Published February 1, 2010. From Cook's Country.
We basted, painted, and sniffed to see if our past winner still had what it takes.
A few years ago, we recommended our favorite pastry brush for its ability to handle a range of tasks, from spreading thick barbecue sauce to delicately painting egg wash on pastry. We chose eight new pastry brushes, both natural and silicone, and went back into the kitchen to see if any came close.
We tested these models on a variety of tasks: painting runny egg wash on dumplings (folds and crevices included), basting grilled chicken with barbecue sauce, oiling a hot pan, and brushing crumbs from a cake before frosting it. Brushes with thin silicone bristles had advantages, reaching difficult crannies and spreading egg wash easily, but they struggled to pick up heavier barbecue sauce, which slid right off. Silicone models with substantial bristles lapped up thick sauces but handled delicate pastry like a bull in a china shop. Natural boar’s-hair brushes whisked away loose cake crumbs, but that’s all they were good for. As soon as anything wet and heavy hit, bristles clumped. When brushing a hot pan, they shriveled, blackened, and broke. (Silicone bristles handled heat with aplomb.)
A good pastry brush has a comfortable handle that’s easy to control at all angles. In our testing, metal handles became slippery when splashed with butter or egg wash. Flat wood and cumbersome plastic handles were less comfortable to use than slimmer, rounded wood and textured nonslip silicone handles. The collars (called ferrules) that surround bristles are important, too: On silicone models they are a single molded piece of silicone, a design that prevents bristles from falling out or food from falling in. But natural boar-bristle brushes are bound by separate ferrules, which often leave strands behind and create a trap for food. Innovative bristles on two models we tested featured perforated center flaps that worked like a child’s bubble wand to hold liquid—but buyer beware: One pastry brush had a stiff central flap that resembled a net, trapping all sauces and never letting go. A better option is the flap on our winner, which separated into three parts, flexing to release liquid. Finally, all the models lay flat except our winning brush—its gently tilted head lifted bristles off the countertop, and this angle also helped us maneuver around pastry corners and chicken wings.
After each test, we ran the brushes through the dishwasher and sniffed. Boar bristles held scents longest (especially after garlic butter), but surprisingly, even some silicone models resisted coming clean. No one wants cake to taste like garlic bread, so this was a major sticking point. Only three silicone brushes were scent-free.
Although manufacturers have released many new models since our last testing, after exhaustive brushing, basting, heat, and smell tests, our original winner once again proved that it has all the right stuff. Its angled head, comfortable handle, light weight, and innovative perforated flaps helped it excel at every task we threw at it. This brush can handle heavy basting and delicate brushing with equal aplomb.