffins! I find especially that a substantial muffin, with fruit or nuts, tastes somewhat steamed in a liner, but when no liner is used in a well greased pan, and then you remove the muffins from the tin as soon as possible, the texture is much nicer.

    3. Pat Calta

      I agree with the comments here. I have found, however, for the times when I would prefer that the muffins had liners for the sake of handling by others/neatness/appearance, that I have found the aluminum foil liners to work well without the steamy-ness of the paper lines.

  3. Elizabeth

    I find that often times my cupcakes don’t always fill in the paper liner evenly. That is to say that some fill in evenly with the ruffle of the liner maintaining it’s shape while other times the liner buckles in and gets captured in the cupcake. Do you know why this happens and what I can do to prevent it?

    If you drip any of the batter on the side of the paper, it weights it down. Try using a portioning scoop to evenly deposit the batter only on the bottom of the liner. Another hint: keep the liners from getting flattened out and losing the tight pleats- that will minimize the buckling. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

    Reply
  4. Jasmine

    Now, let’s have a discussion on silicon cupcake liners, now that’s something I actually like to use!!!! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Amanda

      Yes, would love to have this discussion! Anecdotally, I’ve found that they keep the cupcakes & muffins more moist, and they do stand up on their own on a cookie sheet. I like the fun shapes, too – I have squares and triangles and diamonds.

      My only catch so far: they still do stick to the cupcakes a little bit (about like your average paper liner), and they are the WORST to clean. Granted, I do not have a dishwasher, so maybe that’s the secret?

    2. Marilyn

      Me too! No spraying necessary, they don’t stick to the muffins, and are easy to wash and reuse.

    3. Susan Cassady

      I bought some silicone liners and actually own a silicone muffin pan. The only time I used it, everything stuck. Are you supposed to grease them when
      Using? I could never find this info online.

    4. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Susan,
      Yes, it’s still good to grease silicone liners and pans. They are more non-stick than metal, but a layer of cooking spray is a huge help. ~ MJ

    5. Wynde Walton

      I’ve used them since someone gave me some but only about 4 different times. I do use an oil spray. Makes cleanup faster – you do have the extra step of washing them but they are always there (don’t have to make last minute trips to store). Seem more environmentally friendly overall. I need to try different type batters. May not work as well on cake type but my quick bread batters do well.

    6. "Bakers Fancy"

      Hi Jasmine, I’ve been using silicone pan liners for cupcakes and muffins for a while with success. You get all the benefits that PJ listed above but the liners slip off easily and don’t stick either to the pan not the cake. I also have found that the expensive ones I have (Williams Sonoma) are thinner and work better than the cheaper, thicker variety. I’d like to hear what others have experienced.

    7. pasadena66

      I bought two sets of King Arthur’s custom clear silicone cups (item 4953) last year and I love ’em. They make a larger muffin, but I’ve had no complaints about that from my family or friends. And, they’re so easy to clean. Just a wipe with a little soapy water and a quick rinse and they’re done. I’ve had no problems when using them with any of my muffin recipes. Since I thought our hosts would enjoy some homemade goodies, I took some silicone cups with me on a trip to Houston and made muffins for them. They raved so much about the muffins and the silicone cups that I sent them a set as a gift.

  5. Linda

    I’ve never sprayed cupcake liners until two days ago when we were taste testing the first batch and found the cake sticking…very weird, never had that happen before. However, one helpful tip I found was to make sure the cavity of your cupcake pan is big enough that the whole liner sits inside. If it sticks up over the lip, the cupcake will spread and overflow more instead of having a nice dome. Also, all cupcake liners are not created equal. Cheaper liners are thinner, don’t hold their shape as well, and if you end up having to use two just to (hopefully, but no guarantee) get a decent end result, where is the saving?

    Reply
  6. linda

    Hi there. Loved the article! I always use muffin cups, even with muffins. But sometimes I have some stick terrible to the paper. I always forget which ones do it and so always find out the hard way. I go to peel the paper away and a thick layer of muffin comes out with it. maybe they are too warm with I do that? Or was it the ones with apple in it? Wish I could remember. Now I will just grease the papers and not take any chances. Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Linda, I think a warm muffin will be more delicate and likely to stick to the paper than a cool muffin. Barb@KAF

    2. Judy

      Linda, I have had that happen too with some muffins sticking to the paper liners, but not others. This is the way I remember which ones to use paper liners and which ones to use foil liners. I have noticed that the muffins made with butter do well with paper liners, but the ones made with oil stick, so I use foil for those. The way I remember is “oil use foil”. That has been my experience anyway. I use paper liners for cupcakes. I’ve never greased or spayed any liners and never heard of it.

