Skip to main content

Glazing Breads: It's All About the Crust

Even though Abby Slutsky owns a bakery, she enjoys finding a balance between nutritional foods and sweets when making family meals.

These rolls were baked with four different glazes: water, butter, egg yolk, and egg wash. All were baked at the same temperature for the same amount of time.

These rolls were baked with four different glazes: water, butter, egg yolk, and egg wash. All were baked at the same temperature for the same amount of time.

Bread Baking Basics

If you have ever made bread, you generally use the same steps when baking most loaves. You will proof the yeast, add dry ingredients and possibly an egg or two, add the yeast mixture, and combine the mixture with a dough hook. You will probably add some salt, and mix the mixture more. Then you may knead and let the dough stand to rise, Finally, you’ll punch it down to rest, shape it, let it rise again, and finish the crust by brushing it with some type of liquid either before or after baking it (although not all breads get a glaze). Some breads also get moisture by receiving infused steam while they bake.

Here are my unbaked, glazed rolls.  The front roll is glazed with butter, and an egg yolk glazes the one on the triangle. There is a water spray on the roll behind it, and the roll on the square is brushed with eggwash.

Here are my unbaked, glazed rolls. The front roll is glazed with butter, and an egg yolk glazes the one on the triangle. There is a water spray on the roll behind it, and the roll on the square is brushed with eggwash.

Why Put a Glaze or Wash on Homemade Bread?

For a few minutes, I want to talk about brushing your dough with a liquid. This is a quick step that has a huge impact on the appearance, flavor, and crust texture of your final product, yet it takes the least time out of the bread-making steps. Brushing the outer dough also prevents the dough from becoming excessively dry by helping it retain moisture. When making dough, it is often in danger of becoming dry. Remember, when it rises, you often cover it with a towel to help it retain moisture.

Additionally, glazing your bread to finish it can help seeds, herbs, and other embellishments stick to the crust. This can create a more flavorful, impressive loaf of bread.

How Should I Apply a Wash or Glaze to My Bread?

  • Pastry brush: The most common way to apply a glaze to homemade bread is by using a pastry brush. I have the reasonably priced Silcony 3-piece pastry brush set and like it because it is silicone. The brushes wash beautifully in the dishwasher, and I am able to apply any glaze I make easily and quickly. The brushes come in three colors, so if I am using multiple glazes, it is easy to remember which brush I used for which glaze. Unlike boar's hair pastry brushes, the hairs do not separate from the brushes, so I do not have to worry about them falling on my food or in the glaze.
  • Fingers: I have also used my fingers to apply glaze.
  • Rubber spatula: Once, I used a small rubber spatula, but it did not work as well as the other methods.
  • Spray bottle: I have also seen people use a spray bottle to apply water glazes.

When Is the Best Time to Apply a Wash or Glaze?

Glaze your bread after it rises or bakes. Some recipes may instruct you to glaze the bread before and after you bake. Do not glaze your bread before it rises because the wash can hinder the rising process by making it more difficult for the dough to expand.

What Types of Glazes Can I Use on Bread Dough?

Most recipes suggest glazing your bread with eggwash (a water and egg mix) or just water. However, you can also glaze bread with milk, cream, margarine, butter, or oil. If you use butter or oil, you can easily add seasoning or flavoring to the glaze before brushing it on. After brushing on eggs, seasonings will adhere to your bread nicely. If you make a sweet bread, you can also use sugar water, juice, or honey to top your bread, but I am not going to touch on sweet-tasting breads in this article.

How Do Specific Glaze Ingredients Affect the Crust?

Eggwash and Egg Glazes

Eggs will produce a shiny, attractive, and chewy crust. Although you can brush on beaten egg white or a combination of egg white and yolk alone, adding a liquid to the egg thins it out and makes it easier to apply to the top of the bread. If you add a liquid with protein and fat to the egg (such as milk or cream) that will enhance the browning process and create a darker bread.

Not surprisingly egg whites and water, which are light in color, create a paler crust than a whole egg mixed with water. A yolk, alone or with water as a wash, will create a dark crust. Towards the end of baking, I like to loosely tent a piece of foil over bread washed with egg yolk. (Some bakers do this at the beginning of the baking process, but I prefer to see the color of the bread before I do so since you will not want to do it for the entire time the bread bakes.)

Glazes With Milk or Cream

If you mix an egg yolk with cream or milk that will create a darker crust than a yolk mixed with water. The high fat content of cream and milk helps darken the crust.

You can also use milk or cream without egg to glaze a bread, but the bread will have a dull finish instead of the sheen that develops from the egg. If you want to put seeds or flavorings on your bread, they adhere to eggwashes nicely.

Melted Butter Makes a Soft Crust

Melted butter will not be as shiny as an egg glaze, but the crust will be soft. The lack of high water content causes melted butter to keep the crust soft. If you use clarified butter (remove the white froth from the melted butter, so you are skimming off the milk solids and water), the crust will be softer because there will be even less water brushed on the bread and more butterfat. If you prefer a shinier, soft crust, brush the bread with butter after you bake it. Keep in mind that the bread may be slightly greasy, but this can be an excellent technique if you are making garlic knots or a bread with seasonings mixed into your glaze. You can get a similar soft crust with margarine, but butter will impart a better flavor.

Oil Glaze

Oil creates a pale, crust that is a little crunchier than a crust glazed with butter or margarine. Focaccia bread uses oil before and after baking to give it texture and flavor. You can easily mix seasonings into an oil glaze.

Water Makes a Crispy Crust

If you spray or brush your bread with water, you will get a crispy exterior. Many breads glazed with water are baked with steam injection at the beginning of the baking process; you can choose to add steam at the beginning of baking with any glaze. Using steam adds moisture to the bread. You can put a pan of water in the bottom of your oven, or spray the sides of the oven with water. I have used steam with other glazes, but your recipe will indicate whether it is recommended.

Identify Your Favorite Bread Crust

If you have not given a lot of thought to the type of bread crust you like, it is easy to experiment. Make a batch of your favorite bread. Divide the bread into small loaves or rolls, and top them with different glazes. (Keep track of which glazes you put on which rolls or loaves.) If desired, cut the dough on different shapes of parchment, and write down which glazed roll is on which shape to help you remember. Look at them carefully, and then taste them to decide which is your favorite in appearance, texture, and taste.

If you are enjoying learning about glazing breads and would also like to learn about glazing other baked goods, read Everything You Want to Know About Glazing Sweet Desserts.

© 2020 Abby Slutsky