Having coffee with a pal the other day, and she started to talk about baking with her little girls. “Do my cookie sheets have to be flat?,” she asked, “What if they have sides?” There was a distinct wrinkle to her brow.

There are many people who have strong opinions about cookie sheets — they must be nonstick, they must never be nonstick, dark is good, dark is bad — and there are indeed some core nuggets that will make your cookie-baking easier. So read on, but keep in mind this fact: If it’s got a flat part and fits in your oven, you’ll probably be able to bake cookies on it. Everything beyond that is fiddling at the top of the charts.

  • My favorite cookie sheet is big, heavy, medium-shiny and has a little rise that creates a handle on each short end — kind of like this one. It’s made of really heavy-duty aluminum, and it is NOT coated with a non-stick finish. Parchment paper is my friend, and I always have a large roll of Reynolds parchment (available at your average grocery store). I like it because it’s just a tiny bit wider than this favorite pan, so zwwwwwippp and I have the pan covered and ready to go.
  • If what you have are dark cookie sheets, use parchment on them as well, and watch carefully — you may have to reduce oven temp by 25 degrees or shorten cooking time to make sure the bottom of the cookies doesn’t get too done. The parchment may not help much to reduce the extra heat off the dark pans, but it DOES make it easier to see through the oven window how fast your cookies are browning on the bottom.
  • If what you have are pans with higher sides — two inches or so — you’ll find that the sides of the pans create hot spots, so that cookies get extra-done on the edges closest to those high sides. You can use these in a pinch, but consider turning them over and using the bottoms instead. Just handle with extreme care so that your parchment does not slide off.
  • The lighter-weight a cookie sheet is, the more likely it is to have hot spots or to flex in the oven. That said, I happily baked many batches of Toll House cookies on a medium-weight aluminum pan with slightly raised edges all around and a dark taupe nonstick coating. What was that I was saying about cookie-sheet rules?
  • Glass is just not great for cookies. If that’s really all you’ve got I’d spring for two metal cookie sheets.

If you’re here in Washington D.C., you’ve got several buying options — Hill’s Kitchen has good sheets, as do local branches of Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma. And if you’re headed out to a hardware store instead of a kitchen-specialty place, you know I’ll send you to the best hardware stores around: Logan Hardware and its sister stores — they carry the Baker’s Secret and Airbake Ultra lines — and Strosnider’s in Bethesda. You’ll find pans, and probably fill in on some missing gift-list items too!