The Ultimate Guide: Washes for Breads & Rolls

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The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Looking Breads and Rolls. Learn what 12 different washes did for the tops of our dinner rolls.

Table of Contents
  1. What is a bread wash?
  2. What can I use for bread wash?
  3. Watch the Results
  4. 12 Bread Washes
  5. Results
  6. Our Favorite Bread Wash
  7. Our Favorite Yeast Bread Recipes

When I first got married, I was obsessed with finding our own family recipes. The recipes I would make every holiday and every time guests came over. I wanted the recipes to be so good that people wouldn’t just ask for the recipe, they would say “I NEED that recipe”. 

Dinner rolls were high on my list to perfect. And we did find that recipe. This recipe is what kickstarted our search for the best cinnamon rolls. If you haven’t tried our homemade dinner rolls, please do. They are buttery and soft and go well with everything from chicken and noodles to a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

From day 1 I knew the roll recipe tasted perfect, but a few years later I wanted my rolls to look perfect, too. How exactly did bakers get that golden brown, shiny top to their rolls? Or the buttery roll that didn’t shine but was oh, so soft on top?

dinner rolls with different bread washes on them

If you’re looking of the perfect bread glaze for your dinner rolls or homemade bread recipes, this is your guide. I tested 12 different bread washes that go on before baking, and I tested a couple that get glazed after baking as well.

You choose which bread glaze looks appetizing to you. Get ready to impress your family and friends!

What is a bread wash?

A bread wash is a liquid that is applied to the top of bread dough before it goes into the oven. Without a bread wash, some rolls and bread can be dull and pale in appearance and may not be as appetizing looking as you’d like. Bread washes have varying results: shiny, golden brown, light brown, matte, salty and even sweet.

What can I use for bread wash?

Bread washes generally include one or a combination of the following:

  • water
  • egg
  • butter
  • oil
  • milk or cream

I’ll show you the result of each combination below.

Watch the Results

If you like to watch rather than read, here’s quick recap of the results:

12 Bread Washes

I tested our dinner roll recipe with 12 different types of bread washes. I’ll show you a picture of how each turned out, plus explain the look and texture of each.

For starters, though, our first wash is actually no wash at all. This is the control of our experiment. Here’s how dinner rolls with no wash look. Still nice and golden brown:

plain dinner rolls in a pan
  • Wash recipe: None
  • Appearance: Slightly browned. Matte finish, not at all shiny.
  • Texture: Soft top

I used a silicone pastry brush to brush the washes on each dough ball.

Melted Butter Wash

butter brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: Salted butter.
  • Appearance: Matte appearance, not shiny at all, but nicely browned.
  • Texture: The tops were lightly crisp straight from the oven, but softened quickly as they cooled.

Milk Wash

milk brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: 2% milk
  • Appearance: Eggshell finish with a hint of sheen, golden brown
  • Texture: Soft tops

Water Wash

water brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: Tap water
  • Appearance: Matte finish with maybe a hint of sheen. Slightly more golden brown than plain tops, but very similar.
  • Texture: Soft tops. Supposedly water helps the tops be a little crisp, but I didn’t really notice this with brushing water on only before baking.

Cream Wash

cream brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: Heavy cream
  • Appearance: These looked very similar to 2% milk, but were a little more spotty because the cream didn’t coat the rolls quite as well as the milk did. Very slight sheen.
  • Texture: Soft tops

Egg Wash

egg brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: 1 whole egg, whisked in a bowl
  • Appearance: Very shiny. These had the most shine out of all the rolls. Golden brown.
  • Texture: The egg wash gives the top a little firmness, almost like a pretzel texture.

Egg + Water Wash

egg and water brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: 1 large egg + 1 tablespoon tap water, whisked in a bowl
  • Appearance: Shiny and golden brown. The water added into the egg helps the wash brush on more easily. These had a very traditional look.
  • Texture: Similar to the egg above, these had a slight “crust” to the top, but the water helps soften that.

Egg + Cream Wash

egg and cream brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: 1 large egg + 1 tablespoon heavy cream, whisked in a bowl
  • Appearance: Shiny and golden brown. These had a very slight deeper golden brown than the egg wash with water.
  • Texture: Similar to the egg washes above, these had a slight “crust” to the top, but the cream helps soften that.

Egg White + Water Wash

egg white and water brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: 1 large egg white + 1 tablespoon tap water, whisked in a bowl
  • Appearance: Not quite as shiny as those with egg yolk, but they had a definite sheen to them. Not as golden as those with yolk.
  • Texture: These had a lighter crisp topping, not as heavy as the rolls with egg yolks.

Egg White + Cream Wash

egg white and cream brushed dinner rolls
  • Wash recipe: 1 large egg white + 1 tablespoon heavy cream, whisked in a bowl
  • Appearance: Shiny and golden
  • Texture: A lighter crisp topping, not as heavy as the rolls with egg yolks.

Egg Yolk + Cream Wash

egg yolk and cream brushed dinner rolls

Wash recipe: 1 large egg yolk + 1 tablespoon heavy cream, whisked in a bowl
Appearance: These were the darkest rolls, thanks to the fat from the yolk and the cream. These were almost as shiny as the egg only wash.
Texture: The tops were a little heavier due to the fat as well. Very pretzel-like.

Oil Wash

oil brushed dinner rolls

Wash recipe: Olive oil
Appearance: Matte finish. Almost identical to the butter brushed rolls.
Texture: Same as with the butter, when fresh from the oven they had a slight crispness to the tops, but that softens quickly as they cool.

Results

The differences aren’t as noticeable in pictures as they are in person, but there are definitely differences. Here’s what you should know.

  • For matte rolls, brush the tops with salted butter. They won’t be shiny, but that salted butter gives the tops a little boost of flavor that I can’t resist. These are also the softest.
  • For the most golden brown tops, use a whole egg or egg yolk. The yellow in the yolk gives the most color to the bread.
  • For pretzel-like tops, definitely use an egg. And cream helps a little, too.
  • For soft tops, go with a high fat wash, such as butter or cream.

Our Favorite Bread Wash

The washes don’t change the flavor a lot, except for my beloved brushed butter 😋 , but as far as looks go, my family chose the egg white + cream wash as the roll that they would choose.

Why? Because it had a golden brown look without being too “orange” from the egg yolk. It had a traditional look with a nice shine.

egg white and cream brushed dinner rolls

Our Favorite Yeast Bread Recipes

If you’re looking for a new recipe to try one of these bread washes, here are our favorites:

About Julie Clark

I'm Julie Clark, CEO and recipe developer of Tastes of Lizzy T. With my B.A. in Education and over 30 years of cooking and baking, I want to teach YOU the best of our family recipes.

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