Parchment paper, also known as cooking parchment, baking parchment or kitchen parchment, is available in most supermarkets and culinary shops. People know generally what it is, but I am surprised how few people know when to properly use it.
What is Parchment Paper?
First, a definition. Parchment paper is made by infusing paper with silicone, creating a stable and heat resistant element which imparts good anti-stick or release properties. You generally see two types of parchment paper for sale, bleached and unbleached. These are most commonly sold in rolled form in boxes.
The unbleached variety will not have a metal cutting edge attached to the box. This missing metal serration makes the entire box recyclable, but can make cutting the parchment more challenging.
The bleached variety is white, of course, having been bleached white with chlorine while the unbleached version is brown in color. The bleached variety paper might contain toxic dioxin residues and is often frowned upon by environmental and health conscious people.
The unbleached paper often has the additional environmental benefit of usually being made from recycled paper.
Parchment can be used to help minimize clean up when using baking pans in the oven. I like to use the parchment under tin foil when roasting or baking, again to help with clean up and protect the pan.
Generally people use parchment on baking sheets for cookies, biscuits, meatloaf, etc. but miss out on one key use: cake pans. When baking a cake, as a cake nears completion, it will pull away from the sides of the pan. The troubles begin on the bottom, or top however you want to look at it, as any sticking in a cake pan will occur there. Putting parchment on the bottom of the pan will prevent sticking. The parchment will peel off easily after the cake is turned out of the pan. The best method is to butter the cake pan, place parchment on the bottom and spread more butter over the parchment.
I know what you are thinking, “How do you cut the rectangular shaped parchment into circles?” Easy, place the cake pan on the parchment sheet, draw a light line in pencil around the bottom and cut. If the circle doesn’t fit exactly, trim it.
There is a sizing method accomplished via folding and cutting, where you fold a large sheet into quarters and then continue down to a narrow wedge. You then place the tip at the center of the pan and then cut according to its radius.
I personally feel the tracing method is easier. Easier still are precut 8″ and 9″ parchment rounds.
The precut sheets are easy to use and very convenient. You will also find precut parchment sheets for 13×18 and 15×21 sheet pans.
However, the precut sheets are presently only being made in the bleached variety.
I sometimes use parchment under certain breads while they proof just before baking. These are breads which I want to rise in a more free form fashion. I slide the parchment with the bread on it right in the heated oven. After about 15 minutes or so, I slide the darkened parchment out from under the bread. Why? I don’t know, because generally I use a peel to pull the bread from the oven and the parchment gets in my way.
In light of my previous published article about silicone, I thought we would talk about the other option for parchment sheets – silicone baking mats.
There is, of course, the original silicone baking sheet, Silpat. Silpat, ever the traditionalist, does not make specialty sizes. However, other companies are making varied sizes of silicone baking mats and some even making them round to fit inside cake pans.
Since parchment has silicone in it, why not consider using silicone baking mats? You aren’t getting away from silicone using parchment anyway and the silicone baking mats are cheaper in the long run. A silicone mat can provide roughly 2000 uses. A roll box of parchment will give approximately 35 uses. Even at $5 a box for bleached parchment, this adds up to around $300 for the same amount of uses; way more than the cost of silicone mats which are generally sold for $20.
Silicone mats are more environmentally sound as they produce less trash. Some will recommend putting used, unbleached, recycled parchment in the compost pile. However, the problem is that depending on what was cooked on it, residual food bits will make it inappropriate for the compost. Additionally, the most popular brand of unbleached, recycled parchment paper sold in the U.S. is made in Sweden; not a good carbon foot print.
In all fairness, silicone baking mats can’t do everything that parchment can do in your kitchen. There are cooking methods, such as en papillote in the French or al Cartoccio in Italian, where one places food in parchment and seals it up for baking in an oven or grill.
Also, you can wrap cheese and other foods in parchment for storage. For cheese, there is a less rigid version of parchment made specifically for cheese storage and then of course, there is wax paper. Wax paper is simply wax covered low density paper. As an aside, I don’t like using wax paper for baking and cooking because I don’t like the idea of melting wax in my oven or food.
Parchment paper can also be used as disposable, pastry bags. Just cut to the size desired, roll it up into a conical shape and fill with the icing. If you are attempting to use decorating tips with this impromptu pipping bag, fasten the parchment with tape before inserting the decorating tip. If this seems like more work than you want to do, there are precut decorating triangles made for this very purpose.
You may have heard stories about parchment paper catching fire in an oven or toaster oven. This can happen but only if the paper comes too close to the heat source. Under normal conditions it will discolor and may even burn, but catching fire is rare.
Which is better? Silicone baking mats end up being the best environmental choice, if that is your focus. If convenience and versatility is your thing, parchment is the way to go. In the end, there is room for both parchment paper and silicone baking mats in your house. I do own both and use them for different purposes. However, sometimes I just feel that parchment is a good choice, unless I use silicone mats. 🙂
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