What Is the Difference Between Parchment and Silicone Mats?
Silpat (and other similar silicone mats) are thin, flexible sheets of food-grade silicone with a layer of fiberglass or nylon mesh to help conduct heat. They are usually oven-safe up to 480F and can also be used in the freezer. Just make sure you buy a silicone baking mat; some silicone mats are meant for crafting and are not made from food-grade materials, nor do they include the layer of heat-conducting mesh.
AmazonBasics Silicone Baking Mats, 2 for $12.97
A good price on basic baking mats.
Parchment is made from paper that has been treated with a thin layer of silicone, which makes it nonstick and heat-resistant. Brown parchment is simply unbleached and so has been less processed, while white parchment has been (you guessed it) bleached. They perform the same, so which one you buy is a matter of personal preference. Parchment is considered oven-safe up to 450F; you can use it in a hotter oven, but any exposed areas will singe.
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Parchment Paper and Wax Paper?
Which One Is Better to Use for Baking?
Many Chowhounds love Silpat silicone sheet pan liners because baked goods release effortlessly from them. But some prefer using parchment paper when baking cookies, because it allows the cookies to bake up with crisper, browner bottoms than Silpat mats (or other silicone mats).
Certain cookie recipes tend to spread more if baked on Silpat, as well, says JoanN. So if you want neat, petite cookies, parchment may be a better option.
And virtualfrolic notes that if you use air-insulated cookie sheets, parchment on top of them results in more even baking than silicone mats.
Some hounds use parchment for crispy cookie recipes or ones that need good browning, and Silpat for chewy cookies or things they worry about burning.
Related Reading: Glass vs Metal Baking Pans
Silicone mats are especially great for spreading out sticky things to cool, like caramel-coated popcorn, nut brittle, homemade fruit leather, chocolate-dipped confections, and other candy, as they all peel right off once cool. Parchment will do the trick too, but Silpat is a bit easier to work with here.
Other Factors to Consider
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Silpat and other silicone mats have the obvious advantage of being reusable, year after year.
However, if you want to prep multiple pans of cookies at once (like Allstonian, who uses parchment to speed the whole cookie-baking process, like so: While two pans of cookies are in the oven, she sets up the next pans worth on sheets of parchment on the counter; when the hot cookies come out of the oven, she slides the parchment, cookies and all, from the pans to a cooling rack until they can be moved, and moves the parchment with oven-ready cookies onto the pans and straight into the oven), youll need multiple mats to do itplus, in this specific scenario, silicone tends to be grippier and not so easy to slide on and off baking sheets.
Also, while silicone mats theoretically mean you dont need to clean baking sheets (true for cookies and baked goods, less of a sure thing with saucier savory foods that can leak under the liner), you do still have to clean the mats themselves.
Related Reading: How to Clean Silicone Baking Mats That Feel Gross & Greasy
Parchment has a shorter life span, but you can reuse it for up to three oven cycles (unless it seems too brittle after the first or second time through the oven)and when its done, you can put in in the compost. If theres a lot of oily residue left on your parchment from your first pan of cookies, blot it up with a paper towel before using again. Its also handy for wrapping up leftovers or sandwiches you want to take on the go.
Honestly, we like to keep both parchment and silicone baking mats in our kitchens, and decide which one to use depending on the day and the dessert (or sheet pan dinner) were making! But if you want another expert opinion, head over to Rachael Ray and see what The Cake Boss likes best.