Cook gently with a Double Boiler
Have you ever had to melt chocolate for a recipe? Maybe craft the perfect custard without burning it? Did you ever see a recipe that called to “set up a double boiler”? I’ll save you the confusion (if you have no clue), it’s not some kind of means where you boil something twice.
Double-boiling is a cooking technique that’s existed since the days when alchemy was practiced. Specialists needed a means to heat materials slowly and gently, thus found a solution by setting up their mixtures on top of a steam bath. As generations passed, the technique made its way into the kitchen, and proved useful to gently cook certain items over the harshness of a fire.
Using a Double Boiler
There’s no real rocket science to double boiling. The basic premise is to have a pot of water over heat, and then a second pot on top containing the item you wish to gently cook. You can purchase an actual pot set (sometimes known as a bain-marie) for double boiling, but most simply prefer to build their own setups at home using items in their kitchens.
Should you buy a special pot set? I’d probably only advise that if you plan on regularly making recipes that call for a double boiler. An easier solution would be to use your medium saucepan with a metal mixing bowl on top. As long as your containment is safe for heat, you’re all set. Some would even say a home setup works better than a double boiler pot set, as a metal bowl on top makes it easier to whisk your mixtures over a pot with sides and a flat bottom.
You should only fill the bottom pan with 1/3 to 1/2 with water. You never want your top pan touching the water, as we want the steam to cook the mixtures in the top. Be sure to test your setup prior to usage. You can always add more water as you need.
Despite the name of the technique, you only boil the water initially, not throughout. Bring the water in the lower point to a boil uncovered, then lower the heat to a simmer before placing the upper pot on. Simmering will provide plenty of steam but conserve your water, as well as keep your setup safe and under control. Keeping the water at a boil will only cause the upper pot to potentially move, blasts of steam escaping (and burning you), and even introduce water into your mixture (when you might not want it).
Be sure to use potholders or oven mitts, as you’re dealing with many hot objects both within and outside of the double boiler.
When to use a Double Boiler
I’ve mentioned some possibilities earlier on, with melting chocolate being the primary. Some chefs though have chosen a microwave for melting chocolate over a double boiler, but I still prefer the classic method.
Beyond chocolate, a double boiler is ideal for emulsions such as Hollandaise sauce. Custards, puddings, and some curds also work better with a double boiler. While I did not instruct it in the past, a double boiler would make it easier to craft the custard for a bougatsa without burning the sugar. Give it a try.