What is an Egg Wash and Why Should You Use It?

Here’s the secret to giving puff pastries, breads, pies, and other baked goods a shiny finish and crispy crust.

An egg wash can be used to seal edges, add shine, add a crisper crust, or enhance the golden color of baked goods
Photo: Getty Images

Have you ever wondered how some breads and baked goods get that gorgeous sheen? It's a simple mixture of egg and liquid called an egg wash. Aside from adding a nice glimmer, they are workhorses in the pastry world, and can be used to seal edges, add shine, add a crisper crust, or enhance the golden color of baked goods.

What is an egg wash?

"It's essentially a filter for your baked goods," says food historian and baker KC Hysmith. "It's a really simple thing that most bakers should learn to enhance their baked goods. In baking, many recipes call for an egg wash to be brushed on the baked goods before it goes into the oven. The purpose of this is to give the final product a golden brown color that is slightly shiny. Egg washes can make the final product look more professional, a bit crispier, or act as a binder."

When should you use an egg wash?

Aside from the obvious benefit of egg washes making baked goods appear shiny and glazed, they can also serve as an adhesive. "Historically, egg whites were used as an adhesive, added to recipes to bind ingredients together," Hysmith says. "This is the same idea. This means using an egg wash mixture to make something stick, such as using one to make braided pie dough or pocket dough stick together. You can even layer an egg wash before applying sugars or other things you want to stick together."

An egg wash can give a baked good a golden brown color that is slightly shiny
Getty Images

What are the different types of egg washes?

Egg washes are simple, but there are a few different types, each with its own effect on baked goods. "Egg washes can be made with cream, water, and different parts of the egg, to achieve varying final touches," notes F&W associate food editor Paige Grandjean. "They all have their time and place." Here are a few to know:

Egg and Water

This is the most traditional egg wash, made by whisking together an egg and about a tablespoon of water. This all-purpose egg wash gives baked goods a golden sheen.

Egg Only

If you are looking to achieve a darker golden brown color on your baked goods, simply whisk an egg and brush it over the dough before baking.

Egg Yolk Only

Using whisked egg yolk as an egg wash will give your baked goods a golden hue, "which was a big trend in the '50s, '60s, and '70s," says Hysmith.

Egg White Only

An egg white brushing will yield a nice, clear shine, or as Hysmith describes it, "that glazed look." Aside from using an egg white-only egg wash to add shine, it is also useful in helping sugar adhere to cookie or pastry dough as an edible glue.

Egg and Milk or Cream

"Using cream or milk is a very old-school egg wash method, but popular," says Haysmith. By brushing an egg beaten with milk or cream, you will get a baked good with a light golden brown color and a nice amount of shine.

Mayonnaise

You may be surprised to learn that mayonnaise makes an excellent egg wash, but it makes sense when you consider that traditional mayonnaise includes eggs. Consider using it as an egg wash replacement the next time you are baking something savory, for a nice bit of shine and some extra fat and acidity.

Pick the best brush

The best brush to use with an egg wash is a silicone pastry brush; it is easier to clean than a natural bristle brush. Grandjean also advises adding a pinch of salt to your egg wash. "It helps to denature the proteins and gives you a super smooth wash for brushing," she explains.

Can I store egg wash?

If you have some egg wash leftover after baking, you can keep it, wrapped in the refrigerator for two days. This is especially useful if you are doing a lot of baking over the course of a few days. Or, simply use your leftover egg wash to make some scrambled eggs.

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