Choosing A Good Baking Sheet
One key baking tool found in every kitchen is a baking sheet. Usually you will find quite a few baking sheets as most bakers and cooks have different sheets for different types of food. While usually not too expensive, you want to make sure that you are buying good quality, durable baking sheets that will serve everyone of your baking needs.
Baking Sheet Versus Cookie Sheet
Many people get confused when talking about cookie sheets or baking sheets. They try to tell the difference between the two and get hung up on defining one over the other.
At their core, baking sheets and cookie sheets are the same thing. They are metal pans used for baking or roasting foods in an oven at high temperatures for long periods of time. Where the difference comes in is how you use the sheets.
Bakers will usually have a set of sheets dedicated strictly for cookies. These can be non-stick or aluminum but will almost always be without a rolled rim. The lack of a rim makes it easier to remove the cookies from the sheet. By using them just for cookies the pan won’t pick up any unwanted oils or flavors from baking or roasting other foods, such as meat or vegetables. A sheet dedicated for cookies is usually aluminum.
Baking Sheet Materials
Most baking sheets are made from one of two materials. Steel and aluminum are the two most common components in the manufacturing of oven sheets and both work very well. There are a few differences and which material you use can make a difference in the end result of the food you are baking.
Aluminum is used often for cookie sheets (those sheets without a rim). This material conducts heat very well, is durable and can handle fairly high heat. You will usually find aluminum baking or cookie sheets to be shiny, this is because the material is brushed.
One of the drawbacks of aluminum is that it can discolor. Roasting meat can often leave a brown stain on the pan, even after repeated washings. This doesn’t mean the pan is no longer usable, it just means that the surface has been compromised. You shouldn’t use this pan for cookies or other sweet baked goods after it has stained.
Aluminum can also react with acidic foods. Roasting vegetables, especially tomatoes and peppers, can lead to some leeching from the pan. It’s usually not harmful but can add a metallic taste to your food. A food rule of thumb when using an aluminum pan is to use parchment paper or a silicone mat. A non-stick coating can be added to an aluminum baking sheet.
Steel, both dark and stainless steel, is the other common material used for baking sheets. Steel has the benefit of being a stronger material and will help to keep the sheets from warping if used at high heats for long periods of time. A steel sheet is heavier and will almost always have a rolled rim.
While steel is heavier and more durable than aluminum it does have one major disadvantage. Steel is not a good conductor of heat. Sometimes a steel sheet can have hot spots and cool spots, surface areas where the temperature is uneven. This can cause some problems if you are baking a sheet pan dessert or some other item that covers the whole pan.
Most steel baking sheets are covered with a non-stick treatment such as Teflon. These treatments are sprayed on, then baked, at the factory and can add some wonderful convenience to clean up. A non-stick surface shouldn’t add an flavor to your food and shouldn’t scratch or peel if you use silicone or rubber utensils.
Non-stick surfaces can be damaged by metal, this is why you want most of your utensils to be rubber. Once the surface has been scratched, the underlying metal is exposed and the non-stick treatment is compromised. Not only will food be harder to take off of the sheet but you may find that the non-stick treatment is starting to peel. You may actually end up eating some of the treatment, it will stick to the food that was baked. Once a non-stick sheet has been scratched it loses it usefulness.
Some Final Conclusions
Choosing between steel and aluminum baking sheets will sometimes just be a matter of your preference. Both materials work very well and you can be a successful baker with either.
Dark baking sheets will tend to brown baked goods faster. Many recipes call for lower temperatures if you are using a dark steel pan. You will want to watch the temperature setting on your oven when using dark sheets.
A rolled edge cookie sheet is also called a jelly roll pan. They are almost always made from brushed aluminum and work well for bar cookies.
Non-stick surfaces, while wonderful for easy clean up, will wear out. While it may seem expensive and wasteful, you will want to replace your non-stick baking sheets after a few years of use.
Insulated cookie sheets are excellent tools for baking delicate cookies that you want to brown quickly and evenly. There is a layer of air between the top layer and bottom layer of the pan and this helps to circulate heat. This may mean a longer baking time, you will want to check the progress of your food quite often.
Silicone baking mats have been around for a while and are superb tools to use with a baking sheet. Especially for cookies, these mats can handle high heats for long periods of time and will release the food from the sheet easily. Clean up is a breeze, just gently wash them with soap and warm water. It’s not recommended to use the mats when roasting meats or acidic vegetables. They will stain and your food may discolor.
Anodized bake ware can be extremely durable. It does take some extra care when it comes to cleaning but the product itself is rugged and a good conductor of heat.