In the heat of summer, is anyone out there baking anything? I have been doing a lot lately, as I’ve been having fun taking both my dogs to lessons/classes at a local dog training center and we “handlers” need to have a constant supply of training treats not only while in class, but at home– and buying this constant supply at a pet store or online can get expensive. So, I’ve been baking mini sweet potato and apple “chips,” which at least one of my dogs devours happily (thank goodness the oven temperature only needs to be 200° F)! It’s caused me to take a look at eco-friendly, reuse baking methods that involve quick and easy prep and cleanup (because again, I’m making a LOT of these treats). Here’s a look at three options that avoid having to use aluminum foil as a pan liner or aerosol oil-in-a-can (btw, used, food-stained aluminum foil is never accepted in municipal recycling programs and most are not equipped to process clean aluminum foil, either, even though they may accept aluminum cans and pans– be sure to stay up to date on your municipal recycling program, if you have one, because what is accepted can change quickly and without “fanfare”):
- Food grade, nonstick parchment baking paper— You basically line the pan with a piece of the paper, and dispose of it when you’re finished, or you can reuse it multiple times if it’s not sticky or too browned. Super easy, and usually sold in rolls or pop-up sheets in the food storage area of grocery stores and through online retailers. This option seems to be the most eco-friendly if you’re a home composter, AND if you buy unbleached, chlorine-free parchment paper that’s certified compostable for home composting. Several brands that say they’re compostable are only so in commercial composting facilities, according to the fine print. And commercial composting facilities are not in everyone’s town, nor is it easy to try to replicate the heat found in a commercial facility in a backyard composting bin (although sometimes here in Texas, I wonder…) :). You see, most parchment baking paper available these days is coated in a very thin layer of silicone, which, while considered food-safe*, takes a long time to break down. The debate rages online as to whether to put it in a compost bin/pile or not. One blogger I found writes that as long as she tears it up into small pieces before putting it into the compost bin, it does fine, so I tried that recently with a couple sheets of leftover Reynolds Kitchens® Unbleached Compostable parchment paper–and we’ll see what happens. Since then, the only brand I’ve found that is nonstick and has earned a home composting certification is If You Care® parchment paper, sold at Whole Foods, Target and other stores. (Note: beware baking with any parchment paper coated in Quilon; it contains the heavy metal chromium and is not landfill-safe or compost-safe.)
*While numerous articles online support the notion that silicone is food-safe, here is one article I found in which the writer thinks, based on studies, that it may be safe only at oven temperatures up to 300° F (i.e. not leach anything into food). Parchment paper brands vary in how hot they state you can safely heat their parchment paper (my Reynolds brand states it’s oven-safe up to 425° F ), but that has more to do with preventing the paper from burning.
2. Reusable silicone baking mat— also known by many bakers as a Silpat™, which is the brand name given to the original (begun in France in 1965), it’s a thin, washable, reusable baking pan liner, which instantly makes the baking process nonstick and easy to clean– and you use less water cleaning off a nonstick baking mat than when spending time scraping off browned/burnt food from a pan. When finished baking, you just take out the mat, wash it, and store it away for another day. It’s made of food-grade materials (silicone and fiberglass) and most state that they are safe (i.e. won’t melt in your oven) up to 480-500° F and are microwave- and freezer-safe. While I don’t own one, I know people who LOVE using their silicone baking mats and have done so for many years. If you read the article noted at the end of #1 above, you’ll see several good tips for how to best choose a good quality baking mat– many are available online.
3. Ceramic pizza stone— don’t let that word “pizza” fool you, these are great for baking just about anything you can bake on a cookie sheet– nachos, cookies, biscuits, French fries, roasted veggies…this may just be the eco-friendliest “easy baking” method because you never have to “add” something to it each time you cook to make it nonstick. The oils from foods cooked on it seep into the clay somewhat and “season” the stone, giving it a perpetually nonstick surface. (It will turn very dark over time– but that’s okay, says my chef friend.) The temperature it can withstand varies by stone/brand, but I’ve read about several that can far exceed 500° F. Cleanup is easy with just water and a plastic scraper (no dunking, just rinsing, and be sure to put any excess grease in the trash)– dish soap/detergents are not recommended as they can soak into the stone and “season” it in an unpleasant way (yet more pluses to this cooking method, simple cleanup and it saves on soap and putting chemicals down the drain!). I’ve had a pizza stone for years and really like it; because mine does not have sides, it works best with foods that don’t produce a lot of oil, as pooled oil tends to want to run off the sides when it’s removed from the oven. You may wonder, if you cook a lot of different things on it, do food flavors seep in and “flavor” other foods? Surprisingly, not at all. Click here and here for a couple stone options, one is flat and one has raised edges. I highly recommend getting one that comes with a carrying handle apparatus that flips over and doubles as a cooling/serving rack, so you have a place to put the hot stone when it comes out of the oven (in case your stovetop is already full of other pans or too small to accommodate it). We store our stone inside our oven when not in use.
So there you have it– some eco-friendly baking options you might want to consider if you haven’t already. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these methods in the comments below– would love to know what you like best!