This post was originally published on May 13, 2011. I’ve updated it here with new information and better images.
A few weeks ago, Kelly sent me an email asking,
“Why is it that when you put freshly baked muffins in an airtight container they get soft and almost mushy/sticky??”
Here’s the deal: As baked goods begin to stale, the moisture within them migrates to the surface. There’s really no way to keep this from happening, short of loading the muffins with preservatives. Since this defeats much of the purpose of baking from scratch, it’s not a very helpful solution!
If the migrating moisture has no place to evaporate and nothing is there to absorb it, it will remain on the outer crust. Any coarse sugar or streudel on top will be dissolved, making the muffin even softer. This is the main problem with simply placing the muffins in an airtight container or plastic wrap. It traps the moisture in, making the muffin tops get soft and sticky.
On the other hand, if you leave the muffins exposed to air by leaving them on a wire rack or in the pan, that moisture will evaporate and leave you with dry, crumbly treats. That’s no good, either!
But don’t worry, there is another way to store your muffins and quick breads to keep them from drying out or getting all sticky. Read on for my experiment, or click here to jump straight to the results.
I set up six storage systems with two muffins each, all from the same batch, and observed the changes over the course of two days:
I tasted one of each muffin. The muffin wrapped in plastic wrap was already pretty soft and squishy. This method clearly wasn’t going to work, even for overnight storage. The muffin that was on the wire rack and uncovered already felt fairly dry and crumbly, though the one under the towel felt the same as the day before. All the muffins in airtight containers had the same texture as they did right after cooling.
The muffins on the wire rack were already fairly dried out. I tasted one of each muffin, and the one that was on the wire rack but uncovered was incredibly crumbly and unappealing. Definitely don’t use this method.
The muffin from the wire rack and covered by a towel tasted fine, though it was clearly drier than its airtight container stored counterparts. This method will work overnight or for a day, but shouldn’t be used for any longer than that.
Since the muffin wrapped in plastic wrap looked even mushier than it had the day before, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
As for the muffins in the airtight container, the one stored without any paper towels was looking considerably softer than it had the day before. However, the other two were about equal.
Beyond Two Days:
Later, I tested just the last two methods: storing in a container with a paper towel on the bottom, and storing in a container with paper towels on the top and bottom. By Day 3 or 4, the muffins stored with two paper towels consistently held their flavor and texture better than the muffins stored with just one paper towel. The towels-on-top-and-bottom method is clearly the winner.
I also tested these methods with mini loaves of quick bread, with the same results.
If you’re only trying to store the muffins or quick bread until breakfast the next morning, simply cover them on a wire cooling rack with a clean, dry dish towel. Your breads will still be full of flavor and moisture (but not too much moisture) the next morning, and any raw sugar sprinkles or streusel topping will still be pretty and distinct.
If you’re storing the muffins for any longer than one day, line the bottom of an airtight container with paper towels. Line up your muffins or bread, then top with another layer of paper towels before sealing with the lid. The paper towels will absorb the extra moisture, and your muffins and quick breads will retain most of their texture and flavor for up to four days.
Looking for some great muffin and quick bread recipes? Here are some of my favorites!
- Apple Cinnamon Doughnut Muffins
- Applesauce Spice Bread
- Blood Orange and Dark Chocolate Quick Bread
- Brown Butter Pumpkin Muffins
- Chocolate Malt Bread
- Cranberry Orange Mini Quick Bread
- Double Chocolate Quick Bread
- Parmesan Spinach Muffins
- Pumpkin Mini Bread with Candied Walnuts
- Pumpkin Oatmeal Quick Bread
- Vanilla Chai Quick Bread
- Vanilla-Scented Pear Bread
- Wholesome Lemon Blueberry Muffins
- Whole Wheat Chocolate Chai Muffins
- Whole Wheat Raspberry Muffins
- Zucchini Banana Bread