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. Elizabeth Drenkhahn

    I have a problem with cupcake liners I made some brownies and when done and cooled the stuck to the paper .what the purpose of using liners if you baked goods stick to them I always thought that’s the reason you use the liners it’s so you don’t have to spray the pan so I don’t know what to use now I guess I will just grease and flour the muffin tins and not waist my money on liners.

  2. Susan

    Paperchef makes parchment paper cupcake/muffin liners in several sizes. They are easily removed from the cupcake or muffin without taking chunks of the cake with it.

  3. Linda

    I made brownie in mini cupcake pan and used mini liners which o hadn’t seen before. I fortunately the brownies stuck in the paper liners. Should I have greased/sprayed the liners.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Linda, we’re sorry this happened! Brownies are a denser, stickier dessert than cupcakes are, and should be made in a tray rather than in cupcake liners. If you’re looking for a good chocolate cupcake recipe, though, we’ve got several! Our Favorite Fudge Birthday Cupcakes With 7-Minute Frosting might just hit the spot! As the name suggests, they’re nice and fudgy. If you’re a fan of brownies, you’ll probably enjoy them. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Michelle, your liners can go right in, no spraying required! Isn’t it great when things turn out to be easy? Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We tend to grease our muffin liners if we’re baking anything with a high sugar content, which makes it more prone to sticking. A little bit of Everbake Pan Spray, and we have no doubt that our muffins or cupcakes will turn out easily. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. DonnaLee Pettit

    When I serve cupcakes in teacups should I remove the papers? I think they would be easier to eat without the paper

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cupcakes in teacups? What a cute idea! It sounds like a great idea for a tea party or baby shower. To make the cupcakes easier to serve and make your guests do less work, it makes sense to remove the cupcakes from their liners before placing them in their teacups. It’ll take a little more time on your part, but the final presentation and eating experience will be more enjoyable. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. Susan Reid

      No, Janet; the fat on the side of the paper will keep the cake from rising; the eggs in the batter need to grip the sides of whatever it’s baked in so the batter can rise. Susan

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You bet! You can freeze muffins in or out of their liners for up to three months, Shirley. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Mary

    I’ve always wanted to know about the extra sleeve of paper liner in between the tin cupcake liners. I’ve just pulled them out and disposed of them (in recycling or projects for the kiddos). Do they have a purpose besides separating the tin liners?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Mary, those paper liners are usually made of a non-stick material that prevents your cupcakes or muffins from sticking to the foil. If you haven’t had any trouble with sticking in the past, feel free to discard them and scoop the batter right into the foil. Baker’s preference! Kye@KAF

  6. Kathleen N Nichols

    Even though I used paper liners, I made some muffins that tasted metallic, like the muffin pan. Could it be that the pan is older and leaching the taste?

    Thank you

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Anything’s possible, Kathleen, but it sounds a little unlikely that they’d leach through the liners. Some people associate the taste of too much leavening agent (baking powder or baking soda) with that of metal. If you made any changes to these ingredients or anything else that would affect acidity, it could result in a stronger than desired flavor. If we can help to explain in more detail, please feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE. Mollie@KAF

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