What Is Parchment Paper and Why Is It Essential in the Kitchen?

Fish in Parchment Paper
Getty Images/istetiana

Professional bakers and chefs long have had rolls of parchment in the kitchen that they reached for often and for a range of reasons. Now that this staple is readily available to home cooks, they, too, are discovering just how indispensable it is.

What is parchment paper? This paper can be found in bleached or unbleached versions. It has been coated with silicone, which makes it nonstick and also heat-resistant (check the packaging on your favorite brand, most are oven safe up to 420 F).

This coating is the biggest difference between parchment paper and waxed paper: waxed paper is coated with paraffin wax, which will melt or even burn. Parchment paper also comes in pre-cut sheets, even more convenient.

Once you have a roll of parchment paper in your kitchen, chances are you’ll find no end to the ways you use it. Here are some of our favorite ways:

  1. Line baking sheets or cake pans. This is one of the most common ways to use parchment. Putting a layer of parchment on your baking sheets means you don’t have to grease them, and cookies will slide right off (plus they’re easier to wash afterward). If you’re making multiple batches you can reuse the parchment. For cakes or bread, cut the parchment to fit the pan so that it’ll release easier. You can grease the pan, then press the parchment onto the pan so it will cling to the pan. For square or rectangular pans, leave an inch overhang and the baked goods will be even easier to remove: just lift the hanging edges! Parchment also works great on baking sheets for roasting vegetables. 
  1. Layer between sticky cookies or candies. Keep baked goods and candies from sticking together or frosting from smearing by putting a sheet of parchment between each layer in your container or box. You can even repurpose the parchment that you used to line the baking pan for this!
  2. Create an impromptu piping cornet for icing. Culinary students, especially those learning baking, are usually required to master the art of creating chocolate decorations to garnish pastries or piped writing for personalizing cakes or scrawling “Congratulations!” in chocolate on the plate of a newly engaged couple. Often they do it with an ad hoc piping bag made with parchment: the stiff parchment will hold melted chocolate or icing without leaking, and it’s stiff enough to form a small enough aperture for detailed writing and decorating. Making a cornet is not hard. Serious Eats has some good illustrated directions. 
  1. Covering a work surface. Tape down a sheet of parchment to a counter and you have an instantly clean work surface for your dirty work, such as forming meatballs or rolling out pastry dough. And at the end, just loosen the tape and roll the parchment around your mess to easily clean it up and throw it away.
  2. Cook en papillote. En papa-what? Encasing some seasonings and a piece of fish or chicken in a pouch of parchment paper will allow it to cook in its own fragrant steam bath, a healthy way to make flavorful and tender meals. Try this recipe for flounder and fennel in parchment to see just how impressive this type of preparation can be. (You can use aluminum instead, but parchment is much prettier!) 
  3. Funnel ingredients. Whether you’re trying to fill a little shaker with homemade cinnamon sugar mixture or transferring the cheese you’ve grated into the pan, a piece of parchment can easily bend into a funnel or a pouring spout to transport and pour ingredients from one place to another.   

Buy parchment paper on Amazon.com:

Beyond Gourmet 71-square foot roll Unbleached Parchment

Reynolds pre-cut parchment sheets