Being beige, dull, and two-dimensional, baking paper doesn't seem like the most exciting of kitchen tools. But those cellulose-based sheets have so many uses, it's hard not to get a little excited about them. I can't imagine making French macarons without the stuff, but baking paper has a multitude of uses that go beyond baking, which is why my kitchen will never go paperless.
Photos by Mattie Hagedorn and Claire Lower.
For those of you who don't know, baking paper (also known as parchment paper) is a grease and water-resistant paper that has been treated with some sort of coating to give it its non-stick properties (usually silicone). Contrary to what you may have heard, baking paper is not wax paper. Wax paper is coated with wax (duh) and, though it's a good parchment substitute for tasks like letting chocolate-covered strawberries set or covering a work space for easy cleanup, it doesn't do so well in the oven, as the wax can melt or even catch on fire (which is usually frowned upon).
Most baking papers have a temperature limit, it's best to check with the box to be safe. (Especially if you regularly bake at unusually high temperatures.)
Skip the Rolls, Get Pre-Cut Sheets
When you buy a roll of baking paper, it will probably roll in on itself as soon as you lay it out. This makes it hard to cut and annoying to work with. Flipping it over (so it pops up instead of curls in) makes it a little easier to finagle, but getting it to lay flat fresh from the roll is nearly impossible. You can keep it from curling with clothespins or magnets, or you could buy pre-cut sheets, which is what I do, because I'm lazy and prefer to use my magnets holding up a series of drunken photo booth strips.
If you do a lot of baking, pre-cut sheets and circles will make you life so much easier. Baking goddess Alice Medrich is a huge fan of the pre-cut stuff and has some good tips for storage:
Store a stack of sheets flat in a rimmed baking sheet. If you don't have drawer or shelf space for a baking sheet, clip your parchment sheets to an old-fashioned clip board and hang it on the inside of a cupboard, pantry, or closet door. There is no excuse not to keep parchment sheets instead of rolls!
You heard Alice: no excuse. (But live your life. If you're some sort of parchment Jedi who can wrangle unruly rolls with grace and dexterity, carry on and just know that I am in awe of you.)
The Many Uses of Baking paper
Parchments uses span the savoury and sweet, the hot and the cold, and everything in between.
Use It in Your Baking
If you use it for nothing else, use it for lining things. From cake pans and cookie sheets to work surfaces, everything that's lined with parchment is that much easier to clean. For cake pans, you can buy the pre-cut circles I mentioned above, or you can use this clever trick from my favourite ginger, shown above.
Lining a brownie pan with parchment is never a bad idea, as doing so allows you to remove the whole batch right out of the pan, preventing the the loss of valuable chocolate through pan stickage (and cutting down on the amount of scrubbing you have to do). In the case of cookies, baking paper not only makes them easier to remove, it can help prevent burnt bottoms. The more reflective the surface, the faster the cookie cooks; placing a sheet of light-coloured parchment on a cookie sheet makes it less reflective and slows the whole thing down.
Fold Up Your Food
You probably knew about parchment's baking uses, but this is a bit more clever: parchment is great for making little cooking pouches. Not only can you MacGyver your own little bag for toasted sandwiches, you can also get all fancy and French and cook your meals en papillote (that's French for "in parchment"). The above video from Bon Appetit shows you how to fold the versatile little packets. This is one instance where it might behoove you to have a roll on hand, as pre-cut sheets might not give you enough to work with.
Once you've mastered the folding part, you're free to fill the parchment packets with any food that can be steamed. En papillote meals are cooked using the steam generated within the packet, and are a great for tender foods that cook quickly, like flaky fish (this sesame-ginger salmon, for example) and vegetables with high moisture content (try roasted zucchini with saffron and garlic). Since this cooking method relies on steam, make sure you have some moisture in the packet, whether it comes from juicy vegetables or a splash of liquid.
Finally, throw some flavour in there! Herbs and spices are an obvious choice, but citrus wheels, broth, or a splash of wine can infuse your meal with extra tasty oomph. Fat isn't necessary for the cooking process, but a little herb butter or sesame oil make can go a long way.
Replace Other Kitchen Tools
The folding doesn't end there. With a bit of origami-fu, you can use baking paper in place of two different baking standards: cupcake liners and piping bags. Making the cupcake liners is as simple as pressing a little parchment square down into the tin, but if you need a visual guide, watch the above video. I probably wouldn't use this for an entire batch of cupcakes — so many squares! — but it would be a real lifesaver if I was short by just a couple of liners.
Making the piping bag is a little more involved, so I'll let this nice lady break it down for you:
As someone who hates the floppy, messy nature of plastic piping bags, I really appreciate the stiff, disposable nature of these paper cones. It sounds wasteful, given the fact that I ice cookies exactly twice a year, I don't mind burning through a few sheets of parchment every twelve months if it means not having to wrestle those floppy plastic abominations.
Keep Things Separate in the Freezer
Finally, baking paper can be helpful even in the coldest part of your kitchen. Just like parchment keeps food from sticking to pans, it can keep food from sticking to itself. When storing food in the freezer, whether it be chicken breasts, bacon, or tortillas, slip a sheet or parchment between each item to keep your food from fusing into a solid block.
Similarly, you can use it to keep ice crystals from forming on your ice cream. Simply press a little scrap down into the container so it makes contact with the surface of the partially devoured dessert. This will help keep it fresh until the next scoop. (So like, an hour.)
So even though parchment is dull, beige, and two dimensional, it's the most useful dull, beige, two-dimensional product I've ever encountered. We've covered a lot of uses today, but I'm sure you know of more, because you are all very resourceful, so feel free to share them in the comments.