When To Use A Double Boiler

If you cook and bake long enough, sooner or later you'll run across a recipe that requires melting ingredients in a double boiler. In French cooking, this useful tool is called a bain marie, which literally translates to "water bath." Melting chocolate, making custards, and some doughs and sauces require gentler heating, and a double boiler does the trick.

Essentially, a double boiler provides a way to gradually heat one vessel that is inserted into another using steam, according to Reluctant Gourmet. The bottom pot is filled with a couple of inches of water and heated over direct heat until it gets steamy. The top container is inserted into the bottom pot, and the ingredients are placed inside to melt gradually. 

There are several different types of double boilers you can employ, including a set of lidded stackable pots where one fits securely into the other. Unless you're following the same recipe on repeat, or need that lid for some reason, there's really no need to invest in that type of set. You can make your own double boiler with two items you probably already have in your kitchen.

Making your own double boiler with a pot and bowl

Making your own double boiler is easy. You need two items: a heat-resistant bowl and a pot. Bowls for this purpose are usually made of stainless steel or glass, as noted on MasterClass. The bowl should be a bit bigger than the pot but fit closely, if possible. The pot, usually a handled saucepan, should be big enough to hold the bowl.

When selecting a pot, any type from stainless steel to anodized aluminum will do. Just make sure it is deep enough so the bowl is not touching the hot water beneath it. If this happens it can cause overheating and ruin your ingredients. Most recipes calling for a double boiler require frequent, if not constant, stirring. If needed, you can use hot pads or an oven mitt to stabilize the bowl while the ingredients are melting together and coming to the right consistency according to your recipe.

An easy-peasy double boiler like this does the trick in most circumstances, so there's no need to purchase a stackable double boiler for your kitchen. The only time you might need to consider investing in one is if you're planning on making things like steamed dumplings regularly. In that case, you'll need the secure-fitting lid that comes with it.