We took a look at what differentiates two of the most popular non-stick surfaces in the kitchen.
There’s no crummier feeling in baking than that mix of panic and heartbreak that sets in when your treats stick to your baking surface. Sure, you grease and flour your bundt pan when a recipe says to, but you don’t always want to lube up the baking pan—especially when making cookies, as this can cause over-spreading and over-browning. The solution? Rather than dousing your bakeware with cooking spray and oils, using a non-stick surface, such as parchment paper or a silicone mat, can be the difference between scorched bottoms and golden, evenly cooked baked goods.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a professional kitchen that doesn’t keep a huge box of parchment paper sheets, and silicone mats are a staple for most serious bakers. While both surfaces are great for creating a no-stick barrier between your baked goods and the pan, one has to wonder—is one preferable to the other? I took a deeper look at the uses, pros, and cons of a silicone mat versus using parchment paper to find out.
What is a silicone baking mat?
A silicone baking mat is a non-stick baking surface made from high-quality, food-grade silicone. This surface comes in several shapes and sizes to fit various types of baking pans. The main benefit to owning a silicone mat is that, unlike parchment paper, it’s reusable. The silicone mat is also especially well suited for jobs that may prove too hot and sticky for parchment paper to stand up to without reinforcement (i.e. greasing). Time Inc. Food Studios recipe developer/tester Deb Wise says, “If you make a lot of peanut brittle or do a lot of cooking with sugar, you will need a silicone mat.” She notes that a silicone mat is incredibly useful when you are working with hot confections such as caramel or toffee. Instead of lining your sheet pan with foil, you can use the baking mat to cook savory foods such as baked salmon or chicken breasts. These mats are also easy to clean, especially compared to scrubbing a baking sheet with hard-set residue.
Wise does warn that if you cook with a silicone mat, never use a knife on the surface. Once you puncture or slice the mat, it becomes more difficult to clean and the damage will continue to deteriorate over time. The best way to care for your mat is to wash it with a soft cloth/sponge using warm, soapy water and hand dry the mat with a clean towel. In general, most silicone mats should not be used under the broiler; at most, they are typically designed to withstand temperatures up to 450°F.
There are a few different brands on the market but Wise says, “I usually reach for the Silpat brand...it has a sleeker surface.” The French manufactured mats have over 2,000 comments on Amazon with customers raving about the quality and longevity. The Silpat mat is made with a combination of fiberglass mesh and silicone that contribute to its non-stick power. However, AmazonBasics Silicone Baking Mat deserves an honorable mention. For half the price of a Silpat, you can get two half-sheet mats from the online giant’s branded line of products. Particularly if you’re a beginning baker, it’s tough to beat the value of these mats.
What is Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is paper that is coated in a layer of silicone to create a heat resistant and non-stick surface. Wise says she tends to use parchment paper to line cake baking pans, bake cookies, and catch dripping from glazing or icing cakes. A major perk of parchment is that you can tailor it to oddly shaped pans with a pair of scissors,while you can only use a mat in specific sizes/shapes. Parchment paper is disposable and buying a box comes at a substantially lower cost than purchasing a couple of silicone mats. That said, it’s usually single-use and ultimately creates more waste.
*Note: Be sure not to confuse parchment paper with wax paper. Wax paper is coated with (you guessed it) wax, and melts/burns at high temperatures. Therefore, you should never use wax paper for baking—but it can be used to prevent sticking between layers of items you plan to freeze.
I conducted a simple test to see if there is any obvious difference in using parchment paper versus using a silicone mat in baking with our Ultimate Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe. I made one batch and divided the dough between both non-stick surfaces. (I did not spray either surface.) I baked each batch of cookies on a lightly colored half sheet pan with raised edges. The only adjustment I made to the recipe was that I ultimately baked them about 3 minutes longer than the 6-7 minutes suggested. All of the cookies were scooped with the same cookie scoop to control the portion size.
Overall, both surfaces yielded a batch of evenly baked cookies. A total of 24 cookies were made, baking about 6 cookies per pan. In this case, the parchment paper made it easier to bake multiple sheets at one time, while I could only use the Silpat for one pan at a time... because I only had one mat.
I set the cookies out for other editors to taste, and most preferred cookies baked on parchment paper. While both batches were very close in physical appearance, I do think the Silpat batch maintained a slightly more uniform shape. And because the Silpat lays completely flat, it was easier to scoop the dough onto, compared to the parchment paper with ever-curling ends. In terms of consistency, the cookies baked on the Silpat were slightly crunchier than those on parchment.
All things considered, which surface you use comes down to A.) what you’re using it for and in some cases, B.) pure personal preference. That being the case, when it comes to cookie baking, I’m generally going to stick with parchment paper.