There are few pieces of kitchen equipment as versatile and hardworking as the humble half-sheet pan. This 13-inch by 18-inch rimmed metal pan has short, one-inch-deep sides that perfectly contain diced vegetables or savory juices from roasting chicken while still allowing for sufficient airflow to facilitate browning and rapid cooking. Half-size sheet pans are slightly larger than a jelly roll pan, which measure 10 by 15 inches. Functionally the two pans are much the same and the difference is only really important when preparing something like a cake, where the proportions to fill the pan are quite specific. Otherwise when putting together a sheet pan supper (or weekend breakfast) freewheeling cooks can simply reduce the quantity of the ingredients proportionally to fit the size of their pan.
Sheet pan suppers are an ideal vehicle for using what you have on hand and getting a meal on the table quickly with minimal dishes. The key principles in building these customizable one-pan meals is to make sure that all your ingredients are uniformly prepared, to not overcrowd the pan, and staggering when ingredients are added to the pan. And if you have a convection setting on your oven, use it. Plan your meal backwards, starting with the longest-cooking items first and adding the fastest-cooking items last. Hard starchy vegetables and larger pieces of meat go on first, followed by more delicate ingredients, like green vegetables, fish and smaller pieces of protein. For example, skinless boneless chicken thighs and baby potatoes both require a total cooking time of about 25 minutes in a 425-degree oven and asparagus requires 8-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. After roasting the seasoned potatoes and chicken for 15 minutes the pan would be removed from the oven, the chicken and potatoes turned and the asparagus arranged in the pan alongside them. Back into the oven it all goes for another 10 minutes to finish cooking and you're ready for dinner.
These pans are also well suited to making grilled cheese or quesadillas for a crowd of hungry kiddos at lunchtime. Preheat one pan in a 450-degree oven. Assemble your sandwiches, being careful to butter the outsides well. Arrange the sandwiches onto a second pan then, using oven mitts, carefully place the hot pan on top of the buttered sandwiches. Put the sandwiches in the oven with the hot pan on top and bake for 10-15 minutes until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted.
For a lazy weekend breakfast, arrange strips of bacon on a pan and bake in a 400-degree oven until barely crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and crack eggs into open spaces on the pan (you may need to rearrange the bacon a bit) and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are set.
And when we finally get around to having cookouts and gatherings again, half sheet pans are great for turning out big batches of flatbread, brownies, bar cookies and even old-fashioned Swiss roll cake, perfect for springtime celebrations.
Sheet Pan Lemon Raspberry Swiss Roll
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt (use ¼ teaspoon regular salt)
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
½ cup melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract
16 ounces seedless raspberry jam
Powdered sugar for rolling
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the rack in the lower part of the oven. Line a 13-inch by 18-inch half sheet pan with foil or parchment, then butter and flour it throughly.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer combine the eggs, sugar and lemon zest and beat with the whisk attachment on medium speed for two minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is syrupy. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional five minutes, or until the mixture is pale and voluminous. When the whisk is lifted out of the bowl the mixture should create glossy ribbons upon itself. Swoop the whisk to scrape up the bottom of the bowl, then turn the mixer back on to medium speed. Add the melted butter and extracts in a slow steady stream. When the butter is mostly incorporated add the flour. Stop the mixer while there are still some streaks of flour in the bowl, then use a rubber spatula to finish folding in the flour.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until lightly golden and the surface barely springs back when lightly pressed. While the cake is still hot, sift confectioners' sugar over the top before laying a clean lint-free kitchen towel over the cake. Invert a large rack over the cake. Then, holding the rack and pan with protected hands, invert the cake. Remove the pan and parchment. Dust this side with powdered sugar, then starting with the shortest side, use the towel to roll the cake up. Let cool for 45 minutes until barely warm.
Warm the jam in a microwave-safe bowl for 20-30 seconds to loosen it up. (This is a nice time to add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or bourbon if you're so inclined.)
Unroll the cake. It will look slightly wavy and may crack a bit here and there. That's OK. Spread the jam evenly over the cake, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Starting again at the shortest edge, roll the cake back up (without the towel this time). Trim the edges with a serrated knife and transfer to a serving platter. You can finish it by simply dusting with powdered sugar or get creative with whipped cream or frosting. Refrigerate until ready to serve.