Silicone Pastry Brushes Are a Scam
For years, I thought pastry brushes were basically optional. I can put together a great batch of cookies, and sometimes a miso-chocolate tart, but I’m definitely not any kind of accomplished pastry chef. Yes, brushing egg wash over the top of an apple pie makes for a better-looking crust, but who could be bothered? Particularly when the pastry brush I had never quite managed to paint the egg wash on, so much as deposit it in gloppy strings. It took until the pastry section of the culinary program I took to realize that the problem wasn’t the brushing, it was the brush.
What I had been using at home was a silicone pastry brush, picked up haphazardly at Bed, Bath & Beyond sometime in my first years after college. And though the silicone brush was admittedly easier to clean than the version with natural or nylon bristles, it also happened to be completely useless. A good pastry brush should work similarly to a paint brush. You are, in many cases, literally painting on an even coating of egg wash, or marinade, or sauce onto something you’re cooking. A bad pastry brush, like the one I had, unevenly swirled bits of liquid onto a surface, leaving streaks and bald patches. You would be better off using your fingers.
I thought that maybe I just owned an especially bad silicone brush, but when I tried out other brands, they overwhelmingly had the same problem. Turns out, it’s not the manufacturer, it’s the material. The very qualities that make silicone a useful material in the kitchen—it’s a non-porous material, and so food particles don’t stick to it very well—makes it completely useless for a pastry brush, where you want the liquid you’re dipping it in to cling. The very best silicone pastry brush I found was still much worse than using a regular boar-bristle brush. The most generous I can be to the category is that silicone pastry brushes are blunt instruments, better for slathering than carefully coating.
Once I actually picked up a few pastry brushes that worked—one nylon bristle and one boar bristle—I started using them all the time. Not only are they helpful for making actual pastry, they’re great for quickly clearing your cutting board, or sweeping excess flour from a surface. The downside is that they’re more difficult to clean, and that eventually they begin shedding bristles. But the good news is that they’re cheap. At a restaurant supply store, you can pick up one for under $3, and at Sur La Table or Bed Bath & Beyond. If you’re going to use a pastry brush, why not stick to the cheaper one that actually works?