Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

You’ve probably used to seeing cookie recipes that call for lining your half-sheet trays with parchment paper, so what gives with the rise in popularity of silicone baking mats over the last few years? Are these two nonstick surfaces interchangeable in recipes? And, are they equally good at baking cookies, or cooling thick caramel, or releasing delicate macaron shells? Or a litany of other common baking and cooking tasks?

Let’s get into it. 

What Is Parchment Paper?

Also known as baking paper, parchment paper is simply paper that has been treated with either silicone or Quilon (a chemical made up largely of isopropanol) to render it nonstick and heat-resistant. Silicone-treated parchment is slightly more expensive to produce, but also more common in grocery stores. Unlike Quilon-treated parchment, you can reuse silicone-treated parchment a few times, and there seems to be some disagreement about Quilon’s health safety for baking applications. 

Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Parchment paper is most commonly sold in stores by the roll or in boxes of pre-cut sheets that would fit on most cookie trays. I prefer the rolls of parchment to the pre-cut sheets because I find that most of the sheets are too small for the pan, and I’d rather trim off or fold up any excess paper to get more coverage. However, pre-cut parchment paper has its fans (including senior commerce editor Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, who swears by King Arthur Flour’s). Many specialty stores also sell pre-cut parchment liners for cake tins of all sizes, but you can also cut out your own. (As an aside, parchment paper can even be turned into piping bags.) 

Bleached and unbleached parchment paper (which are white and light brown, respectively) are available in most stores, and I’ve found no difference in performance. So if you don’t have any reservations about the added step of chlorine treatment, just buy whichever is cheapest. 

What Are Silicone Baking Mats?

Silicone baking mats are non-stick sheets, much thicker than parchment paper, that are manufactured to fit into standard sheet trays (half, quarter, etc.). They are made from food-grade silicone, and some are reinforced with a fiberglass mesh to make them more durable. They are oven-safe up to 450°F for some brands, or as high as 550°F for others—although you should always check the manufacturer’s specs. Like pre-cut parchment paper, silicone mats are sold in all shapes and sizes. 

What Is Parchment Paper Best For? 

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

In my kitchen, the most regular task for parchment paper is lining half-sheet trays for a batch of cookies. (I also like to cut off a small rectangle to line quarter-sheet trays and dole out balls of dough for easy chilling.) Not only does parchment provide a surface that even the sugariest cookie dough won’t stick to, but it also adds a layer of slight insulation, helping to prevent scorching (especially if using darker pans). It won’t stick to your cookies, but it also isn’t so slippery that your cookies flatten out faster than they can bake up. 

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Silicone mats can’t compete in this arena. As Stella Parks notes in her piece on the troubles of baking cookies on silicone, it doesn’t absorb moisture or fat like parchment does, leaving cookies a tad greasy—and also sweaty, if cooled on their trays. Also, they are a bit too nonstick, causing cookies to spread too much in the oven, which leads to the wrong texture, overcooked edges, and/or not enough rise. The thickness of these mats can help conduct heat more gently, but they insulate the cookies too much from the direct heat from the tray below, which could also be why they don’t set fast enough and spread too much. 

Another great use for parchment that can’t be replicated by silicone? Lining cake tins. Greasing the tin, and then placing a sheet cut to the pan’s shape on the bottom means the cake will release with ease and little to no breakage. Of course, they sell cake tin-size silicone mats, but then you have to have two to three of them for every size cake pan you have. 

For delicate piping work like buttercream flowers, royal icing transfers, or tempered chocolate designs, I like to use parchment because it’s easy to peel off while being very careful not to damage your creation. Silicone mats can be a bit too thick to gently peel them off. Plus you can cut the parchment into whatever size you need and easily move them around, like to the fridge or a showstopper cake. 

Lastly, I love rolling out dough for cut-out cookies on parchment instead of a silicone mat. I just lay another piece of parchment on top of the dough and roll the dough between the two pieces, which also helps my rolling pin from becoming a sticky mess. This way, it’s super easy to determine the correct thickness for rolling, transfer the slabs to and from the fridge, and pry the delicate cutouts out of their dough prisons. 

What Are Silicone Mats Best For?

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Although parchment is also great for baking another cookie, macaron shells, some bakers swear by using silicone mats. Many of them even come with macaron templates of different sizes conveniently printed on them. This might boil down to personal preference. And while silicone mats make some cookies, for example, the classic chocolate chip, spread too much, other types of cookies such as florentines and tuiles benefit from a lot of spread. 

Bread bakers love using silicone mats that are exactly the size of a bread oven. With them, they can turn out their shaped loaf onto an oval of silicone, spray it, coat it in flour, score it with a lame, and easily transfer it with their two little tab handles to the pre-heated bread oven. In my experience with baking sourdough, parchment tends to scorch at the high temperatures required for a tall rise and open crumb. 

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Another genre of baked goods I will whip out my silicone mats for is anything super sticky. I have found that with hot, molten caramel, silicone is much more forgiving. When I’m dipping caramel apples, I like to place them on silicone to set. Or when I’ve made a hard-crack caramel like for peanut brittle, I like to pour it out onto a silicone mat on a sheet tray. Parchment can get caught on the caramel a little easier and, because it’s paper, it’s prone to tearing. (A good silicone mat will almost never tear.) The same goes for a batch of syrupy granola. It’s annoying to have to try to peel off parchment stuck to something sticky, trust me. Of course, you could always lightly grease any parchment you’re using, but then you’ll get a sheen on the finished product, and why go through the extra step?

They also make silicone mats for worktops that are a great non-stick surface for rolling out pie crust, brioche dough for cinnamon rolls, or other sticky pastries. They often come with ruler markings on the sides, handy baking conversion charts, and concentric circles showing you the correct diameters for pie crust, too. 

Pros and Cons of Parchment Paper, at a Glance

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Pros

Disposable for easy clean-upVery thin for even cooking and optimal heat transferenceNonstick, but not slippery, leading to optimal spread for cookiesMuch more versatile—good for lining any size pan, or even making pastry bagsSome brands (Reynolds, If You Care) are compostable 

Cons

Single-use paper, even if you can get a few uses out of it, isn’t as sustainable

Pros and Cons of Silicone Mats, at a Glance

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Pros

Cost-effective in the long term—buy it once and you’ll have it for years Reusable—less waste and environmental impactMore heat-resistant than parchment paperEasy to throw in the dishwasherLess fragile than parchment paperEvenly distributes heat

Cons

Too slippery, leading to too much spread on cookiesTricky to clean and dry by handTend to hold onto powerful smells and stains 

So, Which Should You Buy?

All this to say, it’s a boon to have both a roll of parchment paper as well as one or two silicone mats in your kitchen, for all the times when you don’t *need* to use a single-use paper product. 

Why We’re the Experts

Eric King is a recipe developer, photographer, food stylist, and content creator.He has a B.S. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University.He runs a baking blog called easygayoven and has developed, styled, and photographed recipes for Netflix Family.He has reviewed many items for serious eats, including bench scrapers, a smart stand mixer, wine tumblers, and more.

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