You've been there before: you're getting ready to try out a bomb new cookie recipe (like these Nutella-stuffed chocolate chip cookies) and pulling together everything you need. Butter? Check. Flour? Check. Parchment paper? Wait—what? Maybe you ditched the directions and just went to town with the Crisco. Or you subbed out the parchment paper for its waxier cousin. Maybe you actually did have parchment paper on hand, and put it to use. Either way, there's a good chance you found yourself asking: is this really necessary?

What is it? 

A favorite of Martha Stewart's, parchment paper is basically a grease and moisture-resistant paper specially treated for oven use. Translation: your baked goods won't stick to the pan, and the paper won't melt. It takes the work out of clean-up, since you won't have to scrape the remnants of your cookies off the baking sheet. It's great for anything from cake to pizza.

Can I just use wax paper instead?

chocolate, cookie
Gail Rabasca

Short answer: Yes; but it probably won't work as well.

Long answer: Wax paper is cheaper, but its thin coating of wax can melt or even burn in the oven. Parchment paper is coated in silicone, which can handle the direct heat and won't risk making your food taste like crayons. Plus, it's good for multiple uses.

Next time you find yourself with a hankering for baking, do yourself a favor and grab a sheet of parchment paper. Your cookies and your kitchen sink will thank you later.