I’m not sure I knew what parchment paper was before I went to culinary school. (I’m excluding my middle school history projects that involved soaking paper in watered down coffee to mimic the stuff our nation’s forefathers wrote on.) And even if I had seen it listed as ‘special equipment’ for a recipe in Martha Stewart Living, I’m certain I had no idea how parchment differed from wax paper. In an effort to save you thousands of dollars in culinary school tuition, here are a few of the differences between parchment and wax paper.
Wax paper, as its name implies, is coated with a super thin layer of food grade wax. (Food grade means it’s been declared safe for use on food.) The wax helps prevent sticky items from sticking (think taffy or caramels). You can use wax paper to line pans, so long as the paper is covered COMPLETELY by the food. If left exposed, the wax will melt and the paper will smoke and burn. So it’s fine to use for lining cake pans, where the batter will cover it, but not so much for your cookie sheets where the spaces between the cookies will still be exposed.
Parchment paper is like wax paper on steroids. Its thin silicone coating makes it impervious to both water and grease. It’s nonstick, which makes it perfect for lining pans and cookie sheets. It costs more than wax paper, but is much more versatile. It can withstand higher cooking temperatures and you can use it to cook foods en papillote (fancy French term for cooking food in paper), but that’s another post for another day.