The Best Way to Store Muffins

This post was originally published on May 13, 2011. I’ve updated it here with new information and better images.

How to store quick breads and muffins // savvyeat.com

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:

Muffin-Brain-Food-1.jpg
Muffin-Brain-Food-2.jpg

Day 1:

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.

Day 2:

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.

Conclusion:

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!

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Comments

  1. says

    I think I’ve said it before, but these kinds of posts are my favorite! :D Do you think this holds true for moist breads as well, such as banana bread?

    • Julie @savvyeats says

      The same concepts apply! Not sure how the size would affect the rate of staling, but I’d think the same options would be best…

  2. (Savvy) Dan says

    Follow up experiment: What about configurations of small dish towels in sealed containers? (For those times when we don’t have paper towels around for weeks on end, of course.)

  3. says

    Since I’m a nerd, I love all your posts like this. I would have guessed the paper towel tupperware option would have been the best. I just made muffins and the sogginess ensued. I will try this!! See you soon, roomie!

  4. says

    wow that is a neat little science project! i actually make muffins often and freeze all but about two almost immediately. i think freezing and then defrosting overnight or for a short time at room temp makes them good as new.
    loving the new layout.

    • Corinne Fisher says

      Thanks for your info. On freezing the muffins. Never thought of that. Will do so in future. Julie’s ideas on storing are terrific. Thanks to all

  5. says

    I have been thinking about this post since it went up! Your graphics really stuck with me, and I put your method to the test already. But now, I’m wondering what the best way to store EVERYTHING is. Cookies, Cupcakes, etc etc etc!

  6. says

    I also just wanted to say that finding this was terrific! Thanks for doing this fieldwork for us all. The double paper towel trick is how I’ve been storing muffins and breads since I found this…

  7. Barbie says

    We go camping in Canada every year. I have one set of guys who want my banana loaf, while the others prefer muffins. I make ahead and freeze. The muffins always got soggy while the loaf fared better. I’ll try the paper towel trick and see how it goes. Thanks

  8. Jill says

    When you do the paper towels/plastic container method, do you store on the counter (room temp) or do you put the container (with the paper towels and muffins inside) in the refrigerator?

  9. says

    I have a bad habit of cooking very late at night so I have the problem of not wanting to wait until my muffins are completely cool in order to store.

    Your solution of putting them on a wire rack with a dish towel over them until morning is genius. Thank you!!

  10. says

    I just wanted to say thank you for the great tip on storing muffins, because I wanted to make some banana walnut muffins and was trying to figure out how to store them. I also wanted to know how would I go about freezing them should I wrap them individually and store them in the freezer? Or some other way I would much appreciate it if I was told about this thank you.

  11. Carrie Anne, The Salubrious Bunny says

    I heartily appreciate your experiment! As someone who does not purchase disposable items however, I think I’m going to experiment with adding dry rice to the bottom of the container to absorb the extra moisture. I usually make a batch of twelve, leaving eight out and freezing four, since I’m splitting this with my child. In mild weather, I’ve been able to get away with three days sitting out, but apparently since I was rushed to store my last batch of blueberry muffins before they finished cooling fully, the resulting moisture did them in on the last day. I’m about to make a batch of 48 muffins (2 or 4 varieties from the same homemade dry mix – debating still) and they’re definitely all going in the freezer so I have something to pop in the oven on the way out to door to school, and one to my child to last us a while.

  12. Thomas Shaw says

    I happened upon this today and noticed that your table with results is not displayed, at least in Firefox 26. All that’s displayed is [table id=1 /].

    In the meantime, good advice.

  13. Lyudmila says

    Hi,

    I just made some banana muffins with cinnamon crumb topping and am worried the cinnamon crumbs will lose their crumby texture once I cover and place in tupperware. Do you think they will be ok? Also, i’m wondering why the muffins would get stale in the fridge quicker than countertop. You mentioned that in a previous reply to someone. Thanks!

    • Julie says

      Storing them the way I describe in this post will probably actually help them keep their crumb texture. If you leave them out, uncovered, the muffins will likely get hard and stale. If you put them in an airtight container without any paper towels or a dish towel, the moisture within the muffins will travel to the surface, turning your crisp crumbs into a gooey, sticky mess!

      In general, breads and muffins should not be stored at refrigeration temperatures. In refrigeration conditions, the ingredients in the bread (primarily the starch) seize up, and the bread loses its fluffy quality. Even when you take the bread out of the refrigerator, you won’t be able to fully get that original bread texture back. Storing the bread at room temperature or freezing the bread is better!

      • Amanda says

        So I made a batch of homemade muffins that were very moist and yummy, cooled completely but put them in a plastic bag. I needed to see how they fared for the next day. Sadly, this morning the bottom half of the muffin was dry but the, top, as you said, retained it’s moisture. I need these for a school meeting in the morning so should I bake tonight before I go to bed and store with the towel method or do you have a better suggestion. Thanks so much for any advice!! :)

        • Julie says

          Bummer about the first batch! I would go with the towel method if they are only going to be sitting overnight. If you are worried about it though, let them cool completely (alllllllll the way) and do the towel-lined container way!

  14. Lyn says

    I made some muffins using a pre-mixed pack. My kids ate all but 1, which they left for me. I forgot about it & we left for a 2 week vacation. When we returned, the muffin was still sitting there nicely, not moldy at all but a bit hardened. Should I be concerned about the ingredients used and what my kids ate? Or is this normal for muffins left in the open?

    • Julie says

      Hmm, I’m not 100% sure, as I haven’t experienced this myself. It is possible that because it was left in the open air, the muffin dried out and hardened rather than forming mold, which generally requires the presence of some moisture. Alternatively, there may have been some preservative in the mix that contributed to this. Sorry I can’t give you a more clear answer!

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