The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

salt water wash?

bobm1's picture

salt water wash?

while sitting at the farmers market this morning a customer engaged me in conversation regarding the virtues of 'paper or plastic' and bread. he llike a crusty bread, you see. then he mentioned the use of a salt water wash to aid and preserve the sacred crunch and chew. before i could inquire further, the masked man slipped away into the crowd while made change for another.

has anyone heard of the legend of the salt water wash? 

arzajac's picture

The Ukrainian rye bread I grew up with was brushed with salt water just as it came out of the oven.  The effect was to give the loaf a forever-chewy crust, not a crunchy crust.  I always hated the mushy kind of crust that bread has.


I wonder if this man meant brushing the loaf with salt water before it went into the oven?  I have never tried that.



Cooking202's picture
dmsnyder's picture

The link Cooking202 provided gives the following instructions:

Wash the tops of French bread with a mixture of one tablespoon salt and one cup water. Wash the first time before the bread rises. Bake French bread at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, wash with the salt water mixture again and turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Let bake for 10 minutes and wash with the salt water mixture again. Continue to bake until
done. This will give your French bread a very crispy and flavorful crust. 

This is a pretty concentrated salt solution. I would think it would draw water to the surface of the loaf which would evaporate during baking. The salt itself would also make the crust saltier and, thereby, perhaps more "flavorful," if you like salty.

It's not intuitively obvious that this would result in a crisper crust, at least to me, unless you are just crunching on salt crystals.


bobm1's picture

i think i'll try this on a salt free tuscan! really, i'm inclined to agree with you david. also, wouldn't that same salt tend to wick moisture out of the air in a humid environment? i don't know but now that it's out i'll have to try it at least once. one of the wonderful things about bread is that it's such a willing subject and when it's not happy, your left with no doubt.


Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

I've used saltwater washes before, and still do occassionally, although not quite the concentration of the posted link. I use the palm of my hand to measure, so a guestimate would be about 1/16 - 1/8 tsp to 1/4 cup or slightly less water. I only do this to some sourdoughs and other lean breads where I like a slightly thicker crust.

I also have the occassion to use a corn starch wash, which is about a scant teaspoon to 1/2 cup or a little less of water, which is then heated to a slight boil in the microwave. The wash is applied after the steam trap comes off, 15-18 mins into baking. This is for sourdoughs only.

Both of these do tend to make the crust 'thicker', of which a definition might make for debate. It's not crispier long term, it's just more dense deeper. Keeping a crust crispy, whether it's thin or thick, has been discussed many times. I think the consensus has been pretty much that it's more technique than anything added to the top in the way of a wash. Techniques include post-baking, proper cooling once to the rack, and then storing.

So, not sure if you're trying to achieve a thicker crust, a crispier crust, or both. Either way, crust development is an art completely separate from the other parts of baking bread. A lot of experimentation has to be done to arrive at the crust that YOU and your family enjoy the most.

- Keith

bobm1's picture

thanks keith. it's good to hear what someone who has done this a bit has to say.

all things being equal, i'm very happy with the crusts of my bread. i live in what has been billed as the second wettest place in the nation and a crisp crust never ventures very far from a hot oven.

still, so many variations, so little time.