If you bake very much, I am sure you will run across directions to brush on an egg wash, milk, cream or even water. Have you ever wondered if this is necessary or if you can substitute something when you are down to your last egg and don’t want to “waste” it, especially at today’s prices? Read on as that is the subject of this Cooking Tip.
Let’s start what an egg wash is. An egg wash is just an egg whisked together with or without additional liquid and then lightly brushed on your baked item before putting it in the oven.
Purpose of an egg wash
- Color – an egg wash will give your baked item a brown, slightly shiny and more professional look. It also highlights details such as latticework. This is purely for aesthetic reasons.
- Sealer – an egg wash can help seal together edges such as in a double-crusted pie, empanadas or other hand pies.
- Binder – it can act as a binder to help coatings or decorations stick to the surface of your food item.
- Protection – sometimes an egg wash is brushed on your pie dough before the filling is added to help prevent a soggy bottom.
How to make an egg wash
A standard recipe will have you whisk together one egg (or yolk or white) together with or without additional liquid in the form of water or milk. The liquid is added primarily to help thin the mixture somewhat to make it easier to brush on your baked item.
Many recommend adding a pinch of salt and allowing it to sit for 5 minutes. The salt starts to denature the egg proteins, loosening its consistency and making it easier to brush evenly without added liquid. Some feel diluting the egg with other liquid is not necessary and can inhibit its sealing ability, a concern if that is your main reason for using an egg wash.
After whisking and ensuring a nice consistency, the best way to apply it to the baked item is with a pastry brush. Use a gentle and light hand as applying too much might result in it running down the baked item, pooling and settling into any nooks/crannies.
Your choice of what part of the egg to use as well as what liquid you use, if any, will affect the final result. Here is a run-down of the results you can expect from different iterations.
Whole egg with no liquid
- Rich golden color
- Deep shine
- Lighter brown color
- Slightly glossy finish
- Excellent browning
- Medium gloss
- Maximal browning
- The most gloss
Egg white alone
- Very little color
- Nice shine
- Light browning
- Nice gloss, great when you are also sprinkling on sanding sugar as it gives you a sparkly look.
- Slight browning
- Matte finish
Egg yolk alone
- Vivid yellow color
- Deep shine
- Paler yellow color
- Less shine
- Nice browning
- Excellent shine
If you do not want to use any egg, here are a few alternatives
Milk (dairy or non-dairy)
- Good browning
- Moderate shine but more matte than using egg
Cream/Half & Half
- Gives more shine than just milk but less than egg
- Good shine
- Crunchy texture
- Crispy texture
- Buttery flavor
Honey or maple syrup thinned out with some milk
- Very nice browning but you need to use caution as it can burn quickly in a hot oven. May want to apply only towards the end of baking.
- Can create decent browning
- Very little shine
Vegan egg wash
- Coconut oil – nice golden brown
- Non-dairy milk/agave – nice shine and browning
If you opt for an egg wash, you may store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. If you do not have another baking project coming up, throw it in a scrambled egg dish.
There is no doubt that adding a wash that will give your baked item a nice golden color will add to its appeal. However, if you are only using it for its visual effects, it is entirely optional. If you are using it for sealing, you should not leave it out or your layers will not seal properly.
Happy Baking and Browning!