The kitchen is a fascinating environment where one’s imagination is translated into meals and delicacies that not only feed the whole family but can also be excellent points for strengthening social ties and bonds. One of the tools that all home cooks and chefs have to be very familiar with is the culinary brush. There are a number of brushes in the kitchen that serve a variety of functions. Two of the most often used brushes are the pastry and the basting brush. But really, is there any difference between these two or are they one and the same?
The Pastry or Basting Brush
Looking at culinary literature, you will notice that pastry brushes are also called basting brushes. These are brushes that are used in the application of a liquid or softened material or ingredient onto a more solid or firmer food ingredient.
For example, if the brush is to be used in pastries or baked goodies, then it is aptly called a pastry brush. In such instances, the brush can be used to apply egg wash onto a pastry before it is put in the oven to bake. The egg wash can then be applied anytime during the baking to give the pastry a more finished, more refined look.
Smaller pastry brushes can also be used to seal the edges of dumplings, ravioli, and even turnovers. It is a much more efficient and less messy way of sealing the edges of dough. Larger pastry brushes can also be used in the application and spreading of sauce onto your homemade pizza, although some would rather do it with the back of a ladle or a large spoon.
On the other hand, a basting brush is one that you will use to apply the liquids that may have accumulated in the pan of broiled meats. When we talk about basting, we are essentially talking about moistening the surface of meat, poultry, fish, or any other food item that is being roasted or grilled. The liquid that we use to baste the food with usually comes from pan drippings, although we can always brush melted butter, slightly thickened stock, or other flavorful liquids.
So What’s the Difference?
If you really have to be strict about it, a basting brush is a culinary utensil that is specifically used for basting meats, fish, poultry, and other food items that are being roasted. In like manner, the pastry brush is one that is used only on pastries.
Traditionally, when we say ‘roast’, it means cooking food using radiant dry heat. This usually takes place in an open fire or over a bed of hot live charcoal. However, people today call this method rotisserie. What they refer to now as ‘roasting’ happens inside an oven where the food is ‘roasted’.
Incidentally, ‘roasting’ food in the oven by means of convection is also referred to as ‘baking’. And when we talk about baking we often talk about pastries or those that involve a mixture of flour, water, and shortening that form into dough as the base of the food. But then, there is also ‘baked chicken’ which is essentially the same as ‘oven-roasted chicken’.
Since there really is no remarkable difference between the modern definition of “roasting” and “baking”, it is safe to assume that there should also be no significant difference between a pastry brush and a basting brush aside from their primary purpose.
That being said, you can use a basting brush on your pastries and a pastry brush for basting your beef or chicken roast. But then, you clearly don’t want to do that since the flavors that may be present in one brush may be imparted on the food that should not have such a flavor. For example, if you used the brush to baste your roasted chicken with the rich flavors of garlic butter, imagine how your sweet pastry will taste like if you use the same brush. You will be surprised with a hint of garlic and butter instead of the sweetness of the pastry.
It is for this reason that you should have different brushes for different purposes. It is also for this same reason that one brush should be dedicated for basting only while the other should be intended only for pastries.
Tips in Picking the Right Pastry and Basting Brush
Because basting and pastry brushes are essentially the same, although used for different purposes, it is important that you have a good number of brushes that you can use for certain dishes. Here are a handful of tips you might want to adhere to.
- If you’re working with really thick sauces like barbecue sauce, better pick brushes with silicone bristles.
- For thin liquids such as melted butter, vinegar-based marinades, or even olive oil, the best brush to pick is one that has finer bristles, preferably one with natural boar bristles. You can also go for synthetic bristles, but make sure to get a paintbrush style.
- If you don’t like messy cleaning of your pastry or basting brush, then you are better off with synthetic brushes such as those with silicone bristles. You can simply dump them into your dishwasher to have them cleaned.
- If you prefer a more ‘hands-on’ approach to cleaning your brushes afterwards, you can choose natural boar bristled paintbrush-style culinary brushes. In washing these brushes, it is important to use warm water to help soften the bristles while adding mild dishwashing detergent to get it thoroughly cleaned. Make sure to rinse it well until you can no longer smell the scent of the detergent. Squeeze any excess water and air dry. In drying the brush, prop it in a glass so that the bristles are up.
- If you want a more efficient basting brush, choose one that has a hollow handle. You can use the handle to ‘scoop’ basting sauce which you can then easily pour onto the food that you’re basting. Unfortunately, this can be a bit tricky to clean.
There really is no significant difference between a basting brush and a pastry brush. However, you should never use one for the other as you will be inadvertently introducing the flavors or scents of one to the other.