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

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!


  1. AMMY


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The cones are placed on top of the cupcake batter. They should not burn. Have fun! Elisabeth@KAF

  2. Linda

    I’ve been making muffins for years and just recently started spraying the liners. Not every recipe needs this added assistance. However, I’ve noticed that those muffins with fresh fruit in them – strawberries, raspberries, apples, tend to stick more, especially reduced fat recipes. So, after reading posts here I would have to agree that the degree of sticking correlates with the amount of fat in the recipe.

  3. Donna Jo

    I have learned, when spraying pans, to open my dishwasher door and set the pan on it. That way any over-spray get washed off in the next load.

    However, when trying to spray paper in muffin tins, I have a big problem with the spray blowing the papers all over the kitchen, especially with the mini sized cups. Any way short of holding them down individually to avoid that?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Donna Jo, I love your idea about using your dishwasher door for pan spraying! Does holding the spray a little further from the pan help control the papers from flying around? I don’t have a great answer for you, but maybe someone in our baking community can offer you a solution! Barb@KAF

  4. esther plourde

    Enjoyed our visit at your store and bakery…….It must be fun to work there………Take care and keep smiling……

  5. Ellen Aylward

    I have found parchment baking cups at a restaurant supply online store and they have totally changed my cupcake/muffin baking. They don’t absorb moisture like regular cupcake papers (moisture which comes directly out of your baked product) and they release easily with NO crumbs stuck to the papers and the crust is delicately browned. I buy the tulip cups so they muffin/cupcake can rise high and don’t give you a ‘muffin top.’ They are wonderful–I highly recommend them.

  6. Tina Marie

    Just finished making my Thanksgiving cranberry-orange muffins in paper liners. I will freeze them after they cool. Then the day before Thanksgiving I will remove the liner from the frozen muffins & viola–no sticking and totally intact. Never fails!

  7. Shawn

    Thank you for these wonderful tips. My Grandmother wants me to make some cupcakes for a fund raiser and these are very helpful tips. Especially because the instructions on both the Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines mixes didn’t tell me if I cooked the cakes in the paper cups or not. Once I figure out how to bake with the mixes I’ll eventually start trying to make my own. Now that I am a home owner I have been trying so many baking things because all my apartments had ovens that were less the half as small as a regular sized oven.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t had any problems with the greaseproof liners sticking to cupcakes moreso than regular liners. Just consider giving the liners a quick burst of non-stick spray to ensure easy release during serving. Happy cupcake baking! Kye@KAF

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