What is a Bain Marie?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Alchemists used a double-boiler to heat chemicals for experiments.
Alchemists used a double-boiler to heat chemicals for experiments.

A bain marie, also known as a double-boiler, is a type of pot used to heat substances to a controlled temperature. It is useful in applications in which overheating must be prevented to yield desirable results. The pot is used mainly in chemistry and cooking, particularly candymaking, but many other industries use it to manufacture their products as well.

Melting chocolate in a double boiler, or bain marie.
Melting chocolate in a double boiler, or bain marie.

This device is made up of a smaller pot inside a larger one. The larger pot is filled with a liquid, typically water, while the substance to be heated goes in the smaller pot. The bain marie prevents the material in the smaller pot from rising above the boiling point of the liquid in the larger pot. The maximum temperature of the smaller pot can be adjusted by changing the liquid in the larger pot; adding salt to water will result in a higher boiling point, for example, while adding alcohol will lower the boiling point.

Bain Marie prevents chocolate from burning when melted.
Bain Marie prevents chocolate from burning when melted.

A typical use for the bain marie in cooking is melting chocolate. Since the boiling point of water is 212°F (100°C), the chocolate in the inner pot cannot heat above this temperature. Melting chocolate over a direct flame is often very difficult and can result in a burnt, unusable product. In chemistry, the results of using a regular pot when a bain marie is indicated could be even more disastrous. The device also helps the substance in the smaller pot heat at a more even temperature than would be possible over a direct flame.

A bain marie is a must-have for the gourmet kitchen. Besides melting chocolate, it is used to make cheesecake, custard, and several other milk-based sweets. In addition, some consider the pot the ideal way to warm up breast milk for a baby.

The boiling point of water is 212°F.
The boiling point of water is 212°F.

This type of pot was first used in alchemy, the ancient forerunner of today's chemistry. Its name means roughly "Mary's bath," as legend tells that it was invented by a female alchemist named Mary, traditionally assumed to be Miriam, the sister of the biblical Moses.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

Penzance356

I recently came across a stainless steel bain marie for sale at a really good price in a local cookware store. At the time I didn't really know what to make with it, so this article has really helped me out. I'm sure I can find some good recipes online which call for one.

Limpopo

@anon5542, There are a few advantages to using an electric dry Bain Marie. The dry Bain Marie is often quicker, uses less energy and is easier to clean. The electric Bain Maries can also be less expensive.

In addition to being used dry, the electric Bain Marie can also be used wet.

anon5542

What are the advantages, and different uses of, a wet or dry Bain Marie?

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    • Alchemists used a double-boiler to heat chemicals for experiments.
      By: Olga Galushko
      Alchemists used a double-boiler to heat chemicals for experiments.
    • Melting chocolate in a double boiler, or bain marie.
      By: Andrea
      Melting chocolate in a double boiler, or bain marie.
    • Bain Marie prevents chocolate from burning when melted.
      By: Natika
      Bain Marie prevents chocolate from burning when melted.
    • The boiling point of water is 212°F.
      By: Kelpfish
      The boiling point of water is 212°F.