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. Alina Abramson

    I’ve always used liners for cupcakes and muffins, to avoid having to spray the pan. Lately however,
    I’ve been converting all the ones I make to minis. For those I just lightly use the paper from the butter. They come right out without sticking with the right pan (I use Wilton Avanti Everglide Metal-Safe Non-Stick 24 Cup Mini Muffin Pan). I use a #70 disher to fill the cup. A baby bottle brush work beautifully to quickly clean the cups (works great for espresso cups too!). I used it to bake the Favorite Brownies and used papers after baking for presentation in a tin.

    Reply
  2. Tom

    Just a FYI contribution. We spent spring break at Indian Shores, Florida last spring. Several times a week we found ourselves at a little coffee shop called Indian Coffee Company. With our coffee we had a jumbo Orange Cranberry Muffin. The muffin was baked in a 7 ½” x 7 ½” square of dark parchment paper tucked down in the jumbo muffin pan to make a well for the mix. I used regular parchment paper cut to dimension and found a recipe using a whole orange for my Orange Cranberry muffins and baked them a little longer at a reduced oven temperature in the Texas muffin pan. The atmosphere is not the same as that at the beach but the muffins are great. I really enjoy the site and the contributions you make.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Thanks for the tip, Tom. I just saw directions on how to place squares of parchment over a cup to make liners like that. Neat! ~ MJ

  3. Kimberly

    For a while, I was making dozens and dozens of muffins at a time. I tried so many methodologies, but found that the best baking cups for lining my pans were the “If You Care Large Baking Cups” FSC certified, and they NEVER, EVER stick. No spray required and compostable. Amazing. Not super cute, just plain, but brilliant in performance. Love, love, love.

    Reply
    1. Cheryl

      I agree 100% about If You Care Large Baking Cups! I have tested these against several brands of baking cups and they always come out on top. No need to spray. If you want a fancy liner you can bake in these and when the cupcake is cool remove the liner and place the cupcake in a fancy liner. You may have to use thin ribbon to tie around the liner if the cupcakes are too loose. This way no matter how dark the cake they always look nice. For my family they don’t care, but when I make them to sell or for gifting I want the best presentation.
      I have not tested these against the ones KAF offer, but I have not been unhappy with anything I have ordered from KAF and I always use their flour in my baked goods.

  4. Fran Holman

    Have you ever heard of parchment paper muffin cups? My sister has them but I have searched but cannot find them.

    Reply
  5. Lisa Bitto

    PJ,

    Your posts never fail to inspire, educate and delight. I enjoyed this article tremendously. I’ve baked my fair share of fundraiser cupcakes (mostly the Hellman’s super moist chocolate cake recipe) and there is no question that paper liners are a must! One of my most hated tasks is washing the dishes and muffin tins are the worst!

    I recently received some free cupcake liners (both patterned and plain) for raising a certain amount of charity funds before a certain date. I’m looking forward to doing my own tests in my kitchen!

    Keep being Awesome!
    -Lisa

    Reply
  6. Laura

    The parchment baking cups are my favorite. They NEVER stick. I don’t spray them, and yet not one crumb sticks to them. I even bake my brownies using them bc it is so much less messy than baking a pan of brownies and the sides of each individual brownie come out moist and not one bit crisp.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I’m not a brownie edge fan, so it’s great to hear this tip. Thanks, Laura! ~ MJ

  7. Karen

    I am finding recently that I use decroative papers and the cupcake comes out of the oven fine and then shrinks up to half of it’s size. Certain papers in the store and some of the name brand –I am getting that result. I cool a few min. remove from pan and cool on rack and they still do this. It’s very frustrating to spend money on liners and have them shrink your cupcake in…why??

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Karen,
      It could be the steam of cooling them in the pan combined with certain liners that is causing the shrinking. Try turning the muffins out of the pan right after they come out of the oven to prevent them from steaming in the pan. ~ MJ

    2. Lita

      I found out the hard way that cupcakes shrink when you take them out of the muffin tin right out of the oven. They need some time to cool off. Taking them right out of the tin is like opening the oven door in the middle of baking. The draft and too much change in temperature is what makes it collapse.

  8. Sonja

    Nice post, but I have a question about the papers themselves. As in, what are they made from?? I thought that only parchment paper was oven-proof, but cupcake liners certainly don’t “feel” or look like parchment. They feel like regular printer paper, or sometimes even like wax paper.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sonja, the ignition point of standard paper is 451°F, and you’d never bake cupcakes or muffins at that high a temperature. Also, the muffin or cupcake batter itself provides some insulation to the papers. So there’s really very little chance of a paper muffin cup catching fire in the oven. Hope this helps – PJH

  9. Stephanie

    I forgot to say ,I have been spraying the liners with a non stick spray for about 2 years now with fantastic results. I would not be without it !

    Reply
  10. Stephanie

    Has anybody tried the edible liners yet? I think they are made by Oetker. They look very interesting to try !

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Stephanie, we haven’t tried those yet, but they do sound interesting! Barb@KAF

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