Many cooks use parchment paper and wax (also called waxed) paper interchangeably, including as a liner for their baking pans for cakes and cookies. Wax paper is cheaper than parchment paper, so why not? The fact is, though, that wax paper is not oven-safe, so you shouldn’t use wax paper for baking cookies or anything else. Wax paper is not an appropriate parchment paper substitute.
Using Wax Paper for Baking Cookies
Many cooks say they’ve used wax paper on cookie sheets for years and never had a problem. If you’re one of them, consider yourself fortunate that you didn’t set the kitchen on fire, and switch to parchment paper.
When wax paper gets hot, its wax begins to melt. The notion that you’d have to be cooking at 450 degrees Fahrenheit or more for it to spark a fire is false; wax paper can and does catch on fire at typical cookie-baking temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Why tempt fate? The higher cost of parchment paper is minor compared with the cost of a new oven or an entire kitchen or home.
Understanding Their Different Properties
When comparing parchment paper vs. wax paper, note there are significant differences between the two.
Parchment paper is treated with silicone so it’s heat-resistant up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The paper may brown at high temps, but it will provide extra protection for cookies ‒ or anything else ‒ baked on it.
Wax paper has a thin layer of wax on both sides, which makes it nonstick. It’s great for rolling out piecrust or cookie dough and many other kitchen tasks, but it’s not heat-resistant. If it’s used for baking in the oven, wax paper can catch fire.
Checking Out True Alternatives
While wax paper is not a good alternative for parchment paper, you have other choices. Silicone baking mats are one good choice. Also called baking sheets or liners, they sit atop the cookie sheet just like parchment paper and keep cookies from sticking. Yes, they require an upfront investment that is higher than the cost of wax or parchment paper, but they are reusable again and again, and with proper care, they should last for years.
Silicone baking mats are made by many different manufacturers, and they are available on Amazon as well as at specialty cookware shops and many other stores, including Walmart and Target. They range in price from about $10 to $20 for a set of two to four sheets. Half sizes for half-size cookie pans are often available for under $10. There’s no need for cooking spray, oil or butter when baking on silicone mats, and they clean up with soap and water or in the dishwasher.
They come in a variety of patterns and colors, and some even have markings for the placement of specific cookie types, like macaroons. As a bonus, since there’s nothing to throw away, you’re not adding trash to landfills when you bake with silicone baking mats.
Going Back to Basics
If you don’t want to invest in parchment paper or silicone mats, you can always bake directly on the cookie sheet as bakers have done for generations. You will need to grease the cookie sheets for cookies that don’t have a lot of oil or butter in them, so they don’t stick to the pan. Other cookies, like chocolate chip, for example, have enough grease to be nonstick on their own. Your recipe will tell you whether to grease your cookie sheets or not.
Cleanup isn’t as easy as removing the parchment paper or baking mat, though. You’ll need good old soap and water to cut through the grease that accumulates on the cookie sheet, and you may need to scrape or scrub areas where cookie residue has stuck or built up. Some experts recommend washing your cookie sheets after each batch of cookies to eliminate buildup, but if you’re using insulated sheets with two layers, water can get between the layers and affect baking results, so just wipe these with a cloth between batches.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area and writes about food for eHow.com and leaf.tv. She started baking on her own at age nine, creating appetizers at 10, and making family meals by 14. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh, where she often cooked elaborate meals and desserts for friends.