James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Double Boiler aka Bain Marie

Have you ever been confused by the term double boiler? Or its French equivalent, Bain-marie? According to cited references in Wikipedia, Bains-marie were originally used in alchemy as a way to heat substances slowly and gently. The name derives from medieval Latin balneum Mariae, literally Mary’s bath. And what’s its purpose in cooking and baking?

The alchemists had the right idea. Gentle heating of chocolate, eggs, sauces, and the like, for example, assures they won’t curdle or burn. At sea level, water cannot rise above 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). But if you put, say, a saucepan with chocolate over direct heat, the chocolate may burn as it melts. Melting chocolate in a Bain-marie assures it will melt smoothly.

Although you can buy Bains-marie for stovetop cooking, it’s very easy to put together your own from the pots and bowls you have in your kitchen.

In baking. custards are often set into a pan with boiling water reaching about half way up the sides of the baking dishes to ensure smooth and creamy results. The same is true for many cheesecake recipes.

Sometimes the container with the food you’re heating is set over, not in, simmering water because you don’t want the ingredient to get too hot. White chocolate is a good example. It melts at a lower temperature than true chocolate and can turn grainy if exposed to excessive heat.

So look upon the Bain-marie as a loyal friend in the kitchen ready to help you out whenever you need gentle heating to accomplish your goals.

I’d love to know what sorts of double boilers you’ve set up.





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