On Egg Wash

It’s the yolk of the egg that provides both the color and the binding power of an egg wash. The binding properties of yolk have been known to artists for millennia. “Egg tempera” was the medium all serious painters used from ancient Egypt to up until about the Renaissance when oil-based paints displaced it. Egg yolk goes on smooth, dries hard and glossy and sticks remarkably well to a variety of surfaces.

So if yolk is so great for color, shine and crust why not just use it by itself? The answer: because unadulterated yolk dries way too fast. That’s not a good thing since it gets goopy on the brush. Also you don’t want the surface of your pastry to turn taught or brittle before the pastry hits the oven, where it will expand, causing that inflexible surface to tear. The glaze needs some give, which is where the watery white comes in. Combined, egg white and yolk create a perfect all-purpose glaze. It’s golden, it’s shiny, it’s crispy…what’s not too love?

But what if you don’t love it? What if it’s not shiny enough? Too shiny? Not brown enough? Not flexible enough? Well then there are things you can add to bring it more into line with your personal aesthetic.

Water. Water dilutes the yolk still more than the white does by itself. What you have then is a slightly less glossy and/or golden glaze with more flexibility. It’s a nice thing for glazing a pastry or especially a bread that’s really going to increase its surface area in the oven. A brioche, say, or a parker house roll. A teaspoon of water per egg is good for most pastry applications, though bread glazes can take up to two tablespoons of water per egg.

Milk. Milk added to a whole egg glaze accomplishes much the same thing as water, except that the milk proteins, sugars and fats create more of a semi-gloss or even matte surface. As with the water-whole egg glaze, adjust the amount of liquid according to the surface increase you expect. A teaspoon is fine for the top of a piece of puff pastry, which will simply be pushed upward. The surface of a parker house roll will blow up like a balloon. More flex is necessary.

Cream. Cream is generally used in place of the egg white to create a deep, dark, extra shiny and mostly opaque glaze. The fat in the cream keeps the yolk from drying out during application, and the proteins and sugars brown up in the heat, giving a richer appearance. I find a cream glaze too thick for all but the most static, un-expansive applications, like short crusts (pie borders, lattices and such, or tart crusts). One yolk to one teaspoon of cream is fine. You can use up to three.

Salt. It’s said that adding a pinch of salt will amp up the gloss of a whole egg glaze. Me, I’ve never noticed much difference. I strongly suspect this is a kitchen myth. What a pinch of salt will do, as stated above, is create a thinner wash.

And that’s pretty much what I know about egg washes. What if you don’t like — or can’t eat — eggs but still want a glazed appearance on your baked good? Milk, cream or half and half are sometimes used as a glaze on breads or quick breads to give them a golden color. Here again more water means more flexibility and expansion without cracks in the finish. Use whole milk for a roll, heavy cream for a southern biscuit. Sugar sprinkled on a pastry (especially large crystal sugar) is very attractive in place of a glaze. Oil will also add sheen to the surface of a bread.

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44 Responses to On Egg Wash

  1. Kara says:

    I’ve never heard the salt tip. I’d be interested to test it out, but I can’t imagine it doing much for the crust, as you said.

  2. KC says:

    Sugar syrups or diluted-honey washes also give the shiny-browned look, and I love them, *but* they’re hygroscopic, so if you’re not planning to eat things straight away, the crispy crust will soften faster than with an egg wash. I usually apply them mid-baking if I’m using them – they also provide an extra note of initial sweetness on the tongue, which is great for some things and terrible for others.

  3. Pete says:

    I’ve had a lot of success with whipping the egg and then straining through a chinois – it’s a little more work but gets a much smoother wash that’s a lot easier for me to apply consistently.

    • joepastry says:

      Good advice, Pete! Being a lazy cuss I don’t strain mine…or at least not often, but it’s a stellar idea.

      - Joe

      • Thames says:

        Stick blender! I always use my stick blender and you can’t get smoother. I drop an egg yolk and tablespoon of water into a ramekin just big enough for the stick blender.

    • Toby says:

      Straining the beaten eggs gets rid of thick viscious protien as well as making it easier to brush on your pastries or breads. That being said the greatest thing I love about straining the eggs is its simply easier to measure out with my scale. Straining gives it a easy pour consistency that makes weighing it a joy.