    3. Diane

      I have a savory muffin recipe that contains olive oil instead of butter. They really stick to the paper liners, even if I grease them.

      I had a focaccia bread recipe totally stick to a pan that I very generously greased with olive oil. When I retried the focaccia but lined the same pan with parchment paper–oh my, what a difference! I’m convince, olive oil may work on a non-stick pan, otherwise, parchment is my liner of choice.

      Next time I make my savory muffins I plan to use 5″ squares of parchment shaped around a small can to then fit into the muffin pans.

    1. Susan

      I use a number 20 scoop. Rarely do I over flow. Also, I set my oven to 375 and then when I put my cup cakes in I turn it down to 350. Cup cakes don’t get that big mound in the center.

  7. Erin Westgate

    Spraying the cups?! Never heard of this! We sell muffin pan quiches and I had to try every cup under sun to find cups that didn’t stick. Found PaperChef Culinary Parchment Baking Cups were the ONLY ones to work.

    Reply
    1. mj

      I never heard of parchment baking cups! I am so excited about this, you have no idea! I’m going to buy some right away. Thanks for sharing it!

    2. Marisk

      Thank you, Ms Erin. Looked around the internet when I read your message. I’m going to look for the Large; trusting the comments on several sites … Large = standard size cups. Mahalo : )

    3. Stephanie

      Frustrated with stuck muffin disasters, I started “making” my own parchment muffin liners. I just take a square of KAF parchment paper and press it as neatly as possible into the bottom of my jumbo muffin pans and crease the sides into shape. It is a bit awkward to fill them because the don’t stay in place until weighted down with batter. However, the end result is that they look like the fancy tulip papers from gourmet bake shops and ZERO sticking!! And my pans are perfectly clean.
      However, buying parchment cups is a welcome option if available in jumbo muffin size. Thanks for the info!

      BTW, the KAF parchment paper refillable holder that I bought last month is a dream to use! No more fighting with flimsy boxes and ragged edges. Effortlessly cuts perfect paper. Sturdy, wipeable and nice looking! Worth every penny.

  8. Kalisa

    What a timely post! I’m about to make cupcakes for a birthday celebration (blackberry bourbon, yum!) and need to go buy cupcake papers.

    Another cupcake paper tip I have seen mentioned on this blog is that if you really want a nice, clean liner (say if you have specially decorated ones), use 2 papers. Have a plain cupcake paper tucked inside the “nicer” one that you want to stay pretty and it will keep the batter from leaking onto the printed design.

    Reply
  9. Monica

    I’ve never heard of greasing cupcake papers. It seems like it would be a mess. Do you just spray it with nonstick spray? And I always thought that cupcakes came in papers, but muffins didn’t!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, just spray the inside of the papers when they’re set in the pan, Monica. I also spray the top of the pan in case the muffins or cupcakes extend out over the pan. You can’t beat the easy cleanup with papers, for muffins or cupcakes! Barb@KAF

    2. sharon

      I have found when I reduce the fat in a muffin recipe, greasing the cupcake papers with cooking spray is a must. otherwise, half of the muffin sticks to the paper. Many muffins have lots of fat to help them keep well. I have found that if I am planning to serve the muffins the same day as baking, i can cut some of the fat particularly if it is vegetable oil.

    3. Gail Vesely

      What about silicone cups? Do they work well? With or without pans? With or without greasing?

    4. The Baker's Hotline

      Gail, the silicone cups we sell hold a good deal more batter than traditional muffin papers (2/3 cup as opposed to 1/4 cup), but they do work well for oversized muffins! They’re stronger than muffin papers and can be baked directly on a cookie sheet and are also nonstick, but as with muffin papers, we find an extra greasing helpful. Mollie@KAF

    5. Mariah

      So, I’m very new to this so quick question…do I use cooking spray(Crisco) and the Crisco vegetable oil too in the cupcakes? I’m trying to make cupcakes if that’s not obvious?

    6. The Baker's Hotline

      Mariah, you can use any vegetable oil-based cooking spray to grease your cupcake papers. Just remember to do so lightly and use hardy liners so the grease marks don’t show through. You can always double-line the baked cupcakes to hide any “stains,” if you use thinner papers and want them to look neat and clean. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *