Some cookie recipes call for pans to be lined with parchment paper; others want silicone baking mats. Some say to grease the cookie sheet, or grease and flour the baking pans. I sometimes call for lining pans with foil! What’s the (dare I say, cookie) scoop on all of this? What is the best way to line baking sheets for chocolate chip cookies, French macarons, and other baked goods?
If convenience were my sole criterion, I’d say that in general, silicone mats and parchment liners are easier and less messy than greasing or greasing and flouring. (I detest that kind of mess!) Liners allow you to slide the cookies off the pan and onto a rack, should you want quicker cooling, or if you need to reuse the sheet pans again in a hurry. In other words, lining a pan with parchment mostly eliminates the need for greasing with butter and flour and the need to transfer hot cookies individually from a pan to a cooling rack while they are still hot from the oven. I’ve done this far too many times only to watch the fragile warm cookie start to crack like an ancient relic. But which liner is best and when might you skip the liner altogether? Here’s how I break down the choices.
Bare, Ungreased Pans
Assuming you have reasonably good baking sheets (mine are medium-weight aluminum half sheet pans) that are not dark or burnt or so thin that they warp, an ungreased aluminum pan will produce better caramelization and tasty, crispy edges that contrast with soft chewy centers, ideal for most chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, and any other cookies with a similarly composed dough. Plus, a heavy-duty aluminum baking sheet will produce perfectly browned bottoms, something you don’t always get when using a lined baking sheet. You can also bake shortbread or butter cookies on ungreased pans—as long as the dough is not chocolate (a bare pan will scorch the chocolate slightly). Of course, you have to be willing to transfer cookies to a cooling rack one by one when they come out of the oven. But it may be worth it! The downside of this method is that it is not particularly easy to clean. There will always be some residual butter, grease, or melted chocolate that requires a lot of dish soap and some elbow grease to remove post-baking.
PS: One way to test this for yourself would be to line most of your pan with parchment but leave on end of the tray bare. Try a few cookies on the bare pan. See what you think!
Parchment is the best all-around all-purpose pan preparation. It is excellent for almost every cookie except tuiles and lace cookies (see foil and silicone liners, below), and any other cookie that specifically calls for a foil liner instead. Parchment is also a very reasonable second choice for the chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies that I just said are best baked on a bare pan! Parchment is a slight insulator, which means that compensates and corrects too-thin, burnt, dark, or otherwise poor quality cookie sheets. Its insulating properties are not so great that it lengthens baking time or prevents crispy edges, but they are great enough to prevent super chocolaty batters from scorching.
Parchment is less eco-friendly than unlined baking sheets, so try to reuse one sheet while baking off all of the cookie dough. Look for unbleached, compostable parchment paper, too, which will lessen the carbon footprint.
Foil Liners (Dull-Side Up)
A foil liner on an aluminum baking sheet will give you the benefits of a bare pan with the convenience of a liner, so you can remove all of the cookies at once or let them cool on the liner in the pan. Foil, sometimes very lightly but thoroughly greased, is my favorite for lace cookies and tuiles and any thin cookie that you want to be very caramelized throughout.
One tip for lacy or thin cookies baked on foil: They are usually easiest to remove from the foil after they are completely cool, so don’t worry if they seem like they are sticking!
Unfortunately, foil liners are the least eco-friendly way to line a cookie sheet because it takes many years to biodegrade and is rarely recycled. Environmental concerns are my only hesitation about paper and foil liners. I try to reuse them as many times as possible.
These much-touted mats are good for a few cookies, but definitely not best, or even good, for all types of cookies. They are good and convenient for very thin fragile wafers, tuiles, and lace cookies. Although I have not tried them for shortbread or butter cookies, they are probably ok (so long as the dough or batter is not chocolate-y) as well as for any cookie that you want to be the same texture all the way through: either soft and chewy throughout or completely crispy. Silicone is not great for producing a combination of crispy and caramelized on the outside and chewy in the center. Also, silicone is so insulating that it lengthens baking times and may scorch super chocolaty doughs and batters.
Don’t Do This
No matter what you do, don’t try to line a baking sheet with wax paper. Although some producers of wax paper say that it can go into an oven up to 350°F, it will melt if exposed to heat for too long. There’s no saying if or when it will melt, and the last thing you want is to pull out a perfect batch of waxy chocolate chip cookies. Skip this liner altogether to save yourself from heartbreak.