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Paper tiger

(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

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Kitchen tools don't have to be complex. Take parchment paper, for example. It's just paper, after all; no sharp blades, no tangling cords, no assembly required. Parchment paper is a heavy, nonstick, silicone-coated paper that tends to get dismissed as a luxury baking tool. But it can do much more than just sit quietly under a dozen sugar cookies.

Parchment paper helps out with the prep work involved in baking, streamlines the clean-up afterward, and (according to true believers) turns out better baked goods than those baked paper-free.

“I consider parchment paper to be necessary, especially for baking,” says Michelle Vernier, the pastry chef at Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant. “It keeps cookies from sticking and prevents chocolate, caramelized sugar, or other sticky substances from staining the baking sheet. Rounds of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of cake pans also allows for easy release of cakes.”

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 credit="Photo © Culinate" caption="Use parchment paper to line a cookie sheet before baking."]

Here's a quick list of parchment paper's many uses. 

Funnel: Sift the dry ingredients in your recipe onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then carefully lift the paper to form a funnel for easy, mess-free pouring into the mixing bowl or electric mixer.

Sheet or pan covering: Using parchment paper to line cookie sheets and baking or roasting pans delivers even results and makes clean-up a breeze; simply slide the sheet of parchment paper off the pan and throw the mess away. (No, it's not the best solution, environmentally speaking, but you can reuse a single sheet of parchment paper several times.)

Decorative tool: Sketch a design (freehand or around cookie cutters) on a sheet of parchment paper, then cut it out for an instant stencil. Place it over a cake and sprinkle powdered sugar over the stencil for visually stunning results.

Pastry bag: Fold a square of parchment paper in half diagonally (it will form a triangle) and then twist into a cone. Drop in your choice of pastry tips and use this handy bag to frost cakes, cupcakes, and cookies. (This homemade bag holds its shape best if you secure the top with a paper clip.)

[%image cookies float=left width=350 credit="Photo © Culinate" caption="A cookie baked on parchment paper leaves just a grease stain behind."]

Packaging: A clean sheet of parchment paper is just translucent enough to make a charmingly attractive wrapping for baked goods. Wrap a sheet around your gift and dress it up with a bow before delivering your culinary masterpiece.

Cooking en papillote: The French term for a dish that's been cooked and served in paper or foil, cooking en papillote is essentially a fancy but efficient way of steaming. It’s a healthier way of cooking because the foods wrapped in the paper steam in their own juices, reducing the need for liquid fats. Cooking en papillote can be used for vegetables, fruit, chicken, and even pasta, but it's particularly useful for preparing delicate fish fillets. 

Finally, a few technical tips: Both sides of a sheet of parchment paper have identical nonstick surfaces, so you don’t need to worry about which side of the paper faces up or down. And while parchment paper can be used in a conventional oven at temperatures up to 450 degrees, never use it around an open flame, with a broiling unit, or with toaster ovens. 

If your local grocery store doesn't sell parchment paper, try a kitchen store or order it online. And if the thought of wasting all that paper (you can't reuse a sheet of parchment paper indefinitely) breaks your cookie-loving heart, try washable silicone baking mats, such as the Silpat brand. They're pricier than a box of paper, but they last forever.

p(bio). Ashley Griffin Gartland is a Portland-based food writer and the executive director of the Portland Culinary Alliance.

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