Bread has an infinite amount of variations. From light and flaky to rich and heavy, bakers use an arsenal of tricks and techniques to improve the quality and texture of bread products. Apply a wash just before you bake the bread to contribute to the overall appearance and taste of the finished loaf.
An egg wash is a type of glaze, which is made from a whole egg or just part of the egg. Professional bakers sometimes mix in other liquids, such as water or dairy products, to create the wash. Different ingredients in the wash help to create different results on the finished bread. Plus the egg wash holds on toppings, like nuts and seeds. The specific type of wash you should use depends on the bread recipe and the desired appearance of the finished loaf.
Egg washes create a distinct crust on the bread and hold in moisture as the loaf bakes. Whole egg washes create a shiny, golden-brown appearance. Washes created using only the yolk result in a rich, brown crust. Using only the egg white creates a shiny coating. An egg wash also can be used as a glue to hold crumbly bread together. In addition, egg washes sometimes are used as a glue to affix seeds, nuts or other additives to the bread crust.
Different additives produce different effects. Mixing butter or oil with the egg wash, for example, produces a softer crust that is velvety in texture. Using milk as an ingredient promotes browning, due to the amino acids and sugars found in dairy. Individuals who are sensitive or allergic to egg products should avoid using an egg wash. Those allergic to dairy should avoid using milk or cream as an additive to egg washes. Egg washes are fine for vegetarians who include eggs in their diet, but vegans should not use egg -- or dairy -- washes because these foods are animal-derived products.
Soy milk and almond milk are viable alternative glazes when baking bread. Milk alternatives produce a crisp, brown crust but don't readily hold seeds or other additions in place. To remedy this, milk substitutes can be thickened with a pinch of cornstarch. For sweeter breads, honey thinned with water into a light syrup can be used in place of an egg wash. This produces a shiny brown crust. Individuals with a sensitivity or allergy to honey should avoid this alternative wash. Water or oil thickened with a pinch of cornstarch is another alternative to the traditional egg glaze and produces a mild, golden-brown color when cooked.