Why Do We Grease Baking Pans and Cookie Sheets?
No matter the era or the trend, there are some rules in cooking that remain true: Always salt your water for pasta, and be sure to use high heat when you're searing a steak. But what about baking? Do you always need to grease your baking pans and cookie sheets before using? That seems like an essential step but it's actually not such a hard and fast rule.
The Word on Grease
The reason why a recipe will ask you to do this slightly annoying prep step is pretty obvious, but it is worth stating for the record: You'll want to grease the pan before making because the finished product is going to need a little help coming out of the pan. The reasons for this varies, depending on the recipe, but often the two culprits that determine this are fat and eggs. The lower in fat and/or the higher in eggs, the more likely it is that your dough or batter will stick to the pan.
For recipes with more of a batter-like consistency, like cakes, there's often an extra step involved to grease and flour. If a recipe calls for this, then do heed its advice—we're not doing it just to torture you. The flour is there to act as a barrier between the oil and the batter; without the flour layer, the oil would absorb into the batter during baking and ultimately lead to sticking. The grease-and-flour technique is also used with intricate baking molds that may need that extra boost of nonstick power, like this showstopping Bundt cake.
Angel Food Cake is a great example of when you don't want cooking spray anywhere within a five-mile radius of your pan. It's critical that the pan be ungreased so that the delicate, high-rising batter can cling to the sides of the pan and puff up as it bakes. And for some cookie recipes, greasing the pan can also have a negative effect. When a high-fat dough absorbs even more fat on the pan, the risk of spreading increases. In our delectable Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies, for instance, you'll want to resist greasing the pans—they simply don't need it.
Tips and Shortcuts
If you're using cooking spray as the grease, be sure to give the pans a really good wash after using; leftover residue can damage nonstick cookware and cause discoloration on the pans over time. If you bake a lot, consider investing in a couple of silicone baking mats. They're durable, re-usable, dishwasher safe, and completely eliminate the need to wonder if you need to grease or not—the answer is always no! Another option is parchment paper, which is a heat-proof, moisture-resistant paper treated with silicone to make it nonstick.
Even in the cases where a recipe instructs you to grease the cookie sheet, don't overdo it—a light coating is plenty. Our favorite way of greasing cookie sheets is to let the butter being used in the recipe soften up in its wrapper. The little bit of butter left on the wrapper is just enough for shmearing a thin veneer on the pan; plus, then you can feel like a hero for not wasting even a speck!