Maybe my penchant for paper has to do with my love of books. Or it might reach back to some infant stage when, presented with anything paper, one has the urge to chew on it. I did have a calligraphy phase, as much for the sound of the tip of the pen scraping against the paper as for curl after curl of script.
There are many junctures where food, cooking, and eating intersect with words, books, and writing. One of those is, happily, paper. Parchment paper. I love just saying it: “Parchment paper,” and suddenly I’m in the English countryside sitting at my board with Chaucer, breaking off a chunk of bread to eat with a mug of mead, whilst we compose a tale or two.
Parchment paper makes itself handy in the kitchen by lining baking sheets and pans so that whatever you’re baking, like perfect chocolate chip cookies, doesn’t stick. Greasing the pan is eliminated, though it can still be a helpful step as a kind of glue for the parchment to the surface of the baking pan, especially for wet batters that might try to seep underneath the paper.
Parchment is available in rolls at the grocery store, but I allow myself to indulge in the pre-cut half-sheets of parchment as well as the pre-cut rounds from Sur la Table. The half sheets stay nice and flat on the pan, and the rounds eliminate having to trace and cut the parchment.
In culinary school, we learned to be as thrifty as possible with our parchment, so we re-used it until it began to crack and fall apart. I continue this practice and find I can go three or four rounds before it’s spent.
There is a difference, by the way, between parchment paper and waxed paper. Parchment is considered a non-stick paper for baking—it’s coated with silicone—and waxed paper is coated, well, with wax and is not a baking paper. I use waxed paper when I roll out dough, or between layers of cookies in a tin.
If you’re tempted to skip the parchment step in a recipe, consider how irritating it is when you’ve made some delicious thing, as we’re going to this week, that sticks to your pan so that you can’t get it out. Then you have to destroy your work just to get a decent bite of it. Get a roll or some sheets, and they’ll be there for you whenever you set yourself to baking a treat. Or writing a Canterbury tale.