Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kitchen Throwdown: Silpat vs. Parchment Paper

If you have a Silpat (or similar), do you need parchment paper too? Is there a better option than those rolls of parchment at the grocery store? Can you re-use parchment paper? Which is more cost-effective? How long does a Silpat last?

I've heard all these questions, and some of them assume that it's an either-or choice between parchment paper and Silpats. For some people, it is and either-or. Me, I use both.

First, let's talk about the Silpat. On the plus side, it should last nearly forever if you take care of it properly. BUT. You shouldn't use it if it gets damaged. So you have to treat it a bit gently. You can't cut things on it, and you should fold it or scrub it or mangle it. A Silpat has glass fibers inside, and if it gets cut or damaged, those fibers could end up in your food. Yuck.

Silpats are cheaper now than they used to be. Recently, I've seen them for about $20 for the half-sheet size. But if you plan on using them for your Christmas cookie baking frenzy, you'd probably want several of them. It starts getting expensive if you can fit three sheets in your oven and then you want an extra one or two for the cookies you are getting ready to put into the oven.

But is parchment any cheaper? I've seen rolls of parchment paper of various lengths at the grocery store for under $10. Honestly, though, the rolled parchment is annoying to deal with. Flat sheets are so much better. I've seen little packages of parchment paper in the grocery store as well. These are folded. I've never bought them, so I don't know if the folds are as annoying to deal with as the curls in the rolls, but if you don't need a lot of parchment, I suppose it's nice to be able to buy a few sheets at a time. But it's probably not cost effective if you use as much parchment as I do.

The last time I bought parchment paper, it was in flat sheets, and I think there were 50 sheets. They were cheap. But the last time I was at that store, they didn't have them. So when i got close to running out, I started looking around to see where I might find a better deal.
Online looked like the best option. I found flat sheets in packages of 100 for ten dollars. A much better bargain than either the rolls or the folded parchment. Shipping was an additional ten dollars, but that was still less expensive and more convenient that the grocery store options.

Before I ordered, I decided to check the local restaurant supply house. Now, this was a bargain. I found full-sheet size parchment in a box of 1000 for a little over $40. I figured that I could rip them in half or fold them and use them doubled, and it was still cheaper than the packages of 100.

Then the store owner suggested that I take the box to one of the local print shop and ask them cut in half so I'd have a nice clean cut and I'd end up with 2000 sheets that would be the right size for my half-sheet pans. He said that he'd heard that other people did that and it cost about $5 to cut them.

Well, duh.

A friend of mine owns a print shop, and she likes to cook. I brought my parchment paper to her shop where she cut them for me, and I gave her a big chunk of them for her trouble. She was happy and I've still got a massive supply of parchment that should last a long time, even if I get wasteful.

When it comes to using parchment, one advantage is that you can cut or fold it to size. Silpats can't be cut or folded, so you can't use them to line a brownie pan, for example. A second advantage to parchment is that you don't have to wash it. Just toss it, and the mess, in the trash. Silpats seem to attract grease, and it seems to me that it requires a bit more soap and hotter water to get them really clean.

And parchment works well under bread that will be baked directly on a stone. After a short time, you can remove the parchment or just leave it there. I'm not sure if a Silpat could handle the heat of a baking stone. I've never tried it, but I think the thickness of the Silpat would make it less than ideal.

Where I find my Silpats unmatched is when I'm making candy. There's no need to butter a pan when I'm making peanut brittle - I put it directly on the Silpat and it doesn't stick. The Silpat is also ideal for making delicate cheese crisps.

Whether a Silpat or parchment is right for you depends on what you make. If you make peanut brittles and similar candies, you'll love the Silpat. If you bake brownies and sticky quick breads, you'll love being able to fold the parchment to fit. Parchment is also great for steaming in a sealed packet. And if you have enough of it on hand, you'll probably find plenty of other uses.

But there's yet another option: Super Parchment. It's thin like parchment, but it's reusable like a Silpat. And it can be cut to size. If throwing away parchment seems to wasteful to you, or if you can't find cheap parchment and you're spending too much on the small quantities, Super Parchment might be just right for you. I've use it to line pans and on my baking stone and it held up well. But of course, once you've cut a big sheet down, now you don't have that big sheet to line your big baking pan any more.

I checked prices on Super Parchment, and it looks like it's currently selling for about $10 per sheet, which isn't bad. Personally, I like the disposable parchment for lining my baking sheets and for folding to fit square pans. Super Parchment, on the other hand, is nice for cutting to fit round pans. I don't know about you, but cutting parchment to fit the bottom of a round cake pan is annoying. It always takes me a couple tries to get it just right. With the Super Parchment, you can cut once and then store the circles for the next use. It's worth having to wash them just to keep from having to endlessly cut circles.

