In a high volume bakery, sheet pans perform a repertoire more exhaustive than a non-equity Shakespearean summer stock company. Sheet pans are hard working and resilient, and except for the occasional warped pan that you discover moments after you close the oven door behind it, extremely dependable. We should remember however, that before sheet pans bounced out of commercial kitchens into home kitchens, we affectionately referred to them as cookie sheets or jellyroll pans.
I knew sheet pan when he was just a baby, a mere cookie sheet. Rectangular and flat with a pouty lip on one side, the pan needed to be greased or outfitted in wax paper, because home bakers didn’t have access to parchment paper. A partially unwrapped stick of Land O’Lakes sweet butter skated across the pan’s well-worn surface, covering the aluminum in a patina of soft yellow. Generous spoonfuls of cookie dough studded with semi-sweet morsels were dropped in strategic formation, 4 across by 6 down. Twelve minutes later, steadied by a pot holder, the cookies exited the oven, slightly puffy with brown sugar edges. A few renegade chocolate morsels hovered perilously close to the edge of the pan and had to be coaxed back with an icing spatula or when cool enough, a pinky finger.
I also knew cookie sheet’s closest relation, the jellyroll pan, measuring 15½” x 10½” with 1” high sides. Jellyroll pans held airy, sponge cake batter that rose just to the top of the pan, only to endure a blizzard of powdered sugar before being wrapped around a clean kitchen towel. Once cooled and unrolled, the cake was filled with jelly or whipped cream, re-rolled and dusted with more powdered sugar or a shiny chocolate glaze.
Cookie sheets and jellyroll pans weren’t particularly glamorous, they were utilitarian, stacking agreeably in just a sliver of a kitchen cabinet, rarely crossing the line from sweet to savory. On occasion, the jellyroll pan would inch its way over from cake to pie, elbowing the traditional 9” pie plate out of the way.
In late summer, at the height of blueberry and peach season, Jessie would reach up into the slim cabinet above the oven and wiggle a jellyroll pan out from beneath a stack of cookie sheets. She filled the pan with a press-in dough that tasted more of cookie than of pie crust. Jessie then blanched sweet yellow peaches, slicing them into thick wedges and reducing their rosy juices into a syrup spiked with almond extract. Rows of blueberries and peaches tumbled across the cookie crust, which had been sprinkled with a little bit of sugar and just enough Minute tapioca to contain the runaway fruit juices. The pie was baked just until the blueberries and peaches had sighed, leaning back into the golden crust. This was the only pie Jessie baked in a rectangular pan and we ate it with enthusiasm, warm forkfuls of summer under puddles of vanilla ice cream.
Nostalgia runs deep in my bones which might explain my reticence in utilizing a sheet pan to make meals. No one uses the term ‘cookie sheet’ anymore, and sheet pan has become part of our everyday kitchen vernacular, a term as casual as canelés and sous-vide. Sheet pan is no longer simply a noun, it has morphed into a verb, emblazoned as a headline, entreating me from high-end cookware displays, shouting at me from bookshelves, insisting that tonight is the night to “Sheet Pan Your Dinner!” Maybe it does streamline dinner and brunch, maybe even snacks can benefit. So go ahead, live your very best sheet pan life. If you're looking for me however, I'll be in the kitchen holding on to my cookie sheet/jellyroll pan reverie with a pot holder, not an oven mitt. I’m sorry sheet pan; it’s not you, it’s me.