Why I Think All Home Cooks Should Have a Silpat (Not Just Bakers)
I can't say enough good things about the trusty Silpat. I use mine for … just about everything. It has not only changed how well my cookies turn out, but it's also made almost all my cooking more efficient. Here's how.
What's a Silpat?
If you're not familiar with this kitchen gadget, a Silpat is a nonstick baking mat made of food-grade silicone and fiberglass that can be used in place of parchment paper. It's designed to give baking sheets and sheet pans a nonstick surface and more even heat distribution so that whatever you're baking cooks evenly and slides right off the pan with minimal cleanup required.
Parchment Paper Substitute
One of the great things about Silpat baking mats is that you don't have to buy, cut and fuss with parchment paper. Silpats won't work in loaf pans for quick bread or in cake pans for cake, but they do come in more than one size to fit most baking sheets. I have one for my half sheet pan as well as my quarter sheet pan, but there are even more to choose from. Beyond the one-dimensional mat, they also make silicone pans for specialty items like mini muffins, madeleines, tartlets, mini Bundt cakes and more so all your baked goods can benefit from the special heat-distribution technology and nonstick convenience. And since they can be used again and again, Silpats cut back on waste. Any little bit of garbage saved from the dump is a win in my book. (Although you can compost most parchment paper.)
Better Baking with a Silpat
In my experience, cookies turn out better on a Silpat-lined sheet pan than on one lined with parchment paper. There are two reasons for this: 1) The silicon redistributes heat from the pan so the cookies bake evenly, with less uneven browning, and 2) The cookies don't stick to the mat the way they can with parchment paper. Because Silpats act as an insulator, be aware that you may have to tack on a minute or two of baking time to get your cookies just right. Also, avoid using Silpats with insulated cookie sheets—it will extend the baking time even further.
Less Time Spent on Cleanup
Silpats are easy to clean up, and just knowing that you don't have to wash a baking pan is a benefit to anyone who doesn't love doing dishes. (Isn't that everyone?) A simple wipe down with a damp cloth is all you need or, if there's room, it does just fine in the dishwasher.
For More Than Just Cookies
To say that it's a parchment paper substitute is understating its abilities. I use my Silpat for baking and roasting everything!
- For roasting vegetables, with a nice even heat.
- For making candy (think peanut brittle or pralines) and anything "covered" (chocolate-covered strawberries, yogurt-dipped pretzels): my confections peel right off the mat.
- For baking biscuits, soft pretzels, bread and pizza (frozen, homemade or leftover)—there's little to no chance the bottoms will burn.
It's also good for frozen foods—both store-bought items and the items you're freezing for later. That means the fish sticks and chicken nuggets for the kids are in less danger of burning. And if you're freezing strawberries or other fruit for smoothies they'll slip off the Silpat-lined pan and into a zip-top bag to store in the freezer.
Baking and Beyond
Silpats are microwave safe. Use plate-shaped mats for small items you want to heat up, or place a small Silpat on the floor of the microwave to act as a shield against liquid bubbling over bowls and mugs.
One of my favorite things about the Silpat is that cookies (or whatever else I'm baking) can be taken off the pan to cool without being disturbed. To do this, I take the pan straight from the oven and instead of waiting 5 or 10 minutes for the cookies to cool enough to transfer each cookie to the cooling rack with a spatula, I can lift the corners of the Silpat and slide the whole batch of cookies to the cooling rack in one go.
Silpats are forgiving, but there are a few things you don't want to do with one. While silicone mats can be used in the oven, they should only be used in temperatures up to 500°F. Silpats should not be used over or under an open flame (this includes grills and broilers). And, lastly, avoid using it as a cutting board—gashes from a knife can cause it to tear.