  4. Paul says:

    Hmmm, I was taught that a pinch of salt helps in preserving the egg wash while it sits around. Whatever, salt goes in through force of habit anyway.

    I too use a whole egg wash for just about everything, adjusting its thickness with water if need be.

    BTW: I usually just dump eggs into a plastic container with a well-fitting lid and shake the heck out of it rather than whisk ‘em. If the container is half-full or less, a couple of good shakes does the job.

    Cheers

  5. Whitney says:

    Question! I have had some people tell me to egg wash twice (once after shaping and once after proofing) while others adamantly adhere to only one or the other. I have had people say the first wash keeps the dough from drying out and others say it prevents a good rise.. Thoughts? Would there be any difference between a croissants and a bread like brioche or challah? Would it make any difference if it was being proofed at room temperature or in a proof box? Thanks for your time!

    • Paul says:

      I dunno if I’m talking out of turn here, but here goes. I hate to speak of what “should” be done so I’ll just say what WE do.

      We routinely double wash croissants when they are to go in the proofer. The egg wash helps seal the cut ends and keeps more butter in place. That said…. I HATE putting croissants in a proofer and we only do so in emergencies. After all the trouble to make all those layers, I hate to think what an 88F proofer will do to them. I say proof at room temp and wait.

      Some of my guys like to double wash croissants, hallahs, and other braids to avoid having white lines along the rolls. Seems to me a waste of time as washing well-proofed croissants handles that issue anyways.

      Cheers

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Whitney!

      I’d say it depends on the wash, what you’re baking and whether you have a proofer with humidity control or not. The skin of most yeasted pastries needs to stay supple during proofing so it can stretch. If you have a proofer with humidity control, it solves the problem for you. You can use just one application of egg wash just before baking. (I should insert here that in the case of laminated doughs, a proofer temperature that’s too high can spell disaster, since it melts the butter and collapses the layers). If you don’t have a proofer, you’ll need to take some action to moisten the pastry surface manually. You can spritz the pastries with water or you can use egg wash. I usually use egg wash, though in truth water is better since multiple coats of egg wash can create too thick a coating. For the home baker a few cracks are a fair trade-off for the ease of just applying two coats of the same medium. In a professional baking situation, it’s probably better to keep the application of egg light, regardless of what you’re baking.

      Makes sense?

      - Joe

  6. Tom says:

    I use an easy and quick technique with a small ballon whisk to get the egg smoothly beaten. If the whisk has a cylindrical handle, as most do, place the handle between the palms of both hands, and rub your hands back and forth briskly. The whisk will rotate very quickly much like a power mixer, and make short work of breaking down that egg white.

    It’s the fastest way to whip cream by hand as well.

    • joepastry says:

      I do that very thing when I’m combining eggs and milk. I like the idea for egg wash also, though for very small amounts I’d think you’d splatter more than your keep in the bowl! ;)

      Thanks Tom!

      - Joe

  7. Thanks for the explanations!

  8. Barry says:

    I was taught that the reason for a pinch of salt in an egg wash is not to affect the quality of the shine, but simply to help break down the globs of albumen in the white more quickly, giving a thinner, more even consistency egg wash sooner. I have found that that is the case, although I’ve also found that allowing your plain (i.e., unsalted) egg wash to sit for an hour or so accomplishes pretty much the same thing.

    • joepastry says:

      Very interesting, Barry. I hadn’t heard that before. Thanks very much!

      - Joe

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Barry! Just wanted to update you that I found that the literature does bear this out. A small amount of salt will dissolve the ovalbumin and ovoglobulin proteins in the white. Ya learn something new every day. I’ll add it to the post. Thanks!

      - Joe

  9. Frankly says:

    I’m sad! When I saw your topic I thought I could mention putting salt in to get a higher gloss, also sugar or oil makes a difference but I prefer plain egg wash.

    You however hit every possible combinations! I love this site – thanks!

