Q: What is the difference between parchment paper and wax paper?
--Elaine Hanan, Teaneck, New Jersey
Martha loves using parchment paper in the kitchen. Parchment paper is grease- and moisture-resistant paper specially treated for oven use. It is very versatile -- use it to line cake molds and baking sheets, to wrap fish and other dishes that are cooked en papillote, and to cover countertops during messy tasks to make cleanup easy. If you're sifting or grating a small amount of an ingredient, you can simply let it fall onto the paper, then pick up the paper and pour it into a dish. Parchment paper can be purchased in rolls, sheets, or precut rounds to fit cake pans; look for it at gourmet kitchenware stores or many supermarkets.
Wax paper has a thin coating of wax on each side, making it nonstick and moisture-resistant; it is a good, less-expensive substitute for parchment paper for tasks such as covering countertops, and is available at any supermarket. Unlike parchment paper, however, it is not heat-resistant and therefore should not be used in the oven, as the wax could melt, or even ignite.
Another good option for lining baking sheets is a Silpat baking mat. Made of flexible, heat-resistant silicon, they are much more expensive than either parchment paper or wax paper, but last for years.