Applying raw eggs to your bread dough might sound a little strange, but it helps give the finished loaf a golden color and an appealing, shiny surface. If you can't eat eggs or don't have them available, use a number of other ingredients to provide similar results. Every type of dough wash has slightly different characteristics, but they all produce a better-looking and better-tasting finished product.
Dairy Dough Washes
Dairy products like milk, butter and cream all work well as a substitute for eggs. Milk provides a soft crust with a satiny finish and medium-brown color. Half and half or light cream produce a slightly thicker crust with a rich golden color, while the extra fat in heavy cream gives the crust a crackle. If you don't have milk or can't eat dairy products, consider using non-dairy milks like soy or almond.
Oiling it up
You can brush your dough with liquid oils to provide a darker color and faint shine. Olive and canola oil both work well. You can also use melted butter as a wash. According to "The Fresh Loaf," it's best to put this on right after the bread comes out of the oven. Butter washes darken the surface of your loaf and create a moist, rich glazing effect.
When Water Is Enough
Even plain water can make your bread look better than baking it without any glaze. Brush a little water on the surface of the unbaked dough to get a softer crust with a satiny look. Water washes don't darken the bread as much as milk or oil, but they do improve browning over plain dough.
If you can't use a normal egg wash because you're watching your fat intake or cholesterol, consider substituting egg whites. This protein-rich bread glaze keeps the crust soft while adding a shiny, crackly coating. Even well-beaten egg whites can be difficult to brush on smoothly, so it's best to thin them with a little water. Lightly salt the wash before you apply it to help add flavor and slightly break down the proteins.
Commercial bakers rely on egg wash substitutes to give their breads an attractive finish without risking salmonella contamination. Composed of water, caramel color, modified food starch and other processed ingredients, these products are shelf-stable and easy to apply. They work best if you're baking a lot at once and find that normal egg washes aren't practical.
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