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. Karen

    This will be the first time I am making cup cakes (was always easier to buy), and just want to thank you all for the great tips much appreciated. Now hoping they come out ok.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s our pleasure to help get you headed in the right direction. Best of luck and happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  2. Sheetal

    I have these aluminium cupcake liners and the max temperature is 180 degree Celsius
    I lined them and started to bake at 160 degree Celsius and I see sparks in my microvave oven.So should I use them.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sheetal, it’s generally not recommended to use metal of any kind in a microwave, so we would recommend reserving your aluminum cupcake liners for use in your conventional oven. Safety first! Mollie@KAF

  3. Lynn Ward

    Hi PJ. I found this blog today while I was looking around to see if I could learn why my cupcake liners peel away from my cupcakes. Any ideas? It’s really frustrating! And I love reading your columns!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Lynn, thanks for the kind words. 🙂 I find that spraying my cupcake papers with non-stick vegetable oil spray before filling with batter, and then making sure the cupcakes/muffins are completely cook before peeling them off prevents any sticking. If you haven’t been spraying them — give that a try. PJH

  4. Ruchica

    Nice Article. I use silicone cups for baking and put the paper cups later somehow the paper never sets in with the cupcake. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Ruchia, typical muffin or cupcake liners that have the ribbed edges will probably never hold evenly to the cupcakes, unless the batter is baked in them. If you want to stick with baking in silicone cups and adding a paper liner after, you might instead try something smooth, like a tulip paper: http://bit.ly/1EQUd3Z Mollie@KAF

  5. Kathryn Mathews

    Can you use solid vegetable shortening to grease the cupcake papers if you don’t have any cooking spray?

    How would that work? It seems that greasing the papers would ruin the shape and flatten the pleats.

    Or maybe brush vegetable oil on them?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      A light brush with vegetable oil once the liners are already in the pan is the best way to go here. Susan

  6. Catherine Silver

    Thanks for an informative article. – Love the pictures!

    I have a really good recipe for carrot cake that I would love to be able to use for cupcakes. No matter what papers I have used, they all completely pull away from the sides, making them not good for taking/sharing. I mean completely separating and laying out flat – not just getting loose. The recipe does have oil in it.

    Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Catherine,
      You might want to skip the cupcake papers all together and instead try to prepare your pan well so there’s no picking crumbs off the paper later. If you brush the inside of the wells with shortening using a clean pastry brush, you might find that the cupcakes will release easily. Let them cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes and then use a knife to make sure the sides are loose. Turn them out gently and allow to cool completely. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  7. AC

    I am curious. How do you grease a liner without using cooking spray? Because I had allergy issues with the propellant in sprays I stay away from them and that forces me to utilize other methods. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you can’t use non-stick spray, then you may want to bake your muffins and cupcakes bare — right in the wells themselves. Grease the wells with either butter or shortening. If you’re determined to use muffin papers, you can try brushing the sides with melted butter or softened shortening and a small pastry brush. Or, you can also try leaving the muffin papers ungreased too. Fingers crossed. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  8. Marci

    Thank you for your informative article thank you for sharing your experience. I am making mini monkey bread in muffin cups… I would like to use paper cupcake liners-do you think it will stick to the monkey bread? The mini monkey muffins are rather caramel-y and gooey. My point in using muffin liners is to try to keep the caramel from hardening…

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Marci, we haven’t tried this, but I think it may be helpful for you to spray the paper cupcake liners before putting the monkey bread dough in them to help prevent sticking. I’m not sure if the caramel will be any less likely to harden with the paper liners, but your pan will definitely be easier to clean! Barb@KAF

  9. Karen Rowell

    I just made some cornbread muffins with regular paper cups. They stuck to the papers. After reading the above comments, I decided to take a muffin out of the muffin tin & put about 1/8 of an inch of water in the empty slot on the muffin tin. Then I sat a muffin with the stuck paper in the empty slot & left it about 10 seconds & I was able to get the untranslated off without tearing the muffin up. The bottoms weren’t even damp. Guess the muffin paper kept out the moisture.

    Reply
  10. Jenny

    Your post is super helpful! But I have a question, I have a recipe that is calling for foil baking cups, but I don’t have quite enough! 🙁 Does it make a difference with the cook time if I use half foil and half paper baking cups?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Cake in foil cups will bake faster than plain paper by maybe a minute or two, but it’s not enough to keep you from going ahead. Susan

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