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What is a bain marie? Bain Marie cooking tips!

Updated on March 21, 2011

What is a Bain Marie?

Bain Marie is a French term meaning water bath. A bain marie is a container of hot water that is used during the cooking process or for keeping cooked items warm. It can also be referred to as a double boiler.

Bain Maries are often used by catering companies or restaurants to keep finished food warm without continuing the cooking process.

Many recipes actually require you to use this technique. For example, with creme brulee (as shown in the image), ramekins are placed in another pan filled with water before being placed in the oven. This helps control the cooking process.

Placing a smaller pan or container in a larger pot full of a warm simmering water bath is the bain marie technique. It is a great way to prepare delicate dishes, as the heat surrounds the food and cooks it in a very slow, gentle manner.

Bain Marie cooking can be done in an oven or on the stove top. Cooking the food in this manner allows the food to cook evenly, without burning or drying out.

Video explaining Bain Marie

Bain Marie Cooking

Once you know what a bain marie water bath is, what can you cook with it?

The most typical use of a bain marie double boiler water bath is for melting chocolate. Melting chocolate over a direct flame will likely burn it. By using a bain marie, the chocolate slowly melts in a small pot over the water bath. The smaller pot placed in the water helps control the temperature at a level impossible over direct heat.

Bain Maries are also good for delicate dishes, such as custards, sauces, and savory mousses. The bain marie method is a great way to prepare these delicate dishes without "breaking them" and having them curdle.

If you are baking a cheesecake and don't want it to crack, try placing the cheesecake pan inside a larger pan filled with water before putting it in the oven. This trick also helps when baking bread. It prevents you from having a loaf of bread with a burnt top, but uncooked middle.

Fill the larger pan with water, and place the ingredients of the cheesecake in the smaller pan. Make sure to only fill the large pan about half full with water and make sure it is shallow enough that when you submerge the small pan, it doesn't spill over.  Next, place both pans together into the oven and bake as normal!  It's so easy!

This technique will definitely help improve your results! Many people already have these items in their arsenal of kitchen tools, so go ahead and make your own or order the two items below to create your own bain marie.

Diagram illustrating a Bain Marie
Diagram illustrating a Bain Marie | Source

Bain Marie Science

A bain marie is great for cooking but even more important is it's uses in science. In fact, the bain marie double boiler was a concept invented by alchemists who needed to very slowly heat up different chemicals.

Utilizing the properties of water, a Bain Marie can establish a constant temperature. Water changes from a liquid to a vapor when it begins to boil at 100°C (212°F). If the lower pot does not become pressurized or boiled dry, the maximum heat of the upper pot will only be the boiling point of water. This prevents the heat being distributed unevenly. It furthermore prevents scalding.

The water vapor will remain a constant temperature allowing for a consistent, even transfer of heat. To maximize efficiency, the base of the upper pot should be mad of a thinner metal than the lower pot. Keep this in mind if you plan to make your own bain marie.

To further control the temperature in the double boiler bain marie set-up, you can add salt to the water, which will raise the boiling temperature.Conversely, adding alcohol to the water will lower the boiling temperature.

Below are some Bain Marie double boilers. On the left you have some complete sets. On the right, you have some items that allow you to easily create a bain marie out of your existing pots and pans.

New high tech Bain Maries

With new technology, different styles of Bain Marie pots have been developed. An electric bain marie can make this process easy. There are some other nice kitchen gadgets like the Beka bain marie pot which also greatly simplifies the process.

A great use for a bain marie food warmer would be to heat a bowl of soup. If you do this in the microwave it will heat unevenly. Using the bain marie method of a water bath however, will slowly and evenly heat your soup. With a Beka bain marie pot, this can be easier then you think - with no set-up required.

Take a look at the video below to learn a little more about how it works!

Bain Marie cooking made easy!

Bain Marie Water Bath summary

Bain Marie cooking is not as complicated as it sounds. The technique a bain marie food warmer has been around for centuries. It is great for delicate deserts, heating soup, melting chocolate, and much more.

You can build your own Bain Marie out of items you may already have in your home or you can go with a more modern set-up.  You can fashion your own bain maries to keep food warm at a party, the same technique used by professional caterers.  

Explore some recipes and experiment with the double boiler technique used by a bain marie.  Have some fun with it!  Please comment, share, like, upvote, etc. this article!  Thanks for reading!


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    • Eiconnectlink profile image

      Eiconnectlink 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      hope you give it a try some time! It actually is a really cool technique!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      I'm always looking for ways to improve my cooking, thanks for the lesson.