If you're a frequent baker, you've certainly encountered parchment paper in your food and cooking projects: It's called for to line cake pans and baking sheets when baking all manner of sweet stuff. But what about waxed paper? After all, it's sold in the same section, and it looks awfully similar. Can waxed paper be used for baking projects, too?
As you'll learn, it's not necessarily a yes or no answer. So first, let's start by investigating the process by which each of these papers is made, so you can understand what they actually are.
Parchment paper and waxed paper look awfully similar. But can they be used interchangeably in baking?
Typically, baking parchment paper is created by treating paper with silicone. Once treated, the paper has a texture not unlike parchment used for writing, and like the writing paper, it comes in durable and heat resistant sheets.
Waxed paper is created by coating a paper on both sides with wax--a custom which dates back to the middle ages. Food grade waxed paper is typically treated with a purified type of paraffin. This paper is not only durable and non-stick, but it is also moisture-resistant.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what each of these papers is made of, we can move on to the big question at hand:
Can I use waxed paper instead of parchment paper?
Well, yes and no. It depends on what you're doing.
You cannot swap waxed paper for parchment if something is going into a hot oven. Though it may look like parchment paper and has nonstick properties, the issue here is heat.
Unlike parchment paper, waxed paper is not resistant to the high heat required for most baking. This means that in a best case scenario, it will melt wax into your baked good; worst case scenario, it could ignite. We're willing to bet that you wouldn't be totally psyched to have waxed paper spontaneously ignite while you're baking a cake, so stay on the safe side and use parchment paper if your baking project is going in the oven.
There are alternatives to parchment paper. You could invest in a silpat mat, which is a reusable silicone coated mat that can be placed on your baking sheet as pictured above. Or, stick to the tried and true old fashioned method of greasing and flouring pans.
When it comes to post-baking use, you can frequently use waxed or parchment paper interchangeably. Both are fantastic for layering cookies in a tin, placing a sheet between cut brownies so they don't stick, and so on.
In the confectionery world, waxed paper is the favored choice for wrapping candies, because its waxed surface keeps the sticky-natured stuff from sticking (well, unless it's a very hot day, and then all bets are off).
Waxed paper or parchment paper can be used for a variety of prep work in your baking projects: rolling out pie crust, wrapping roll and cut cookie dough before storing it in the freezer, and staging ingredients before incorporating them into a recipe.
Either waxed or parchment paper can be wrapped for an impromptu piping cone if you don't have piping bags on hand. It might not be as delicate as the work you can pipe using bags and decorative piping tips, but it will get you through simple piping projects.