Is a Double Boiler (Bain Marie) Supposed to Touch the Water?

Double boiler at kitchen with pears chocolates and cinnamon rolls at the side, Is a Double Boiler (Bain Marie) Supposed to Touch the Water?It’s unlikely that you would set-up a double boiler daily, but for cooking delicate recipes, it proves an excellent technique because it applies indirect heat to your sensitive ingredients. During set-up, you might ask yourself if the double boiler is supposed to touch the water. We’ve researched how to use a double boiler to find the answer.

The top pot on a double boiler should not touch the water in the bottom pot. Use approximately 2-inches of water in the bottom pot, enough water to not evaporate so quickly during a long boil that the bottom of the pot could become dry.

Keep reading, and we’ll explain how this cooking technique works and what you can use from your kitchen if you do not own a double boiler.

What is the Point of a Double Boiler?

Double boilers are ideal for making temperature-sensitive recipes, like a custard or a lemon curd. The idea is to add heat indirectly to delicate ingredients.

For example, custard is a creamy, smooth dessert. It takes time to gently heat and continually stir so that all the ingredients blend together. Heating custard directly on the burner risks burnt custard. Direct heat might also cook the eggs in your custard, making the texture lumpy. A double boiler prevents a custard catastrophe.

Using the double boiler is also a great technique to melt chocolate. You could also set-up the double boiler to make a sauce, like Hollandaise, to prevent the ingredients from separating.

How a Double Boiler Works

A double boiler is a set of two pots, specifically designed to be used together on the stovetop. It uses a bottom pot for boiling a small amount of water, and a top pot that covers the boiling water to contain the steam generated by the boil. The top pot holds the ingredients. Steam trapped beneath the top pot indirectly heats the ingredients.

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By using indirect heat, this cooking technique prevents your ingredients from either separating, burning, or cooking so quickly that the texture is altered. If you notice ingredients becoming too hot, you can simply remove the top pot from the steam to eliminate the heat source.

How a Bain Marie Works

You might also hear this cooking technique referred to as using a bain-marie or hot water bath. The idea is the same, but the bain-marie transfers heat indirectly through the water rather than steam.

A bain-marie is typically set-up for oven use but can be modified for the stovetop. Your ingredients are placed into a small pan, and then the small pan is placed into a larger pan. The larger pan is filled with hot water until the water level reaches halfway up the side of the small pan.

The entire set-up gets covered with foil and put into the oven to bake. Hot water surrounding the small pan indirectly heats the ingredients, and the foil cover traps moisture to prevent the ingredients from drying out.

How Much Water Do You Put in a Double Boiler?Double boiler with bell peppers at the side and chopping board with spices

You’ll want to fill the bottom pot of the double boiler with approximately 2-inches of water. But, if you’re simply eyeing-up the amount keep these two essential factors in mind:

  • The bottom of the top pot should not touch the water.
  • Use enough water that it will not rapidly evaporate during a long, rolling simmer. You do not want the bottom of the bottom pot to go dry mid-simmer.

What Can You Use if You Don’t Have a Double Boiler?

Stainless double boiler with pasta and small tomatoes at the side

You can easily set-up a double boiler using your pots at home. Start by choosing a large, wide pot for the bottom. A medium to large saucepan should work well. Then, find either a smaller pot, glass bowl, or metal bowl to fit on top of the large pot. Mixing bowls tend to work well.

Test your set-up before heating it on the stovetop. Make sure the top pot or bowl rests soundly so that you can stir your ingredients without holding the hot surfaces to steady the double boiler. The top pot should have a firm seal, to not let any steam escape once you are cooking. Set aside any lids because you do not cover a double boiler.


How to Set-Up a Bain Marie at Home?

If you are making a recipe, like cheesecake, that recommends using a bain-marie for baking then you can easily set-up the water bath using your pots and baking dishes.

A roasting pan or large baking dish works well for the base pot. You can easily set a cake pan or springform pan into the base pot with plenty of room to spare for adding water.

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For individual desserts, like pudding or cobbler, you can fit multiple oven-safe bowls, or ramekins, into the base pot.

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Want even more ideas on how to use your pots and pans, check out our blog, “8 Roasting Pan Alternatives.”

Now you know how to set-up a double boiler, and how it works. At, you’ll find all the kitchen essentials to whip up a delicious recipe.

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