Like many of you, I bake a lot of cookies. So much so, that when The New York Times story broke warning of the risks of eating foods made with uncooked flour, my neighbor, possibly concerned I was moments away from eating raw cookie dough (not unreasonably), made sure to tell me about it immediately.
But for all of the batches I've made, I've spent remarkably little time thinking about what I'm baking them on. I tend to reach for my silicone baking mat more often than parchment paper (since it’s infinitely more reusable than parchment) unless a recipe specifies for one or the other. I’d never given much thought to the impact either might have on baking until Baking Club member Jacqueline Mensinger shared a photo (below) with a side-by-side comparison—the cookies baked on parchment paper are noticeably puffier.
We all wondered what was going on, and when another member, Katie Miller Armendariz, asked if it's okay to use a silicone mat when a recipe calls for parchment, Stella Parks filled us in on the difference:
Parchment keeps cookies from spreading too much in the oven, and keeps their texture nice and light. Silicone encourages more spread, reduces conductivity, and can often cause baked goods to sweat on the bottom as they cool which can make the texture a little weird.
So when to use one or the other? Here are a few guidelines to follow:
Aside from stopping cookies from creeping, parchment should be your go-to choice if the recipe calls for cutting it to fit a pan (unless you're ready to sacrifice an old silicone mat for a good cause, more on that below). Parchment is also a smart choice when you want to be able to trace guides for yourself (remember to flip the paper after drawing), like for a pavlova or cream puffs.
Aside from using silicone mats when you do want to encourage cookie spreading, there are other good times to turn to silicone. Medrich tells us that tuiles will brown better on silicone than tuiles baked on parchment—plus they'll hold their shape well. And, if you have a silicone mat that's on its last legs, Medrich shows you to turn it into a mold for tiny ice cream cones. Dorie Greenspan says you can use either silicone or parchment for macarons, but notes that you'll get better results with a silicone mat.
Do you have specific things you prefer to bake on parchment or silicone mats? Tell us all in the comments.
This month, our Baking Club is baking through Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's cookbook Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi. Head here for details on how to participate and what books we’ll be covering in the new year.