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No pastry brush? Not a problem. Here are 5 common items you can substitute instead.

By Darcy Lenz
February 26, 2021
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I think anyone who's active in the kitchen, and especially anyone who enjoys trying new baking recipes, eventually comes across the instruction "brush melted butter (or egg wash) evenly over the surface of your dough," and realizes… I have no brushing utensil for this job. 

A pastry brush isn't something like a spatula or a whisk… it's a tool you generally don't know you need until the moment you need it. I was reminded of this last week when my friend/colleague messaged me while making biscuits, asking if there was anything she could possibly substitute in order to give her flakey dough towers a nice brushing of butter before they went into the oven. 

The answer is yes — there are absolutely viable substitutes for these instances. But full disclosure, a legit pastry brush is absolutely worth every penny. It gets the job done quickly and efficiently, in a way that most substitutes aren't able. Plus, you can use a pastry brush for more than you might think. Sure, you can brush a glaze over tarts or egg wash over pie dough, but it's also an excellent tool to use to grease your baking pan thoroughly and evenly with oil or melted butter. For baking purposes, I prefer a nylon or natural brush. Silicone brushes work too, but just tend to be a little clunkier; I find these work better for brushing meat. 

That said, I first encountered my own "uh oh" pastry brush dilemma in college, and can say with full confidence, there was virtually no chance whatsoever of me stopping mid-recipe to run out and acquire a culinary brush. So, when moments such as these arise, reach for one of the following substitutes — and put an order in for a brush as soon as your dish is in the oven. 

An Unused Paint Brush

If you happen to have one lying around in your DIY cabinet, a clean, small, unused paint brush is the most effective pastry brush substitute. In fact, this was the thing I first reached for upon realizing I needed such a brush in my life, and I continued to use my paint brush substitute for quite a while. One thing to be mindful of with this swap is that some paint brushes can be prone to losing a few bristles, so be careful. 

An Unused Toothbrush

Plenty of organized, responsible adults keep spare toothbrushes on deck and if you're one of them, here's some good news: You can totally use this in your pastry brush hour of need. However, the big drawback with this substitute is that the bristles of a toothbrush (especially a brand new one) are going to be substantially stiffer than what's ideal — not to mention, shorter. But hey, you can make do; just go about your application of butter, egg, etc. with a gentle touch. 

A Spoon + Paper Towel

This method doesn't allow you the most precision, but it will get the job done. Simply use a spoon to drizzle your given brushing liquid over the pastry surface, and quickly follow up with a loosely wadded paper towel to blot and spread. Lightly dipping the paper towel in your brushing liquid as you go can help to ensure more even results. 

Coffee Filters

A coffee filter has a uniquely nice texture for stepping in to act as your pastry brush for the moment. All you need to do is bunch the filter together at the base, generously dip the edges into your brushing liquid and get to brushing. 

Parchment Paper

Another popular trick is creating a makeshift pastry brush from parchment paper. To do it, cut a long piece of parchment, about 10 to 12 inches. Fold the paper over into a rectangle and then once more into a smaller rectangle. On the short, non folded side of the rectangle, use scissors to cut vertical strips to serve as your bristles.