Finding the best pastry brush is a delicate business.
Published July 1, 2018. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 20: Chicken and Biscuits
Recently, we learned that our winning pastry brush, Winco Flat Pastry and Basting Brush, 1½ inch, contains BPA, a chemical that some studies link to various health issues. For those who are concerned about BPA, we recommend our runner-up, Ateco 1.5" Flat Stainless Steel Ferrule Pastry Brush, which is BPA-free.
We love our favorite silicone brush for basting meat and poultry and for oiling hot pans. But for spreading egg wash, glaze, or melted butter on delicate doughs or pastry and for removing crumbs from layer cakes before frosting them, we prefer to use a pastry brush with natural-fiber bristles. Because these bristles are so fine, they allow you to apply liquids more precisely and with a gentler touch than silicone models, which generally have thicker, spaghetti-size bristles. Moreover, natural-fiber brushes simply have more bristles, so they can wick up more liquid.
We wanted to know which natural-fiber pastry brush was the best, so we bought six models priced from $5.32 to $15.95 and pitted them against our reigning silicone model, the OXO Good Grips Silicone Pastry Brush ($6.99). All the brushes had 1.5-inch-wide heads (the most commonly available size); five were made with boar's-hair bristles and one with silk bristles. We put them to the test, using them to apply viscous egg wash to raw bread dough, slick olive oil to sheets of phyllo, and thick, sticky glazes to fruit tarts.
The good news is that all the brushes did a respectable job with every task. Compared with our favorite silicone model, the natural-fiber brushes picked up two to four times more liquid and dispensed it much more evenly, gently, and precisely.
However, there were some minor differences in performance that were determined by the length, uniformity, and density of the bristles; the material itself didn't seem to be significant. Bristles that were just under 2 inches in length provided the right combination of agility and coverage. Longer bristles were great for reaching into the nooks and crannies of the fruit tarts but were a touch unwieldy when applying oil to phyllo. Shorter bristles felt stubby and had less surface area with which to cover the food; they lacked the supple swish and fluidity of longer bristles.
Most testers also preferred brushes with bristles that were uniformly the same length throughout the head; bristles of different lengths tended to stick out like flyaways, making for slightly less precise, controlled application.
Additionally, we liked brush heads that were moderately dense, about ½ inch or more in thickness. The thicker the brush head, the more bristles it generally had and thus the more liquid it could retain, letting us reload the brush a little less often. Still, these differences in capacity weren't all that dramatic—at most, it meant that a brush took three passes instead of two to cover a 14 by 9-inch sheet of phyllo.
And while we wanted a thick head with lots of bristles,...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.