Cooking Basic - The Bain Marie

Patrick Mooney
A bain marie

If you need to heat something gently and without the risk of burning it, you need a bain marie. But what is a bain marie and how does it work? Let's find out.

Bring the Heat

When you put a pot on the stove, the flame directly heats the pot, which heats the contents of the pot. If the pot contained something delicate like crème anglaise or custard, the heat from the flame could potentially burn the contents. To avoid burning your custard, you would use a bain marie.

There are two variations of the bain marie, both of which utilize a pot filled with water and another pot filled with your food. The idea here is that the water will reach a maximum temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the pot with the food goes into the pot with the water, the pot with the food never touches the flame directly.

Another variation of the bain marie is one in which the custard goes into a heatproof bowl and the bowl goes over a pot with water. The bowl must not touch the water. Instead, the steam coming off the boiling water heats the contents of the bowl.

When to Use a Bain Marie

There are many specific desserts that work best with a bain marie, including:

  • Cheesecake or Pot de crème: using a bain marie will prevent the edges of the food from cooking before the insides. This prevents cracking.
  • Ice Cream: a bain marie will heat the ice cream to a thick consistency before you cool and churn it.
  • Chocolate: melting chocolate in a pot using direct heat may cause some of the chocolate to burn before all of it melts, or it could cause the chocolate to lose temper. If you melt chocolate using a bain marie, you will be able to melt the chocolate without burning and, if done properly, the chocolate could hold temper.

Bains Marie are extremely useful. Anytime your recipe calls for a bain mare or a water bath, you are using one of the classic bakery basics.

Is it just a double boiler, you may be wondering? A double boiler is actually a stovetop style of bain marie.

Cooking Basic - The Bain Marie