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. micky

    I use paper cups when i bake cream puffs so it makes the presentation look pretty. I bake the puffs and place the stuffed chilled beauties in different cups according to holiday or reason they were made. I never heard of greasing the paper liners for cupcakes until just today after reading it here. Today there are so many beautiful cups to choose from. Feel like baking now ! enjoy

    Reply
  2. Katy M

    I use silicone cups and absolutely love them. Easy to use, both in and out of muffin pans, no burned edges and EASY clean up. The muffins, cupcakes, little sweet rolls, mentalities, etc. just pop right out. I freeze in them, too, resulting in even easier removal.
    This is one place where spending a little extra is a good thing. All silicone cups are not created equal, cheaper ones will do OK in a muffin pan but can be too thin for stand alone baking. I got ones that I can flip the sides down to make little tart pans.
    Clean up is so easy, it just takes a second to rinse a cup under the tap-maybe run your thumbs around the inside, toss them in dishwater, swish, rinse, a quick shake takes most of the water away, upend in a drainer or on a towel, done. It took me longer to write that sentence than to wash 12 cups. They are dishwasher safe, of course, but my dishwasher tosses them everywhere and, anyway, it’s so quick to hand wash.

    Reply
  3. K2

    The eighth picture down made me realize I’ve never seen a recipe for angel food cupcakes! I cook gluten free and many recipe that fail in large pans do great in smaller sizes. Is there any reason an angel food cupcake wouldn’t work?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      K2, angel food cake depends on sticking to the sides of the pan to rise, so it would make for difficult removal, with or without papers. I have seen, however, mini paper angel food baking pans that are ripped away after the cake has cooled. Barb@KAF

  4. Paula Legault

    Just grease the muffin tins lightly with CRISCO, then dust them with flour. Run a knife around the rim just before you take them out of the muffin tin. This method has been around for generations, long before any of these other methods. As for cakes do the same and line the bottom with parchment paper.

    Reply
  5. Silky Pitterman

    Thanks for this article. I love pretty cupcake liners but found the color of the cupcake bleeds through. Now I know to try it with a lighter colored cupcake. I like liners because it makes the clean up a breeze.

    Reply
  6. Barbara

    My problem is not that the cupcake sticks to the cupcake liner. With many decorative liners, the liner separates from the cupcake , while the cupcake is cooling on a rack. KAF feels that this happens because of the oils in the cupcake since I never use a box mix. If anyone else has any suggestions I would love to hear them.. To solve the problem I only bake in tried and true Reynolds liners then I place the iced, decorated cupcake in a decorative liner.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      I’ve had the same problem, but in reverse! When I was making cupcakes from scratch for a competition a couple years ago, the ones baked in Reynolds paper liners separated from the liners. But the ones baked in sturdier decorative liners stayed intact. Last year I used foil liners, and they all turned out fine.

  7. Rusty

    Once I started waiting the 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the pan after baking, it made much less difference whether I used foil or paper. As someone else said, the warmer the muffin, the more delicate and really warm muffins will tear up as you remove paper. I find that the foil do that much, much less, so if we are going to eat muffins warm, I use foil (or we eat the half in foil first!). I also find the foil ones better for muffins with LOTS of fruit, which tends to be sticky. I always use foil for blueberry muffins, for example. And, I never grease my muffin cups paper or foil. If I am worried about sticking, foil just doesn’t and I use them, saving the papers between for the next batch.

    Reply
  8. Judy

    I always use mini foil cupcake liners on cookie sheets when making several dozen. I have never had the liners flatten out and the cupcakes come out just fine.

    Reply
  9. kylady717@hotmail.com

    I usually buy the cheapest cup cake liners I can find, except I do not buy them at the dollar store, I make sure they are not made in China, etc….but the cupcakes do stick a little, but not bad….I also have cup cake pans I purchased from QVC and they DO NOT stick…..I only use the liners if I am making them to take somewhere……no use to use them for home use 🙂

    Reply
    1. marcy

      Something not made in China? That is very rare. I just bought cupcake liners the other day and in very tiny print – made in China.

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Marcy, we have a number of cupcake papers that are made in the USA, including these pretty Tulip Papers. If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, these USA-made White Cupcake Papers might be just what you’re looking for. I hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  10. Joy Evans Mansfield TX

    Never thought about spraying cupcake liners.. May try as periodically I have paper liners stick.
    Lots of time it depends on thy type of batter.. More wet.. Tend to stick

    Reply

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