Baking Pans: Testing Aluminum vs. Non-stick

Aluminum jelly roll pan
Equally good for waking up heavy sleepers.
Recently, I started getting into making cookies, determined to improve my chances of putting Felix & Norton out of business. Or failing that, creating something along the lines of edible. All I knew for certain, is that every time I made a batch with baking soda, I could taste the baking soda. And it was about as pleasant as rat poison. But there's plenty of other ways to ruin cookies, including what you bake them on.

It would seem the natural choice is to use a cookie sheet, since the very name implies suitability for the task. Many people refer to a "jelly roll pan" (aka "half sheet", "full sheet" etc.) as a "cookie sheet". But they're not the same. A cookie sheet has low or no sides to promote even baking of cookies, and allow them to slide off easier. A jelly roll pan has raised sides all around.

Alas, I gave my large air-insulated cookie sheet away long ago, because I never baked cookies. So as a replacement, I bought a non-stick heavy duty commercial grade jelly roll pan. I couldn't say no when I saw it, it was staring me in the face and wouldn't look away. It was to be my pan of all trades; cookies, roasting, broiling. Most things I'd do in an oven. From the heft and weight, and the fact that it stated "commercial grade", I convinced myself that I needed this pan, because it would not warp at high heat. Something I always hated about the cheapie baking pans. Well guess what it warped like anything else. However, this is not a good pan to put under high heat anyway. Non-sticks containing PTFE (ie. Teflon) break down over 450F. To be safe, it's probably not a good idea to heat such a pan above 400F. And after super-modding the insulation in my oven, it can easily do 600F on the bake cycle. So I found myself looking for a replacement for the replacement.

I still didn't want to commit myself to just a cookie sheet, and reserve space for yet another tray that I might not use very often. But this time, I decided to stop messing about buying baking pans from a grocery store chain. I went straight to my favourite source for such items: a restaurant supply shop. There I bought a nameless aluminum jelly roll pan. It had no fancy "commercial grade" labels on it. No brand or labels at all in fact. But sitting in a restaurant supply store meant by definition, it was commercial grade. Does that mean it doesn't warp under high temperatures? I'm happy to say, it hasn't yet. Now how does it do cookies?

Brazilian Banana Cookie
African Banana Cookie
While baking a batch of chocolate banana cookies, I thought it would be interesting to compare this pan with the non-stick version. Using the same cookie batter at the same temperature setting. You can see the results in the adjacent photo, showing the bottoms. The lighter coloured cookie on the left is the aluminum pan; the darker one on the right was baked on the non-stick. The heat was about the same, but I had to leave the cookies baking for much longer (about 6 minutes +) in the aluminum pan. And as you can see, it still didn't come close to the doneness of the nonstick pan! Which is good actually, because the nonstick cooks the bottoms too fast. The result is a dry, hard bottom, that doesn't quite gel with the rest of the cookie. This is why it is always recommended to reduce your cooking temperature by 25 degrees, when you use a dark, non-stick baking pan to make cookies, etc.

Non-stick jelly roll pan.
Named after jazz great, "Jelly Roll Morton".
As for removing them when done, surprisingly, the cookies in the pretense-to-high-quality non-stick baking pan had to be pried off with a hard, thin spatula, and a good bit of force. Despite the fact that this was a relatively new and little-used pan. I used a bit of butter to grease the aluminum pan, and when it came time to pop them off, they slid quite easily. Much more so than the "non-stick". The bottoms were softer, and the cookies themselves flatter. I preferred this version. I should have a Silpat mat somewhere, and this helps to keep cookies from sticking to the tray, without the use of butter. But you can be sure this will change the texture/taste of the bottoms, and silicone.... well I suspect it won't be for the better. Anything that insulates the food from the (direct) source of heat will change the reaction on the surface of the food.

Conclusion: It makes a great difference what you bake your goods on. Mind, a good cook doesn't blame his utensils. Unless it's the fault of the utensils, which it usually is. These things have a mind of their own, I swear. Oh, and I found a solution to not storing a dedicated cookie sheet: turn the aluminum pan upside down.


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