HAND-chopped chocolate, freshly roasted nuts, fragrant, just-grated ginger: These are some of the top-quality ingredients that go into this issue’s winning cookie recipes. And when friends and family bite into one of these babies, those are the flavors you want them to taste.
What’s the best way to prepare baking sheets to give your holiday cookies the best send-off: the old-fashioned way (i.e., buttered or naked, depending on the recipe), using parchment paper or using a silicon pan liner such as Silpat?
Traditionally, careful home bakers have used clarified butter (which doesn’t burn) when greasing is required (shortening or oil compromises flavor and texture); cookbooks tended to call for parchment or brown paper lining only for macaroons or meringues.
But the high sugar content and the rich fruits and fillings that make holiday cookies special also make them likelier to stick than everyday cookies, and festive-shaped cookies need treatment that preserves edges and prevents distortion.
We made batches of three basic kinds of cookies: drop cookies, represented by Toll House chocolate chip cookies; crisp cookies and wafers, represented by basic ginger-molasses snaps; and shaped cookies, such as the classic sugar cookie cut into stars.
On new, identical cookie sheets, we baked each kind of cookie three ways: on the untreated cookie sheet, on parchment and on a Silpat liner. Each sheet was from the same batch of dough, baked in the same oven for the same amount of time.
We found that for all three kinds of cookies, while cookies made on the naked pan turned out well, using a liner enhanced cookie shape and texture. Both the parchment liner and the Silpat liner resulted in more consistent browning and less spread and worked well in each test. But there were slight differences, making Silpat the best choice in two cases, parchment in one.
For the cookie stars, the Silpat performed best; cookies baked on it retained their sharp edges, didn’t puff up and there was no distortion. For the crisp ginger snaps, parchment was best. It resulted in cookies that were crisp and stayed crisp, not hard, while retaining their shape. For the chocolate chip cookies, both parchment and Silpat performed well but cookies baked on the silicon liner had less spreading, better texture and a more evenly browned bottom.
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What’s the difference: The Silpat pan liner is one of the best-known, high-tech reusable pan liners. You don’t have to keep it in stock; buy it once, it’s washable.
What we thought: The product’s claim to not only keep food from sticking but also to help distribute heat evenly is borne out by our tests. It kept star shapes sharp, browned bottoms beautifully even and crisped wafers right on the edge of crunch. The best performer on shaped cookies.
How much: Silpat from Demarle, one (11 5/8 -by-16 1/2 - inch) sheet, about $15. Widely available.
What’s the difference: Parchment paper is silicon-coated, inexpensive, easy to find and disposable. Cuts down on cleanup -- just toss it. Many brands can be used more than once.
What we thought: Good results all around. The best for crisp gingersnaps, just the right texture. On chocolate chip cookies there was good shape and a nice golden bottom with a touch of crisp. A little puffiness, spread and uneven browning on cut-out cookies.
How much: Prices vary; widely available.
-- Susan LaTempa