Cookie sheets are flat, rectangular pans with no raised edges except a lip at one end. They come in a variety of sizes and materials, which can affect the baking time and the quality of the foods cooked on them. While each cookie sheet has strengths and weaknesses, it often comes down to a chef's preference as to which kind he will use.
Basic aluminum cookie sheets are thin enough that they conduct heat quickly and uniformly across their surface, which leads to baked cookies of a consistent size and color. They are often cheaper than cookie sheets made of other materials and are easier to store and clean because they do not rust even if they are put away when still wet. Because they are thin, aluminum sheets may be unable to handle heavier foods, though this can be resolved by layering two sheets together. Double-thick aluminum pans are sturdier than basic ones and can handle heavier foods. Some come with rolled edges, which allows you to roast meats or vegetables on them without having to worry that juices will run off and spill. Heavy-gauge, professional aluminum cookie sheets are the sturdiest and work well for large batches of cookies.
While cookie sheets made out of steel are sturdier than aluminum pans, they also tend to be more expensive and require specialized care to keep them in working order. French, black steel pans conduct heat well and will bake evenly browned cookies. Steel sheets must be "seasoned" with kosher salt to prevent corrosion and stored in dry places to prevent rust. Aluminized steel sheets work in much the same way as regular aluminum pans but have the benefit of being more sturdy, which prevents them from warping like aluminum sheets might or rusting like regular steel sheets might. Cookie sheets also come in stainless steel and carbon steel, neither of which are as efficient at conducting heat, so they tend to result in a less consistent batch of baked cookies.
Insulated cookie sheets are created by placing two layers of metal on top of each other with a layer of space in between. They don't conduct heat as well as aluminum or steel cookie sheets and therefore take longer to bake things. Cookies made on insulated sheets are soft and pale and most often do not brown on the bottoms. If you are trying to make crisp or crunchy cookies, using an insulated cookie sheet is not a good idea. If you want to make soft, chewy cookies, insulated sheets will work well.
There are both light and dark finishes on non-stick pans, and these will have an effect on the cookies baked on them: The lighter the finish, the lighter the cookies will be. Non-stick pans heat quickly and usually bake items evenly. While they do allow for the easy release of items from their surface, non-stick pans are made specifically to repel moisture from their finish, which can lead to cookies that are dried and crunchy.
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