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. Sharon Seiler

    I always use paper liners and always spray them. Makes for a more professional presentation for sales, is cleaner than trying to pick up one without a paper and generally looks much better. Wouldn’t consider anything else.

    Reply
  2. Patricia Opar

    Only once did I spray the inside of a paper muffin paper. The spray leaked through the paper and obscured its design. I was disappointed because I used Easter papers on cupcakes for the children. I used Pam. Would the spray go through the papers if I used KAF’s Ever Bake?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Patricia, yes most sprays will obscure the design somewhat. That’s a situation where you might consider using a plain paper for baking and adding a pretty paper on the outside when serving. Barb@KAF

  3. Ethan Cohen

    I’ve had trouble with popovers sticking in pans. Are there any paper liners that you can use with popovers?

    Reply
  4. Donna

    I used to buy Sutton papers and I absolutely adored them. The designs were very pretty and the batter never bled through them. Sadly, they seem to have stopped manufacturing liners. I always use papers when I am taking cupcakes or muffins to share. I recently started finding the parchment liners at the regular grocery store. Previously I had to get them at either (maybe both) Fresh Market or Whole Foods. They slide right off – they are even more slick than the silicon liners. My only issue with the silicon is reminding my workmates that they are not to be tossed after the goodie is removed!

    Reply
  5. Quiltstamper

    Great article. Regardless of which type of paper liners I used, part of the muffin/cupcake came off with the paper. I searched and found parchment muffin papers. They work like a charm and remove cleanly, leaving delicate ridges in the muffin. .

    Reply
  6. Susie

    I go with Erin’s opinion. The Paper Chef liners do prevent sticking. They may not be pretty but they really work with no added spray. And when you think about it, what is pretty about muffins that have stuck to pan or paper?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re sorry to hear you’re in a sticky situation, Kathleen. We recommend doing your best to glean as many tasty crumbs as you can, and in the future try spraying the cupcake liners with a bit of non-stick spray before filling with batter. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  7. CJ

    Due to allergies I bake gluten free and vegan. I have been afraid to use liners, not sure how the dough will work with them. Have you had any experience with that?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      We bake many, many gluten free muffins here, and use the liners just as we do for the non-GF ones. You’ll still get the lovely rounded tops, too. ~ MJ

  8. Kim Knemeyer

    Did you find that the cupcakes using the foil liners were a bit overdone? I found that the sides were harder because the foil conducts heat? Am I imagining that? Also, thanks you KAF I lightly spray my cupcake liners before putting in the batter and it they peel away from the delicate cupcake with no problem. Thanks for that tip!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Kim,
      Personally, I’m not that keen on the foil liners myself. I do find that the sides of the muffins are darker/tougher than I’d like. I have a great collection of paper ones (check out the sale section at your local craft store, especially after a holiday) and find for me they give a better result. ~ MJ

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