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Parchment Paper: So Much More Than Waxed Paper

It’s time to take a fresh look at a staple from commercial kitchens that should also be in every home kitchen. I’m talking about Parchment Paper. And the first thing we have to do is differentiate it from that familiar, old fashioned, look-alike home kitchen staple, Waxed Paper…

Baked Goods Pop Out - @ Darren Stone - Times ColonistBaked Goods pop right out of the pan when you line it with Parchment Paper.
Parchment also reduces the cleanup burden considerably…

What is Parchment Paper?

It’s a valid question from a home cook, but a clear give-away from anyone calling themself a kitchen professional that they’re not realy pros. Every trained commercial cook knows that Parchment Paper is that stiff, crackly, white paper Chefs and Bakers use to line any pan destined for the oven to ensure that that they’re cooking won’t stick.

In short, Parchment Paper (also known as Bakery Paper) is a food-grade cellulose-based paper that has been treated with sulfuric Acid, which makes it semi-transparent, increases its density and renders it heat resistant. The treatment process also makes it slippery. It’s a perfect material to keep foods from sticking in the oven. Some modern Parchment Papers are simply coated with a non-stick substance. They are not particularly a favourite of mine, since I suspect they may transfer unwanted chemicals to the foods cooked on them. Maybe that’s just my natural paranoia and/or my Scottish skepticism about anything ‘new’.

Waxed paper is something else entirely!

It is important to note that Parchment Paper is not the same as Waxed Paper! Waxed Paper is just that; wax-infused paper.

Waxed Paper was traditionally used to line containers or cover them securely the way we now use Plastic Wrap, before plastic became a household staple. When I was in elementary school, my lunch sandwich and sometimes other treats were carefully wrapped in Waxed Paper to keep their desired moisture in and keep them from their moisture from leaking any into my lunch box or onto other foods.

Danger: If you attempt to use Waxed Paper in the oven, the wax will melt and burn, causing everything in contact with it to stick to everything else and, eventually burn! By comparison, Parchment paper is designed to be used in the oven. However… Even Parchment Paper will turn brown around the edges if used at temperatures above those typically used for Baking (max. 375 F). But it takes a lot to make it actually char.

How do you use Parchment Paper?

Parchment Paper is widely used in Baking to line baking sheets, helping to release the finished goods from the pans and reducing the dish-washing burden. It is often called for in place of or in  combination with greasing cake pans to ensure that dense, very moist products such as Yuletide Fruit Cakes come cleanly out of their baking molds.

But Parchment Paper also has a cherished role in the main kitchen, where it is often used to line Casserole Dishes (in the same way and for the same reasons as in the Bakery), and roasting or baking pans to help keep foods from sticking and reduce the mess from baked-on cooking residues. I place a sheet under anything I roast on a rack in a deep roasting pan to ensure the rack doesn’t stick to the Roast.

There are also some classic cooking methods that employ Parchment Paper in stove top preparations. Two common examples are en papillote, in which food is sealed in a Parchment Paper envelope or packet for steaming, and Potatoes Anna, where Potato slices are gently cooked on Parchment Paper in a frying pan.

In short…

I haven’t stocked Waxed Paper in my kitchen for decades. I use Parchment paper for many applications, including some that don’t involve actual cooking at all, such as layering foods in storage containers to keep them from sticking.

The problem is…

Parchment Paper for home use comes exclusively in rolls, like Plastic Wrap and Foil. And that makes it hard to use, since it tends to resist flattening out, and most of its applications require that it lie flat on the surface it’s intended to protect. But you can get it in flat sheets in varying sizes from pro kitchen supply outlets that have retail stores attached.

Just do it

Take the trouble to get some Parchment Paper soon, and see how much easier it can make your cooking endeavours!

~ Maggie J.