Everything You Need to Know About Picking Your Pasty Brushes
Everything You Need to Know About Picking Your Pasty Brushes
One of the secret weapons of any great chef is a great set of pastry brushes! Pastry brushes are an absolutely indispensable part of any kitchen, and you might be surprised at just how many roles they can play. Beyond helping you make amazing looking pastries, they have numerous potential applications for bread, meats, desserts, plating, and more!
At the very least, you'll want two in your collection - we'll explain why in just a moment. Along with that, in this guide, we'll talk about the many uses for pastry brushes, your surprisingly varied list of options in styles and materials, and how to get a long life out of your brushes.
Let's get started.
I. Uses for A Pastry Brush
First, a quick note: The terms "pastry brush" and "basting brush" are just different names for the same brushes. However, you always want to segregate the brushes you use for bread and those you use for meats. If you mix-and-match, you could easily end up cross-contaminating your dishes. Therefore, you want at least two brushes so that you can keep these uses separate.
From there, you have so many ways to use pastry brushes in your cooking. For example:
• Giving pastries a coating of egg yolk or butter, so they brown nicely in the oven.
• Basting meats of all types.
• Smoothing out the application of a heavy glaze for even cooking.
• Adding butter to the top of poultry for a crunchier skin.
• Removing accidental excess spices from dishes, by dipping the brush in water and using it to pick up the spices.
• Putting detail work into toppings, like cake frosting.
• Making your plating more interesting, with swipes or swirls.
If they sound a bit like paintbrushes, you're absolutely right. In most ways, they behave like paintbrushes, and you can use painter's techniques to make your presentation more interesting. For example, you could dab the brush into thicker coatings to make them more textured, before cooking.
II. Pastry Brush Shapes and Handle Types
Basically, the longer you have some pastry brushes around, the more uses you will start to find for them. These brushes are remarkably versatile!
When it comes to selecting pastry brushes for your kitchen, the overall shape of the brush is one of the most important factors. Different brush shapes will be good for different tasks, and some have more uses than others. Some of the most common brush designs include:
Small Brushes: Small brushes, obviously enough, are best for basting smaller or more delicate items, such as baked h'or deuvres. They are also effective at doing detail work on larger dishes, like adding swirls to a decorative drizzle.
Large Brushes: These are best for spreading thicker sauces onto large pieces of meat since they can hold a lot of thick sauce. Or, use it to add a single dramatic swipe to a plating.
Round Brushes: Small round brushes are almost always used for detail work, such as dabbing on small bits of sauce for color. You can also create very interesting swirl patterns by twirling them on toppings already spread.
Hooked Brushes: Nearly any type of plastic pastry brush can be molded to include a hook for easy hanging and sorting. These are great for keeping your kitchen organized.
Angled Brushes: These feature a handle that's roughly 45 degrees offset from the brush, and the handle is usually longer as well. These allow for more precise strokes or can be used for long-distance alterations, such as adding extra sauce to an item already in the oven.
Of course, kitchens that are starting might want to begin with a couple of medium-sized brushes, since they can be made to work with a variety of tasks.
Another related question is what material the handle should be made from. The most common choices here are plastic or wood. In practical terms, there is not a big difference between them. However, wood is usually a bit more comfortable to hold and looks nicer. Plastic can be slippery, but it is much easier to clean and may have a slightly longer active life.
Either way, if you are planning on using your brushes in front of guests, definitely use wood brushes for the sake of aesthetics. Pastry brushes are generally quite inexpensive, but plastic ones can look cheap to customers.
III. Pastry Brush Bristle Materials
You also have a lot of choices when it comes to the material your pastry brushes are made of! (See why chefs tend to collect them?) Again, each material and type of bristle layout has different advantages and disadvantages. Before getting into specific materials, here is a quick rundown of the basic types of bristles:
Soft bristles are best for delicate foods because they glide easily and gently across the top. However, they usually do not hold much liquid.
Hard bristles are usually reserved for tougher meats, such as steak, because of their ability to deposit sauce into the grain the meat.
Tightly packed bristles hold more sauce but are harder to clean.
Loosely packed bristles are gentler for soft foods, and easier to clean.
Now, let's talk briefly about the pros and cons of different materials that might go into the making of a brush. Four materials are most commonly found in basting brushes and pastry brushes:
1. Boar bristles
Boar bristles are soft and delicate, making them perfect for fine work. Their natural origin also makes them water-resistant, with a tendency to absorb oils. In fact, they are your best option for spreading thin oil-based sauces. They also tend to hold more liquid than brushes made of synthetic materials.
However, if you're making vegetarian or vegan food, don't mention this to the patrons. Boar bristle brushes are indeed made from actual boar fur.
Nylon is the most popular synthetic material, generally making for tougher bristles that are better for tougher foods. These bristles are very strong and less likely to fall out than other bristle types. They generally work best when spreading a lot of liquid onto broad surfaces.
Teflon brushes are expensive but valued for their extreme heat resistance - even more than silicone. They can also be very soft, like boar bristles. However, unless you're deliberately avoiding the use of animal products, their main use is on hot objects since they can withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C).
Finally: does it matter what color your brushes are? Yes! Obviously, bristle color won't affect the taste of the food, but there is the ever-present possibility that a bristle will fall into the dish during preparation. If you use a brush with bristles that contrast against the food, this will make it much easier to spot a stray strand before cooking.
IV. Caring for Your Pastry Brushes
As mentioned, pastry brushes are generally pretty inexpensive as kitchen tools go. However, you don't want to keep replacing them. Here are a few tips for extending their active lifespan.
• Always wash your brushes after every use.
• If you can't take time to immediately wash the brush like during the middle of a service, soak it in warm water.
• If your brush has metal parts (common on wooden brushes) be certain to dry them immediately after washing to prevent corrosion.
• Wooden brushes must be scrubbed because the porous nature of wood can trap contaminants. Plastic-handled brushes can just be wiped down.
• Animal-fur brushes must be washed by hand. Some synthetics are machine-washable but check the packaging to be sure.
• Never allow oils to collect on the brush bristles because they can quickly go rancid and even contaminate food.
• Hand sanitizer is safe for nearly all brush types and a good safety measure - particularly for wooden handles.
• Hang up your brushes if at all possible, to keep them clean between uses.
Over time, your brushes will undoubtedly begin to break down. Most of the time, this is indicated by the brush shedding bristles more frequently. Don't keep trying to use a brush that's shedding. It can't be repaired and should be replaced.
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