Should the Water in a Bain-Marie (Double Boiler) Be Hot?

A double boiler with bell peppers and spices at the side, Should the Water in a Bain-Marie (Double Boiler) Be Hot?The gentle cooking technique of using a bain-marie is great for preparing your most delicate recipes. As you set up to cook, you might wonder if the water used in a bain-marie should be hot. We’ve researched how to properly use a bain-marie to get the answer for you.

The water temperature in a traditional bain-marie, or hot water bath, should be boiling, at 212°F (100°C). 

As with any cooking technique, there are several variations on how you can use a bain-marie. Keep reading, and we’ll discuss the bain-marie as a tool for cooking, baking, warming, or cooling, along with what the water temperature of a bain-marie means for your food.

What Temperature Should The Water In A Bain Marie Be?

Determining the temperature of the water in a bain-marie depends on what type of food you intend to either prepare or serve by using this water bath technique.

Hot Bain Marie

A hot bain-marie can either be used to keep prepared foods warm, to gently cook foods, to bake foods, or to melt foods. The large, outer container filled with hot water indirectly transfers heat to the food. Water used for a hot bain-marie should be kept boiling, at 212°F (100°C).

If using a bain-marie to bake, you can observe the water in order to adjust the oven’s temperature accordingly to keep the water temperature steady. Check to see if the water in the bain-marie is maintaining a consistent simmer. You should see a multitude of tiny bubbles forming and rising to the water’s surface.

If you see no bubble activity, this means the water is too cool. If this is the case, raise the temperature. If you see a rolling boil, the water is too hot. In this case, lower the temperature.

Cold Bain Marie

Using water or ice, a cold bain-marie keeps food chilled to prevent the growth of bacteria. Water should be kept at a temperature of 40°F (5°C) or below. A cold bain-marie is most commonly used in the hospitality industry, by caterers and restaurants for buffet service.

Do You Put Hot Or Cold Water In A Bain-Marie?

You can put either hot or cold water in a bain-marie. Check out these different ways to use the bain-marie to determine the best water temperature for your food.


Starting to bake with cold water in the bain-marie produces the most inconsistent results. The bottom of the food is immersed in cold water when placed into a pre-heated oven, so it takes a long time for the water to reach boiling temperature (212°F). Meanwhile, in the time it takes for the cold water to reach boiling temperature, the top of the food is already baking in the oven’s hot air. So, the top half tends to be overcooked and the bottom half undercooked.

Room-temperature water in the bain-marie also takes time to reach boiling temperature after being placed into the preheated oven. Starting to bake with room-temperature water can cause the bottom half and top half of the food to cook unevenly, but tends to be less noticeable compared to using cold water.

Starting to bake with boiling water in the bain-marie produces the most consistency throughout the food. Because the water and oven temperatures are the same, both the bottom and top halves of the food cook for the same amount of time.


Keeping the water boiling while actively cooking a sauce or melting ingredients will provide you with evenly distributed heat. The boiling temperature for water is 212°F (100°C).

Most recipes for a bain-marie technique require constant monitoring and stirring of the ingredients. If you do not have a thermometer, you can watch the water in the same way we’ve already discussed for baking. Simply look for simmering bubble activity to know that the water is the right temperature.


Safely keeping cooked food warm requires a consistent temperature, hot enough that bacteria cannot grow. Cooked food should be kept at 140°F (60°C) or hotter. Food must be refrigerated within 2-hours after being removed from the heat.

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Put hot water into a bain-marie for warming food, and keep the water temperature either at boiling or slightly above 145°F (63°C). Monitor the temperature of the food using a thermometer. You can either use a lid or cover the bain-marie with foil to keep the food moist.

For more great food serving tips check out our post How Big Should a Serving Bowl Be?


Safely keeping food chilled requires a consistent temperature, cold enough that bacteria cannot grow. Cold food should be kept at 40°F (5°C) or colder. If cold, perishable food has been left at room-temperature for 2-hours or longer it should be thrown away.

Put cold water or ice into a bain-marie to keep food cold. Monitor the temperature of the food using a thermometer and replace the water or ice as needed to keep the temperature of the food at 40°F or below.

How Long Can You Keep Food in a Bain Marie?

The USDA suggests that food kept at a consistent temperature of 140°F can remain in a bain-marie indefinitely. At a minimum temperature of 135°F, however, food should be removed from a bain-marie after a maximum duration of 4 hours.

We recommend you remove food from a bain-marie within 2 to 4 hours of serving because it is difficult to maintain a consistent temperature throughout food.

How Much Water Should You Put In A Double Boiler?

A double boiler differs slightly from a bain-marie. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are three notable differences:

  • A double boiler is most commonly used on the stovetop, whereas a bain-marie is typically either used in the oven or as a standalone appliance.
  • A double boiler uses steam to indirectly transfer heat to food, whereas a bain-marie uses water to indirectly transfer heat to food.
  • A double boiler’s top pot does not touch the water inside the bottom pot, whereas the pots of a bain-marie are set directly into the water.

To set-up a double boiler, we recommend filling the bottom pot with approximately 2 inches of water. It’s important that the top pot does not touch the water below because you want to keep enough room for steam to form in between. You can simply eye-up the water level, by making sure there is enough water in the bottom pot to not evaporate dry during a long duration simmer.

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Should The Bowl Touch The Water In A Bain-Marie?

To properly set-up a bain-marie, the bowl should touch the water. In fact, the term used to describe this cooking technique actually translates to water-bath.

After you place the bowl containing your ingredients into a larger base pot you’ll want to fill the base pot with hot water enough that the level reaches mid-way up the sides of the bowl.

Now that you know the water temperature to use for a bain-marie, you can get set up to either prepare or serve food.

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