  10. Evan D. says:

    One French pastry shopped I worked in would blend their eggs with a dash of salt and a bit of water and put it in an electric paint gun from the hardware store for glazing big batches of croissants, etc in the morning. Too much work for any less than the demands of an actual bakery, but great for an even coat in good time withouit wasting much egg. Other bakeries strain through a fine chinois and shoot through a handheld spray bottle.

    • joepastry says:

      The industrial approach, eh? I like it. Though I wonder how they avoided lots of cracks. Wouldn’t the wash go absolutely everywhere?

      - Joe

      • Evan D says:

        I remember the paint gun having a very linear and predictable spray pattern with an adjustable width. We used one also with coloured molten cocoa butter for velvet coatings on gateaux.
        The hand sprayers are messy and we lay down a garbage bag, split and spread out wide under the sheet pans to speed clean up.

        Croissants warm from the proofer are very delicate, even moreso if you’ve left them to the verge of overproofing. The spray bottle limits handling damage from direct contact with a brush.

  11. David says:

    Finally, an egg wash thread!

    I’m a working baker who makes about 130 scones of varying types each morning. Prior practice at this bakery has been to make a wash then apply it to the scones before baking with a silicone brush. This is enormously inefficient; hand-washing hundreds of scones per week wastes a lot of time. The wash is basic, equal parts egg and water by weight, no salt. I mix it by hand in much the way you describe, although I mix for a minute at most, this seems to get the desired consistency.

    This hand-applying practice was one of the first things I identified to change in order to be faster in production. Unfortunately I have been stymied in my quest for a good but inexpensive spray bottle. I’ve tried a Smart and Final brand bottle (stopped up after one sad spray), tried a Misto (laughably not good for egg wash but I hear fine for oils) and am still looking for a solution. The place can’t afford a $40 dollar sprayer but would fund a $5 one. I’m hoping you or your readers might be able to help me out with a good recommendation or two. I am open to using more water than egg by weight, but this is can only go so far as excess dilution will (I assume) diminish the desirable effects of the wash.

    Thanks for the blog, especially for putting so much time and effort into it. It’s clearly a labor of love.

    • Evan D. says:

      A little salt and a little water go a long way to thinning the texture of the wash such that it sprays well from the kind of $5 spray bottle you can get at any hardware store.

      If the spray bottle stops working quickly, it’s probably bits of albumen and chalaza clogging the mechanism. To prevent this, it’s important to strain the wash through a very fine sieve into a fresh container before loading the bottle. You may find it helpful to strain it again, into a funnel, into the spray bottle. Sometimes more of these bits settle at the bottom.

      It’s just as important to clean out the spray nozzle after each shift. Disassemble and rinse well. Pump clean water through it. Otherwise, egg residue will dry to the inside, cause blockages and stink to high heaven.

      Kept cold, the egg wash will keep for 2 or 3 days in the fridge. I hope this helps.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey David! And thanks. I have a great time dong it, plus I learn a lot from my readers!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  12. Susan says:

    I’m not a fan of egg wash. I’ve been turned off by bakery pastries where that shiny glaze has made the top when it adheres, gummy in texture. Why does the wash turn gummy and how do you avoid it?

    • joepastry says:

      I think that’s from sloppy – and way too abundant – application, Susan. Applied in small amount it shouldn’t impact the texture of a pastry at all…below the surface at least.

      - Joe

    • Raymond says:

      Is the gummy glaze sweet ? If yes, than I think that would be an “Abricotage” (apricot glaze).

  13. Nuha says:

    I’ve learned a lot from this thread. I didn’t know there was so much to egg wash.
    Thanks! :)

    P.S. I can’t wait for your red velvet recipe ;)
    Though I’ve learned a lot from your Kringle posts. You make laminated pastries seem easy. I’ve always been intimidated by them. I’m more a cake and cookie baker. :)

  14. Ana says:

    Do you know if egg wash can be successfully frozen? I often feel like it’s wasteful to use a whole egg just for a shiny finish on some pastries or scones, when I never use the full amount.

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Ana!

      Unfortunately egg wash doesn’t freeze well at all. However you can refrigerate what’s left for a few days. Maybe for scrambled eggs?

      Best of luck,

      - Joe

  15. Vic says:

    Can you use eggs in a box (like Egg Beaters) as egg wash?

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