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. Thelma Homer

    I line the tins with the liners, set the tin on the open door of the dishwasher and then spray with a non-stick spray…no mess. Also, I have found a difference in the liners with a preference toward parchment rather than a wax-paper liner. Better for non-stick!

    Reply
  2. Chrisbakes48

    My muffins get an ‘off’ taste when I use cooking spray. The last time I used a new can of name brand aerosol spray and they still have a slightly tinny flavor. This happens whether I use just the pan or if I use the papers. Does anyone else have this problem or am I picky?

    Reply
  3. james

    In addition to having silicone muffin liners, I also have silicone baking pans. They both work great. And they can be turned inside out for washing which makes it much easier.

    Reply
  4. Lydia Shemain

    I too have never heard of greasing cupcake liners. I find freshly baked cakes/muffins stick to the cupcake liners. Once they have sat for a little while, no problem. I use the inexpensive ones from the Dollar Store, they have some pretty ones now. Would not bake without them. They make cleanup so much easier. Yes, I do lightly grease the top of the muffin pans just in case the batter spills over — a tip a chef friend gave me.

    Reply
  5. Janis

    I always thought the purpose of cupcake liners was to make things easier—don’t have to grease the cups, and less washing-up. Now you’re telling me I should grease the papers, and I know from experience those pans still need to be washed, if only to get rid of the drips. And if you spray the papers, you then have to clean up the overspray. Doesn’t sound that much easier to me! And then there are the environmental ins and outs. I admit I like the fancy designs . . . but frankly, most of the time I just grease the cups.

    Reply
  6. Steve

    i bake muffins everyday using shortening to grease the cups in my pan, never had a problem, let them cool slightly, turn the pan over, a slight tap on the edge, out they fall, but I can see where a paper might be used in some recipes

    Reply
  7. wendyb964

    Once I discovered foil liners I haven’t bought paper ones except for presentation. They are exceptionall for delicate as well as lower fat recipes. My experience with greasing paper liners or paper bakers (quick breads) were not visually appealing.

    One year I picked up a package of disposable white with polka dot pans 5″ diameter, 1″ tall that happened to be pre-greased or waxed. GENIUS! They were at some big discount store on close out. Wish I could find something similar as I would stock up. Any suggestions on how to search? A couple of calls to baking/restaurant supply stores hit a dead end.

    KAF rocks!

    Reply
  8. MaryML

    Glassine cupcake liners haven’t been mentioned. I bought ‘expensive’ glassine cupcake liners for an anniversary party. Half the papers came loose no matter how carefully I handled them! Opinion on the internet was that glassine liners come loose. The general recommendation was to use a regular liner and then put them in the fancy glassine papers. I had previously baked many a jumbo cupcake for my daughter’s cafe’ using the cheap paper liners bought at an outlet. Never had a problem with those…and could never find them again.

    When I made muffins at home for an 8th grade home ec assignment, I used liners and they stuck like crazy. I remember the teacher said that I was NOT supposed to use liners with muffins. That was many years ago…

    The silicone cups sound interesting. May need to make a trip to Williams-Sonoma soon.

    Reply

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