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Whether the task is melting chocolate, preparing cooked egg-white based icings, such as our Seven Minute Vanilla Bean Icing Recipe, or making heat-sensitive recipes such as Chocolate Custard Filling, the slow, gentle heat of a double boiler, a kitchen tool, ensures perfect results.
SARAH SAYS: A double-boiler is often erroneously called a Waterbath, Water Bath or Bain Marie, but the technique isn't the same. In a bain marie, the pan or dish is actually submerged in a hot water bath.
What is a Double Boiler?
A double boiler typically consists of a flat-bottomed insert that fits snugly over a pan of simmering water; there is a gap between the water level and the bottom of the double boiler insert so the item in the top of the double boiler is heated by the steam from the liquid below, not the hot water. This makes the heat indirect. The trapped steam releases heat that is just about 212 degrees F (100 degrees C), a far lower temperature than could be achieved by putting the contents in a pot directly on the stove's burner.
How to Make a Double Boiler
You can make one yourself using a heatproof bowl and a pot. The bowl does not touch the water, but creates a seal with the bottom pan to trap the steam produced by the simmering water.
HOW TO TIPS: We made a double-boiler ourselves when making our Chocolate Angel Pie or Meringue Cake Recipe Tutorial.
1. Make sure the mixing bowl you are going to use is heatproof. This will be the top of the double boiler.
SARAH SAYS: I like to use a wide bowl, rather than a deep and narrow one, because it exposes more of the surface of the ingredients over the steam that will occur below.
2. Fill the pot of water half full. The will be the bottom of the double boiler.
3. Make sure the mixing fits snugly over the pot, and will not touch the water in the pot below when the pot is filled about half full with water. If it does, reduce the water to no less than 2 inches deep; make sure there is enough because you do not want to run out during cooking.
SARAH SAYS: The bowl needs to fit snugly on the rim of the pot to create a seal with the bottom pan to trap the steam produced by the simmering water.
Remove the mixing bowl from the top, and set aside.
4. Turn on the stove's heat to high and bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a rapid boil. When it does, reduce heat to maintain a simmer.
5. Place chocolate, water, espresso powder, and salt in the mixing bowl bowl, set over a double boiler with simmering water, so the chocolate melts gently.
SARAH SAYS: Fill the mixing bowl first before placing it over the simmering water; that way the empty bowl does not get super hot from being placed over simmering water and burn your ingredients when you then place them into the hot mixing bowl.
6. Stir frequently until the chocolate is almost or just melted, turn off the heat.
7. Then remove the top bowl from the bottom pot using an oven mitt. Take care so the steam from the hot water in the pot doesn't burn you. Also, be careful because the mixing bowl will be quite hot.
SARAH SAYS: Dry off the bottom of the bowl when you are just melting chocolate alone; it will seize from a few drops of water getting into the melted chocolate.
8. Stir the contents of the pot to melt any unmelted pieces of chocolate, to combine the ingredients, or to start the cooling process.