What Is A Double Boiler Used For? (How To DIY A Double Boiler?)

Image of a woman using a double boiler to melt chocolate

Recipes for various chocolate-based desserts and egg-based sauces like Hollandaise sauce need special equipment called a double boiler. This specialized device consists of a saucepan with raised edges and an insert pan that fits snugly inside it. So, what is a double boiler used for?

A double boiler is used for recipes involving indirect heat and precise temperature control. Water in the base pan provides the heat to cook the ingredients in the insert pan gently. This method is commonly used for warming egg yolks, melting cheese, and tempering chocolate for frostings or dips.

Let’s take a detailed look at this now.

How Does A Double Boiler Work?

In regular cooking, you place the ingredients on a stovetop and expose them to direct heat.

In this method, it isn’t easy to exercise precise temperature control.

Now, this can become a problem when the recipe uses delicate ingredients that quickly change texture when there’s a slight increase in temperature.

Imagine you have to prepare an egg-based sauce.

Egg yolks have a runny texture, but they emulsify when you apply gentle heat.

However, if the heat increases beyond a certain level, the yolk will split and become scrambled.

So, you need exact precision and timing to prevent the scrambling of eggs.

This is where double boiling is necessary.

Double boiling is the process of using indirect heat from steam or boiling water for cooking.

You use specialized equipment called a double boiler for this purpose.

Double Boiler
Double Boiler

A double boiler has two parts — a saucepan as the base and an insert pan that fits snugly inside it.

Double boiling uses water for cooking.

The water is added to the base pan, and the cooking ingredient is placed in the insert pan.

When you heat the double boiler, the water boils and produces steam.

This steam heats the insert pan, thus cooking the ingredients in it.

Since the water produces gentle heat, the ingredients cook gently without curdling or splitting.

You can take it off the heat as soon as it achieves the desired consistency.

Recommended Further Reading:

When Should You Use A Double Boiler?

You can use double boilers for cooking various ingredients.

They are the equipment you need when you can’t compromise on the texture of the product.

By slowing down the cooking process, you can precisely control the cooking temperature and time.

Double boilers are handy to prepare the following.

1. Egg-based Sauces

Sauces like Hollandaise sauce and Beurre Blanc use eggs as the base.

You need moderate to low heat to emulsify raw eggs for these sauces.

If the heat increases, the sauce will split or curdle.

A double boiler will allow you to closely monitor the emulsification process and achieve the perfect consistency you desire.

2. Chocolate

Chocolate can become thick, lumpy, and dry when heated and cooled.

However, tempering chocolate in a double boiler makes it soft and silky. It will have a shiny and decadent look.

The texture of such chocolate is ideal for fondues, frosting, and dips.

So, if a recipe suggests dipping or covering ingredients in melted chocolate, double boiling is the right way to go about it.

3. Custard

Custard recipes contain eggs.

Here, you should handle the eggs delicately to achieve the right texture and consistency.

Properly cooked custard is bouncy and soft.

However, you can easily overcook it and end up with a hard crust.

To prevent it, prepare the custard in a double boiler, and you can’t go wrong with the texture.

4. Cheese Sauce

Double boilers are usually necessary for recipes that call for a cheese dip or cheese sauce.

When you melt cheese over direct heat, it hardens and forms a thick, brittle crust.

Meanwhile, double boiling cheese will produce a luscious, silky texture.

Related Further Reading:

How To Use A Double Boiler?

The first step to using a double boiler is to fill the base pan with 1 to 2 inches of water.

Add your ingredients to the insert pan and place it on the base pan.

The insert pan should fit snugly and not wobble around.

It should also not touch the water in the base pan but sit above it.

Then place the double boiler on the stove on medium heat.

Wait for the water to boil. Once it comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer.

As the heat from the water reaches the ingredients, they will start cooking.

You can gently whisk them at this stage. Continue to mix it so it heats evenly and you get a uniform texture throughout.

Once the ingredients melt and achieve the desired consistency, you can take it off the heat.

To melt chocolate, you will start with chocolate chips or chunks in the insert pan.

Chocolate tends to burn quickly. So, it is critical to maintain the right temperature.

Once the water starts boiling, you can turn it off or reduce the heat.

As the chocolate melts, whisk it continuously so that there are no lumps.

You will end up with a soft, luscious liquid that is perfect for frosting, tempering, or using as a delicious dip.

How To Make A DIY Double Boiler?

Double boilers are very useful to prepare various sauces and desserts.

However, if you don’t prepare such dishes very often, it may not be worthwhile to invest in a double boiler.

You can instead create a makeshift double boiler for the few recipes that require double boiling.

All you need is a large pan and a heatproof bowl that fits inside the pan to make your very own double boiler.

Now, the important thing to remember is that the bowl you place on top should snugly fit the rim of the saucepan.

It should be a heatproof bowl and made of materials like glass or stainless steel.

It shouldn’t touch the water in the pan.

It should also stay upright and steady, so you can comfortably whisk or stir the ingredients.

Interesting Further Reading:

Is A Double Boiler The Same As A Baine Marie?

If you have ever attempted to prepare a Crème Brulee or traditional cheesecake, you must have come across the term “Bain Marie.”

Bain Marie uses a similar principle as a double boiler. It’s basically a hot water bath used for cooking.

Both Bain Maries and double boilers use indirect heat for cooking the ingredient slowly and thoroughly.

However, a double boiler works on a stovetop, while a Bain Marie is meant for oven use.

A Bain Marie consists of a wide and shallow baking dish or tray.

The cooking ingredients are placed within ramekins or small bowls.

These bowls are kept inside the baking dish, and hot water is poured into the dish.

The entire arrangement is then placed in an oven and baked.

Just like the ingredients in an insert pan of the double boiler cooks under gentle heat from the base pan, the steam from the water in the baking dish cooks the ingredients in a Bain Marie.

When you use this arrangement to prepare Crème Brulee or cheesecake, the moisture from the steam prevents the tops from hardening.

So, the dish has a soft, luscious texture.


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