So now you've got three choices. Which is right for you? Maybe one, maybe two, or maybe all three. The best advice I can give you is to avoid the parchment on rolls. Fighting those curling sheets just isn't fun.


cedarglen said...

Hi Donna; I love this post and yes, I know were you got some of the motivation. All is fair and go for it!
1. Agree 100% that the rolled parchment at retail is bad news. It is very spendy and the curl alway seems to occur at that wrong, critical moment.
2. If one is very frugal, some standard parchment sheets can be re-used, perhaps once. I do not, but 35-40 years ago I worked in a smallbakery that did so. They lined 1000+ pans per week; I do two or three.
3. Until they got 'nasty' about it, I used to buy a handful of full sheet parchments from an in-store bakery near a former home. Early on, the response was, "...sure, how much do you need?" The counter person gradded a modest 'pinch' and we had a polite negotiation about price. It usually worked out to about $0.05 per full sheet. Gently rolled and with a MISC BAKERY sticker applied, I willingly paid my bill, cut them in half and went on baking. More recently, they bakery counter folks have become a bit puckered about this and many won't do it. (Have a serious talk with the bakery manager, if necessary.)
4. Buying a case of 1000 and having them profesionally cut is brilliant, as much as it is a lifetime over kill. Still, the $40+ is a good deal if one uses a lot. I'm thinking about it. Hey! A handful of half-size parchment sheets makes a wonderful gift for fellow local bakers!
5. I have no knowledge of Super Parchment, but at the price mentioned, I think I'll pass.
6. With you will recall that I recently asked this question in a private exchange: Silpat v. Parchment. With your advice and personal experience, I'm going to stick with parchment. It can be cut/adapted for the off or special need and screwing up a sheet won't break the bank. And I don't make candy. Some folks also use Silpat-type mats for freezing, berries or meat cubes or whatever. Parchment works just as well.

Great Fun, Donna and a wonderful, informative post. I think I know where you got the idea. In food/cooking/baking, all is fair and we do not keep secrets. Thanks for the additional details. If I cannot get a fistfull from the baker, I'll go for the case and have it cut. There are far more important improvements to occupy my baking time. Best regards, Cedarglen

Catherine Peart said...

This is a great post. I didn't even know you could buy flat parchment - I have never seen it anywhere and have always had my little struggle with the curl. Great to know and I will be seeking out a restaurant supply place for sure. As for the super parchment, I have one sheet of 'teflon paper' which I think is the same thing - I bought it from a chef friend and I have used that baby for at least 3 years now. Although I didn't want to cut it so I only use it for one particular cookie tray. It is starting to get a bit tatty so I may cut it to fit my favourite ruond cake pan now and just use it there. Anyway, thanks for the info!

Unknown said...

First, let's talk about the Silpat. On the plus side, it should last nearly forever if you take care of it properly. BUT. You shouldn't use it if it gets damaged. So you have to treat it a bit gently. You can't cut things on it, and you should fold it or scrub it or mangle it. A Silpat has glass fibers inside, and if it gets cut or damaged, those fibers could end up in your food. Yuck. I THINK YOU NEED A 'NOT' ABOVE HERE. A blogger mentioned wadding your parchment; scary, but it will snuggle in better. I use my 'roll' pieces until they actually crumble; it saves so much stress with wet bread doughs, for instance! thanks for covering an iffy subject...enjoyed your article.

Christian Anderson said...

I am quite happy with the Kirkland Costco brand paper, rolled. Works out to about 5 cents a square foot. Not so much I don't want to store it in my small kitchen. As far as reusing, for things like cookies, I will flip the sheet over and use the other side.

Rebecca said...

I was out of parchment and after mis-reading a snippet of your article used my silpat under my pizza on my baking stone tonight. It worked just fine. I will continue to use both parchment and silpats. But now I need to find out about this super parchment for my round came pans. Thanks for the info!

Frank said...

King Arthur Flour sells flat sheets of parchment paper. I don't know if it's 'Super Parchment' but they cost about $0.20 each and I use them dozens of times before I replace them with a fresh sheet.

Donna Currie said...

Frank, the last time I bought parchment, it was from a restaurant supply place, it cost me less than a penny apiece, and I have enough to last me until I'm 170 years old, probably. The Silpat is good for things the parchment isn't, like peanut brittle or filled breads or pastries that are sugary and might burn/stick. The super parchment is washable and you can cut it (which you can't do with a Silpat) so it's good for cutting into rounds for the bottoms of cake pans, or similar uses where you might need a particular shape over and over. They all have different purposes, but not everyone's going to need all the different options.

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