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What Is Egg Wash?
In its simplest form, egg wash is just a combination of egg and a liquid. It’s used in baking both for color and to bind things together. For example, egg wash is used in puff pastry, croissants, and other baked goods to create an appetizing golden color; and it’s great for sealing the edges of empanadas or other types of hand pies, ensuring the filling doesn’t spill out during baking or frying.
Egg wash is also used in frying, usually to help a bread crumb crust adhere to the meat or vegetable that’s going in the deep fryer. Think of delicious panko fried chicken — and then take a minute to wonder how those panko crumbs stuck on there. The answer? Egg wash.
The Seven Most Common Egg Wash Ingredient Combos
But different combinations of egg and types of liquid produce different results, for example a thinner or thicker layer, or more or less liquid.
Here are some common combinations and what you might want to use them for.
1) Whole Egg and Water
When you use the whole egg, you get protein from both parts and fat from the yolk. The combination of the two, with water, leads to a nicely browned and slightly glossy effect that is great for frying meat. Try it with Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for Wiener Schnitzel.
2) Whole Egg and Milk
Milk adds more fat and protein to the mix, which leads to more browning and a medium gloss. If you want a flaky, buttery, textural effect, use this combination. Chef Dominique Ansel’s recipe for croissants uses the whole egg and milk egg wash.
3) Whole Egg and Cream
With cream, you get the maximum fat and protein combo, which means you also get the maximum browning and gloss. This is the one to choose if you want a really shiny pastry!
4) Egg White and Water
When you use just the egg white with water, you’re going to get slight browning as well as a nice gloss. This combination is perfect for pastries that will be decorated with sugar, as the sugar will glisten against the gloss.
5) Egg White and Milk
Egg white and milk is a dependable, matte option that allows for slight browning without a gloss. This is ideal for dinner rolls or pizza crusts.
6) Egg Yolk and Water
With egg yolk and water, you get a deep yellow color with golden undertones. This combination produces a vibrant effect ideal for biscuits. Chef Gordon Ramsay’s signature Beef Wellington recipe skips the water altogether, leaning on the egg yolks for an extra dash of color, crispness, and fat.
7) Egg Yolk and Milk
The mix of protein from the egg and the milk leads to a high gloss finish, with the fat in the yolk gives a nice light brown. This is a great option for impressive-looking pie crusts.
How to Apply Egg Wash for Baking
The best way to apply egg wash in baking is with a pastry brush. You may be tempted to try to do it with a spoon, but the liquid is usually too thick and viscous to spread evenly with anything besides a pastry brush.
Stick with silicone brushes, as natural bristles shed. You should also wash your pastry brush with cold water right before applying the egg wash, as hot water can cause the egg to coagulate, making it more difficult to spread.
How to Apply Egg Wash for Frying
For frying, dip the food that’s going to be fried directly in a small bowl of egg wash before dipping it into your crumb mixture. The egg wash here acts as a binding agent, but you don’t want it so thick that it creates its own layer. Give it a little shake before dipping in the crumbs and you should be good to go.
Substitutes for Egg Wash
Egg wash contains eggs, an animal product, which means many vegan bakers opt for alternate ingredients to get that golden color and miracle glue effect. Consider the following substitute for vegan (or egg-free) baking:
- Coconut oil browns up nicely and is a great option for savory goods.
- For sweets, try combining a non-dairy milk—like almond or coconut—with agave nectar. The proteins in the milk give a nice shine, while the agave results in that lovely brown color.
- Natural sugars like agave or maple syrup can also produce a nice browning effect, while adding a little sweetness to the recipe.