A bain-marie, also known as a water bath or double boiler, is a method of gradually heating materials to a fixed temperature. Its most common uses are in heating foods such as chocolate and custard, which you must heat at a precise temperature. Bain-maries are also used for making cosmetics by hand.
The minimum equipment for a bain-marie is an outer container, inner container and a heat source. The outer, or lower container, is usually a pot with handles. The inner, or upper container, is typically a bowl with a long handle. The heat source may be a separate unit or built into the outer container's base.
Fill the outer container with the heating fluid and place it on top of the heat source. Place the material you're heating in the inner container and place the inner container inside the outer container. The temperature of the material in the inner container will never rise above the heating liquid's boiling point, which is 100 degrees Celsius in the case of water at sea level. Other liquids such as oil have different boiling points, which you can use to control the heating temperature
Direct heating methods tend to produce undesirable results when the material to be heated requires precise temperature control. For example, heating custard in an oven would cause a crust to form on the surface before its interior was fully cooked. You typically cook custard by placing the cups of custard in a roasting pan and filling the pan with water to a depth of at least half the height of the cups.
Homemade, handmade cosmetics are another common application for a bain-marie due to its ability to limit the heating temperature. This process generally involves heating vegetable oils and other cosmetic ingredients to the minimum temperature needed to liquefy it, thus minimizing the deterioration of its components.
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