All About Double Boilers
A double boiler is a kitchen tool that consists of a large pot filled with water and a smaller, separate pot or bowl that fits snugly inside the larger pot. It is used for cooking or warming food over gentle, indirect heat.
Here are some reasons for using a double boiler:
- To gently cook or melt delicate ingredients: A double boiler can be used to gently cook or melt ingredients that are sensitive to high heat, such as chocolate, cream, or custard.
- To prevent burning or scorching: Using a double boiler can help prevent ingredients from burning or scorching, as the indirect heat of the boiling water helps to regulate the temperature.
- To avoid overheating: A double boiler can be used to avoid overheating ingredients, such as sauces or dips, which can cause them to break or separate.
- To cook evenly: A double boiler can help to cook ingredients evenly, as the indirect heat of the boiling water helps to distribute the heat evenly around the pot or bowl.
- To keep food warm: A double boiler can be used to keep food warm without drying it out or overcooking it. This can be useful for dishes that are served at a buffet or for keeping sauces or dips warm while serving.
Do You Need A Double Boiler?
Now comes the question: do you really need to purchase a specialized pan set?
The answer is no. A double boiler can easily be rigged at home. All you need is a deep and wide pan and a large glass or metal bowl whose bottom will fit down in the pan.
If the pan is too small or the bowl is too big, the heat will be concentrated right at the very bottom of the bowl. You want as much of the bowl inside the pan as possible to promote even heat distribution. (see photo)
A homemade double boiler can work better than a store-bought set. Often, the bottom of the insert is a little flat on the bottom but with rounded sides that have a rim pressed into the pan.
This little rim keeps the insert from falling into the bottom pan. Unfortunately, it's also a place where food can get stuck.
The shape of these pans is not very conducive to whisking, and whisking is what you generally do in a double boiler. So, skip the store-bought version and make your own double boiler using a whisk-friendly metal or glass bowl for the top.
Why You Need A Double Boiler
Now that you know what a double boiler is and can make your own, let's spend a minute talking about why you need one and how to use one. Honestly, there are not many times in a home kitchen that you will need a double boiler to prepare your everyday recipes.
Sometimes, though, you want to melt chocolate or make a pastry cream or lemon curd, and a double boiler comes in handy. A double boiler provides gentle, indirect heat to whatever you are cooking.
Rather than the heat of a burner transferring directly to the food, the heat is transferred to the water in the bottom pan and then through steam. The steam bathes the bottom of the double boiler in very even, gentle heat that can easily be controlled on a home stove—move the pot off the heat if the water starts boiling vigorously.
My Version of a Double Boiler Using a Pasta Pot & Stainless Mixing Bowl
How to Use a Double Boiler
To use a double boiler, you will need to follow these steps:
- Fill the large pot with water: Fill the large pot of the double boiler with enough water to reach the bottom of the smaller pot or bowl when it is placed inside.
- Place the smaller pot or bowl inside the large pot: Place the smaller pot or bowl inside the large pot, making sure it fits snugly and is not touching the bottom of the large pot.
- Bring the water to a boil: Place the large pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Add the ingredients to the smaller pot or bowl: Place the ingredients that you want to cook or melt in the smaller pot or bowl.
- Cook or melt the ingredients: Allow the ingredients to cook or melt in the smaller pot or bowl, using the indirect heat of the boiling water to regulate the temperature. Stir the ingredients occasionally to ensure they are cooking evenly.
- Remove the smaller pot or bowl from the large pot: Once the ingredients are cooked or melted, use oven mitts or a potholder to carefully remove the smaller pot or bowl from the large pot.
- Use the ingredients as desired: You can now use the cooked or melted ingredients in your recipe as desired.
Keep in mind that the cooking time and temperature may vary depending on the specific ingredients and recipe you are using. It is important to pay attention to the instructions in your recipe and to monitor the ingredients as they cook or melt to ensure they are not overheated or burned.
When to Use a Double Boiler
Recipes that most often call for the use of a double boiler include all custards (pastry cream, pudding, sabayon, zabaglione, etc.) as well as lemon curd and delicate emulsions like Hollandaise sauce. While some of these recipes can be prepared over direct heat, using a double boiler keeps the heat more even and gentle and can prevent scorching.
The ability to deliver gentle heat is the main advantage of using a double boiler. Most disadvantages arise from buying specialized equipment: storage issues, buying a one-trick pony, and expense. These disadvantages do not apply if you use a bowl and a pot you already own to create your own double boiler.
Don't Forget About Bain Maries
"Wait! What about bain maries?"
A bain marie is similar to a double boiler as both deliver more gentle heat to whatever you are cooking.
A bain-marie and a double boiler are essentially the same thing and are used for the same purpose – cooking or melting food over gentle, indirect heat. The main difference is in the terminology: "bain-marie" is the French term for this technique, while "double boiler" is the English term.
A bain-marie is a French term for a cooking technique that involves cooking food in a water bath. It is also known as a "water bath" or "double boiler."
A bain-marie consists of a large pot or container filled with hot water, into which a smaller pot or container with the food to be cooked is placed. The food is then cooked slowly over gentle, indirect heat, which helps to regulate the temperature and prevent the food from overheating or burning. This technique is often used for cooking or melting delicate ingredients, such as custards, chocolates, and cheesecakes.
The bain-marie technique can be used in a variety of dishes and can help to cook or melt ingredients evenly and gently without overheating them. It is also a useful technique for keeping food warm while serving.