What is it made out of?
Silpat is a baking pan liner made out of a silicone-covered flexible glass mesh.
Advanced alien technology? No - more amazingly, it's French.
Introduced commercially in the early 80s, Silpat quickly became a unique, gold-standard baking tool in French commercial baking. The ubiquity of Silpat spread quickly to the U.S. Now most serious home bakers will have at least one, if not more.
What's so great about it?
Nothing, and I mean nothing will stick to it, and it requires no greasing (in fact, greasing a Silpat is manufacturer-prohibited). Whatever you bake will heat evenly on a Silpat, and the yummy brown bits stay on the food, not on the pan. All it requires is a quick swipe and rinse at the end of even the gookiest cooking job (the manufacturer does not recommend putting it in the dishwasher, but that's ok - it cleans up in a flash). Example: broiling bowls of French onion soup can be awfully messy - rich beef stock, the sugar from caramelized onions, and Gruyere may overflow the bowl and spill out. In ye olde days, this would make a syrupy mess. On a Silpat, the mess will lift off easily as a semitransparent sheet once it has cooled. At that point you let the savages - i.e., men, dogs, children with peculiar palates) tussle for it.
The other many marvelous uses of Silpat:
- Perfectly browned cookies (especially useful for delicate cookies that have a tendency to stick and break).
- Delectably caramelized roasted vegetables. (My favorite mix is simple and homey: onions, carrots, and potatoes, tossed in a scant bit of melted butter, spread on a Silpat, and seasoned with whatever herbs and spices strike my fancy.)
- Easy meringue and candy preparation. Perfect for granola if you're into that kind of thing.
- Handling and forming doughs, marzipans, pastes, and other sticky things.
- Making tuiles out of anything your heart desires! Especially cheese - just grate, sprinkle a thin layer across the Silpat, and bake at 350 until crisp and golden. Let cool, and break into generous pieces of "lace" - fun party food, or as a garnish.
Though the Silpat is relatively expensive (a standard cookie-sheet sized Silpat will run upwards of $20), its value ultimately far outweighs its cost - at least for those who love cooking and baking. They're widely available online or at high-end cooking goods stores.