Pastry brushes are small brushes with soft bristles, used in the kitchen to brush sauces, oils or glazes on food items that can be sweet or savoury. Both the handles and the tines of the brushes are now made from many different materials. Their primary use ostensibly is for baking, but in practice, they are used for many things.
Uses for pastry brushes
Pastry brushes are not just for “sweets”, as the name “pastry” might imply: they are also used for items such as breads, and for savoury dishes that might have a crust on them (there are after all savoury pastries.) They can be used to:
- remove something excess off from another surface (such as flour, or herbs — or salt, if you had a shaker mishap);
- apply something to the surface, such as a glaze or wash;
- grease pans with melted butter;
- brush a sauce or oil on meat or fish.
There’s no rule about this, but they seem to be most used when an item is just about ready to be cooked.
The most important thing about pastry brushes is that their bristles need to be soft, so that they don’t gouge the dough or scrape away what you are trying to apply.
The bristles can be natural or synthetic. You can also get them made from three or four long feathers, with the long shafts of the feathers tied together to form a handle.
Some recipes will even call for using a sprig of a stiffer herb such as rosemary to be used as a brush, to apply sauce or oil.
You can just use an ordinary, brand-new, clean (as in never used for actual painting, varnishing or paint-stripping) paint brush from the hardware store, provided it has soft bristles.
Putting a good pastry brush through the dishwasher shouldn’t shorten its life span appreciably. Ones that are going to shed are going to, regardless of how they are washed.
You can also get Kosher pastry brushes (sic.) Ones made with real brushes are made with bristles from pigs, which are not kosher for use in a Jewish kitchen. Kosher ones will have synthetic bristles.
Very cheap ones will leave bristles behind on the food you brush with them — just as very cheap paint brushes will when painting.
Many pastry brushes will last for decades. Some people have complained, though, that some of the newer ones are falling apart within a few weeks.
If you’re not going to be washing a pastry brush right-away after using it, the important thing is to at least soak it. The base of the bristles near the handle can be hard to get clean if you let whatever you applied harden in there.
You want to get oil such as olive oil off the bristles, or it will go rancid over time. If a brush goes rancid, it is probably best just to toss it and get a new one.
If you’re washing a pastry brush by hand, let it soak in hot soapy water at the bottom of the sink while you’re doing all the other dishes. Then swish it around in the water, rinse well with clean hot water, then let dry. Some people like to rinse with boiling water. Swishing it about in hot water seems to work better than holding it under running water (as well as being more water-use conscious.) If after swishing and swishing it about, gunk still won’t come out of the brush, put a small amount of dish soap on a small plate or other surface, and swish the brush about in it, pressing down, then swish it in hot water again.
Or put it through the dishwasher. Dishwashers really can do a bang-up job of cleaning pastry brushes. Take it out right away when the dishwasher is done, so that any metal on the handle, etc, won’t rust.
Let pastry brushes dry well after washing before putting them away.
Old ones that are shedding, or that have gone sticky and rancid, aren’t even good for out-of-kitchen uses like painting, though some people give them to their husbands to use in cleaning matted grass and oil off lawnmowers.
You may substitute a tightly-rolled piece of paper towel (aka kitchen paper in the UK), or a rolled up small piece of cheesecloth for use as a pastry brush. Or, fingertips (if not applying hot liquids.)