You’ll notice that most baking recipes these days call for lining a pan with parchment paper. It is widely available, but can you substitute it with similar looking wax paper if you don’t already keep it in your kitchen? The short answer here is that wax paper may look similar to parchment paper, but it is quite different, and it is not ideal for baking.
Wax paper is coated with a thin layer of wax to make it water resistant. It is often used in the kitchen for food storage purposes, since something wrapped in wax paper will stay much fresher than something wrapped in a non-waterproof material. While it is not nonstick in the same way that silicone-treated parchment paper is nonstick, the wax makes it nonstick, so it is a good choice for rolling out pie or cookie dough.
But as useful as it is, it is not a good choice for baking. At high temperatures, the wax on the paper can melt and will transfer to whatever you are baking. The food grade wax is not toxic, but it’s a good idea to keep it out of your baked goods. The wax will transfer to your baking sheet and may require additional cleaning. The wax also has a fairly low smoke point, which means that any exposed wax paper will smoke while it is in the oven and there is a possibility that, if you are cooking something that requires a very long baking time or very high temperature, the paper could actually catch fire. If you use wax paper to line the bottom of a cake pan, it will not smoke but you will still have wax transfer.
Stick to parchment paper – which is reusable, completely nonstick and is generally heat resistant to around 450F – for your baking needs, or simply fall back onto an even older technique to prevent sticking: lightly greasing a pan with oil. I also like to line the pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease that to minimize the amount of cleanup you need to do after baking.