Since You Asked: Enthusiasm waxes for parchment

I see a lot of baking recipes that call for preparing pans with parchment paper. Because parchment is so much more expensive, can I just use wax paper instead?

— Claire C., via e-mail

The answer depends on what you're planning to bake. Parchment is more expensive, but it's more versatile than wax paper.

Wax paper is lightweight tissue paper coated on both sides with paraffin. Parchment paper is heavier, nonstick paper treated with sulfuric acid, coated with silicone and sold bleached or unbleached. Parchment paper is grease-proof and moisture- resistant. Wax paper is not as moisture-proof.

For baking, wax paper can be used in the oven only if it doesn't come in contact with direct heat, which causes it to smoke. It works in cake recipes that call for lining the baking pan with wax paper before pouring in the batter.

Parchment paper also can be used to line cake pans, but because it handles the oven's direct heat, it also can line baking sheets so cookies don't stick.

Another use for parchment is folding it around food — like an envelope — and baking. This traditional French method, suited to vegetables and fish, is called "en papillote." When the food lets off steam in the oven, the packet puffs up.

Although wax paper isn't as pretty as parchment, it's useful for layering between cookies or other baked goods for storage or gift-giving, or for crumpling to keep things from shifting during travel. Wax paper, like parchment, also can be used to funnel ingredients from a flat surface to containers. Parchment, however, doubles as a pastry bag, one reason it's sold in precut circles.

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