PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


When it comes to silicone, more people think of breast implants or a type of sealant rather than cookware. But if you browse any kitchenware shop, you'll find silicone pan liners, moulds, pans, utensils and oven mitts that are non-stick and able to withstand extreme temperatures. Much of it costs less than traditional metal baking pans and because the products are flexible (unlike metal), they can be rolled up and tucked away, making storage easier.

I have many silicone products and wouldn't dream of going back to the traditional types. Silicone spatulas are much better than rubber ones, which dry out and become brittle with age and can melt in very high heat (such as when making caramel). Silicone tongs have a little 'give', so are less damaging to fragile foods than metal tongs. These products also won't scratch, unlike metal, so they won't damage the surface of enamelled cast-iron or non-stick pans.

Silicone mats (such as the Silpat) are also useful and more versatile than non-stick, paper liners for cookie trays. I use mine when making nut brittles and butter crunch, rather than pouring the bubbling caramel onto oiled baking sheets. Back in my days as a pastry chef, I used silicone mats when making pulled sugar - because they were flexible, I could use the mats to manipulate the molten hot mixture so it cooled down evenly and could be touched with my gloved hands.

Silicone bakeware has its drawbacks, though. Although I love the shapes of some of the products - there are pans that can bake the most wonderfully detailed cakes - not all silicone bakeware is the same. Some brands produce baked goods that are pale, rather than an appetising brown. And you can't use a sharp knife on silicone, or it will damage the surface (although the same can be said of metal cookware).

For me, though, the biggest drawback of most silicone bakeware is the very flexibility that I like with other products. It's floppy, so the mould needs to be made stable by putting it on a metal baking tray before being filled and put in the oven. Even after the product is fully baked (and therefore firm), you still need to use the tray to keep the pan stable, or the baked good can crack from being bent, or might fall out of the pan before you're ready to remove it.