Today, we’ll keep it short and sweet and address the question:
What should I line my baking sheets with?
Great question! Let’s set some ground rules before we begin. First, I did not experiment with baking pan type, only what to put on the pan. I exclusively use the rimmed 12X18-inch baking sheets for all my cookies (I buy them at Sam’s Club in a 2-pack and they are inexpensive and awesome). Secondly, for this experiment, I used my Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe but I think the results could be applied to almost any drop-type cookie (similar in texture to a chocolate chip cookie).
I tested out three “lining” options: a silpat liner, parchment paper and cooking spray.
The results? Well, the baked cookies, on top, don’t look terribly different from each other. Upon closer inspection (and I mean a really closer inspection) I noticed that the cookies baked on the greased cookie sheet didn’t seem to flatten quite as much but the difference is so minimal that most people probably wouldn’t notice unless they dug out a ruler and measured in millimeters (I may or may not have done just that and then felt like a complete neurotic dork). Overall, the shape, browning on top, and inner texture of all the cookies were pretty similar.
The bottoms of the cookies are a slightly different matter. I baked all the cookies for the exact same time (11 1/2 minutes in a 350 degree oven). The parchment baked cookies had noticeably less browning on the bottom. The greased baking sheet produced much more crispiness and browning around the edges of the cookies (you can see it in the upper left rounded edge of the cookie from the greased baking sheet). While the cookies were warm, it didn’t seem to matter quite as much (I went ahead and sampled a variety of each batch…for testing purposes of course). But after they had cooled, the parchment baked cookies stayed softer and less crispy on the bottom. The cookies baked on greased baking sheets were almost crumbly on the edges and the silpat baked cookies were firm on the bottom but still soft in the center.
In summary, after baking all the cookies for the same amount of time, I preferred the baked and cooled cookie that was baked on parchment-lined baking sheets; however, baking the other cookies (on silpat-lined or greased cookie sheets) for a bit less time may help the bottoms of the cookies not brown quite as much. Overall, it doesn’t seem to really matter what you line your baking sheets with as long as you keep an eye on baking time but if I had to insist on a preference, I would avoid the greased baking sheets if you want to minimize crunchy cookie bottoms.
A note about convenience and what I use, I’m not ready to give up my silpat liners quite yet. I actually bake cookies on them 99% of the time, although from now on, I think I’ll decrease the baking time just a bit. Although silpat liners have to be washed and dried, I like the convenience of being able to reuse them over and over. I’ve had mine for over five years (2 of them) and they still look and work fabulously (incidentally, I bought them on Amazon long, long ago; not sure if they still have them there). As for parchment? Well, I couldn’t live without it either. I pull it out to bake cookies on when I’m using all four of my baking sheets and don’t have enough silpat liners to go around. Plus, cleanup is obviously a breeze (toss!) although not quite as “green” as the silpat liners. I also use it to line my baking pans for cakes (cut to size) and for a variety of other kitchen projects (wrapping up quick breads with twine to give away, baking pizzas on the pizza stone, etc.). I almost exclusively buy my parchment paper from King Arthur Flour (not affiliated with them; just love their parchment). I reuse the parchment several times before throwing away unless it is excessively greasy or dirty.
Pretty simple experiment this time!