I'm trying to stay away from single use plastics for the environment. The only kitchen thing I have not yet managed to find a substitute for is wrapping pastry in cling film to let it rest in the fridge before rolling and baking. What can I use instead that doesn't let the pastry dry out while resting? I'm interested in a substitute that's either biodegradable or ideally reusable.
It is less useful than what you think
Frame challenge incoming...
Cling film is very light and made especially for such purposes. The environmental damage is extremely low - which limits what alternatives you can choose. Most alternatives (including those already mentioned in the other answers) will be so much more resource demanding to make, dispose or recycle for it to be worth it. Baking paper, while extremely useful - is full of silicones, so don't put it in the "paper" bin... and it is more resource demanding to make. Teflon, cloth, etc - same deal!
Aluminium foil, for instance. 75% of all Aluminium refined and made is still in use. Because of the extremely friendly "recyclability" of aluminium, it is a very good material. Just not for aluminium foil, it is rarely recycled. People just throw it in the trash. We destroy a valuable resource.
Cling film, on the other hand is dirt cheap to make and can safely be incinerated. If you worry about polluting the sea - I'd see if there are any alternatives to landfilling your waste in your community. As for carbon emissions - Walk once to the store instead of driving, and you'll be in the green even if you consider a life time supply of cling film.
Note: Some cling films are made with PVC, I'd consider switching to the less clingy, but better overall alternative LDPE. PVC contains chlorides and while the environmental impact is still low, if you go for LDPE or similar it goes to negligible. Check the box it came in to find which you have
Use Tupperware, or a plate over a bowl. Since those items are reusable the environmental impact will be less so long as you keep using them. You can get Tupperware that is mostly glass too. Lots of places do this with their dough. All that moisture will still be in there as the dough rises or rests. As long as it's airtight it should work.
Alternatively you can put a damp tea towel over a bowl. This will allow the pastry dough to breath while maintaining moisture. Make sure the towel doesn't dry out though. If it does, your dough will too. Just add some more water to the towel when it starts to get dry.
Bakers use some variation of tupperware and damp towels all the time. Plate over a bowl won't work as well, but it should still work.
You don't have to use clingfilm (cling wrap, saran wrap depending where you are in the world), there are alternatives as long as the pastry is not sticky:
- Plastic bags: I reuse zippable plastic bags as many times as I can, you can wash them by turning them inside out
- Baking paper: baking paper can be re-used as long as it stays clean
- Aluminum foil: again this can be reused several times
- A damp towel: if all you want is to let pastry rest for an hour in the fridge then a damp tea towel works pretty well. Just make sure it is damp, not wet, or you risk moisture from the towel getting into the pastry and making it too wet
Put it in a bowl, large enough so the dough doesn't reach the top (if possible), cover it with a damp dishtowel (not wet, just damp). Voila. Totally ecological, and works better than plastic wrap because the dough can breathe.
If the towel touches the dough, you might have to scrape it off depending on the dough and the time involved, but that's not really a problem. Make sure to use a smooth towel, not a textured one which will both stick to the dough more and probably hold too much water. And use a clean one of course.
I have reusable teflon sheets for lining cake tins and baking sheets. They also work well for wrapping pastry and dough. With pastry the easiest way is to make a folded parcel with the opening side underneath on a plate or dish. They wash up by hand or in the dishwasher and also save you lots of baking parchment/greaseproof paper and some foil.
Another option is a plastic box only a little larger than the pastry. With very little exposed surface area and very little air in the box it won't dry out noticeably. The two options can be combined - ina box with a small piece of the teflon sheet (an offcut perhaps) on top
I have always used wax paper to wrap pastry for the fridge. It's always worked for me.
(Note: this is not the same thing as the baking paper/parchment mentioned in other answers.)
If your question can be changed slightly to: What to use instead of cling film to prevent pastry dough from drying out when resting (or storing) in the refrigerator?, here is what I would do. Similar to what others have suggested, find a glass container or plastic tub with lid a little larger than the footprint of the dough. Place a ramekin (smaller than footprint of dough) in it upside down (or something else you have around your kitchen to elevate the dough), add a little water to the bottom of the container, place dough on ramekin, cover with lid. Dough should not touch water, of course, sides, or lid. This method is used by home cheesemakers to create a humid environment.