Wax paper vs. parchment

Posted: March 24, 2011

Cooks may wonder about the difference between wax paper and parchment paper. Can they be used interchangeably in baking?

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

Both are used in baking, but not always interchangeably. In the oven, you can use wax paper only if it doesn't come in contact with direct heat. For example, many older cake recipes 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 it can take the oven's direct heat. You can line baking sheets with parchment for making cookies, so they don't stick. You can't do that with wax paper.

Both have other uses, such as lining containers to hold cookies or other baked goods for storage. Crumpled-up wax paper is good for holding cookies in place when shipping. Parchment can be used as a pastry bag. You can also sift dry ingredients onto parchment paper, then use the paper to funnel the dry ingredients into a bowl.

Parchment paper is available in rolls like wax paper, but it's also sold in individual square sheets and precut circles. Parchment paper costs more.

One notable use of parchment paper is for cooking foods en papillote (ohn pah-pee-YOTE). The food is loosely wrapped in a sheet of parchment with the edges folded over and crimped several times to seal the package. When the food bakes and lets off steam, the packet puffs up. Fish and vegetables are good candidates for cooking en papillote (see recipe).


Parchment-Baked Salmon With Orzo

Makes 4 servings

11/3 cups uncooked orzo

4 salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each), skinned, boned, and trimmed of fat

1 small red onion, peeled and cut into strips

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

16 asparagus spears, washed, tough ends

removed, cut in half

diagonally

Salt and pepper to taste

Paprika to taste

2 tablespoons dried dill

1 lemon, cut in wedges

Olive oil for drizzling

1. Cook orzo in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and stir to keep from sticking. Divide into four mounds and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

3. Tear off four 16-by-12-inch sheets of parchment. Fold the first sheet in half, then reopen.

4. Place a mound of cooked orzo in the center on one-half of the sheet. Top with a salmon fillet. Put one-fourth of the onion, tomato, and asparagus on the salmon. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Sprinkle with dill.

5. Fold the parchment in half and seal the edges by folding and crimping. Once the edges are crimped, the packet will have almost a half-moon shape. Repeat the procedure with the remaining three parchment sheets.

6. Place the packets on baking sheets and bake on the bottom rack until parchment is puffed and brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

7. Place on serving plates and serve with lemon wedges and olive oil to drizzle on the fish.

- From Kathleen Purvis, Charlotte Observer; tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen

Per serving: 603 calories, 48 grams protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 22 grams fat, 107 milligrams cholesterol, 113 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

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