There aren't many things as comforting as baked goods fresh out of the oven, so once you're out on your own, baking is a rewarding skill to pick up. Keeping convenience high and cleanup minimal helps a lot when you're just starting out, which makes parchment paper the new baker's best friend. Your baked goods won't stick to it, and when you're done you can throw out the parchment instead of washing the pan. If you have no parchment paper, you can still bake – you'll just have to be a bit more creative.
Baking Cookies on Foil
If you have no baking parchment, but still want to keep your cleanup as minimal as possible, aluminum foil is one of the simplest solutions. Baking sheets are generally made of aluminum anyway, so cookies baked on a foil-covered sheet should behave just about exactly the way they would on a bare sheet. The only difference is that when you're done, you won't need to wash your pan.
You can also use foil to line square and rectangular baking pans. Gently press the foil into your pan so it makes nice, neat corners. Or, turn the pan over and shape the foil to the outside first, then flip the pan and slide in the preformed foil. Spray or oil the foil to keep your cake or brownies from sticking.
Use the heaviest foil you've got so it's less likely to tear when you're removing your baked goods. There's also aluminum foil that's designed to be nonstick, which works in much the same way as parchment paper and is almost as handy to keep on hand.
Spraying, Oiling or Greasing Your Pans
If quick cleanup is less important than just making sure your baked goods don't stick, oiling or spraying your pans is traditional. Use a commercial pan spray or spread a very thin layer of oil on the inside of the pan with a paper towel, clean rag or pastry brush. A pastry brush is the best option because it gets oil right into the corners of your pan where batter might stick. The downside is that brushes occasionally leave a bristle on the pan, so you have to watch for those.
If you're making a recipe that's especially prone to sticking, grease the pan with a solid fat instead. Shortening and butter are the two most common choices, and they both work pretty well. Butter gives more flavor, but shortening won't burn if you're baking at high temperatures. If you're vegan or you just want to avoid the hydrogenated fats of commercial shortening, coconut oil also works.
For really sticky batters or bundt pans with intricate designs, you might need to double down and add a layer of flour over the grease. Just scoop a spoon or two of flour into the pan, then shake and tap it until the entire inside is covered. Dump out the excess and you're good to go. The flour bonds with the fat to make a nice crust and keeps your baked goods from sticking. As a bonus, it also shows any spots you might have missed with the grease.
Make Your Own Anti-Stick Spread
Professional bakers speed the whole greasing-and-flouring game by making up a spreadable anti-stick concoction of their own. Measure out equal parts of shortening, oil and flour, and combine them thoroughly by hand or in a stand mixer. This will keep indefinitely in your fridge, so you can make up a batch and keep it on hand for any time you have no parchment paper.
Spread this mixture on your pans with a paper towel or a pastry brush, just as you would with shortening. It's fast and efficient, and it works really well. That's why the pros use it.
Use Silicone to Prevent Sticking
If you have a couple of silicone pans or baking mats tucked away in the back of a cupboard, this would be a fine time to pull them out and use them. Not everyone loves silicone pans – your baked goods won't brown or form a crust where they touch the pan – but baked goods won't stick to them.
Leave Your Pans Plain
There are times when your best replacement for parchment paper may be nothing at all. Some cookie recipes very specifically tell you to use an ungreased sheet, for example, and they'll come out better if you don't use parchment, either. A lot of cakes, especially sponge cakes and angel food cakes, need to cling to the sides of your pan as they bake. If you grease the pan, they won't be able to rise up the sides and they'll make half-domes instead of flat circles.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.