Sometimes you’ll find that a recipe (involving melting chocolate, let’s say) calls for a double boiler. Because to melt chocolate, you need an indirect source of heat; it cannot be direct.
So you shouldn’t be using a microwave or a traditional oven. And for melting chocolate, this is necessary because it’s so sensitive to temperature and it requires a gentle and indirect heat source for it to melt smoothly and ensure a silky texture.
One small problem though… you don’t have a double boiler. What is a double boiler anyway? Well, it doesn’t mean that you need to boil it twice.
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What is a Double Boiler?
A double boiler is a great kitchen tool that’s used to apply gentle heat on a stovetop. It consists of two fitted pots stacked on top of each other.
The bottom pot is larger, filled with 1-2 inches of water and placed directly above heat. The second pot is smaller, placed on top of the water-filled larger pot, and contains the food item that needs to be cooked.
The simmering water from the bottom pot simply transfers heat to the top in a gentle and even way without burning or overcooking its contents due to direct heat.
The process is like a “bain marie”, a French culinary term meaning “hot water bath (Mary’s bath)”. Just like the double boiler, the purpose of the bain marie technique is to create a gentle indirect heat and even cooking.
A double boiler is helpful for making and heating up delicate things like hollandaise sauce, melted chocolate and c ustards.
A double boiler is also great for keeping sauces warm. So if you had some guests over for Thanksgiving dinner and you have some delicious gravy that should be served warm, just keep it on a double boiler so that your guests will have warm gravy poured over their turkey throughout the entire evening.
Do not prepare the recipe using direct heat (i.e. putting your food item into a regular cooking pot) if the recipe calls for a double boiler. Here are some things that you can use instead of a double boiler in case you don’t have one at home.
Double Boiler Substitutes
If you don’t have a double boiler in your kitchen, you can use one of these substitutes to replace it!
Use two pots
Grab a pot, fill it with about an inch of water, bring to the boil and then simmer. Next, place another pot securely onto it and put whatever you want to cook in it. Stir frequently until melted / hot / cooked. Remember that the pots will be very hot once done, so be sure to handle with care and use heat-proof oven gloves to remove them from the stovetop.
For this method to work, the two chosen pots should be roughly the same size. Place the larger/heavier pot on the bottom and the smaller/lighter on top. Make sure the top pot has a snug fit so that steam doesn’t escape and it doesn’t wobble and potentially fall off.
Use a heatproof mixing bowl and a pot
Surely you have a glass, pyrex or stainless steel metal bowl lying around in the kitchen; however, you must make sure that it is heatproof. Place your mixing bowl on top of a normal kitchen pot.
It is important to select a wide pot because it has more surface area and this in turn will ensure even melting. The mixing bowl should rest on top of the pot and not fall in, so it should be bigger than the pot.
Also, make sure that you choose a mixing bowl that has a slightly tight seal over the pot so that no steam will escape and accidentally burn you. It should not be too tight because it could cause steam to get trapped and building up, leading to a potential explosion and a messy kitchen!
Add enough water into the pot to fill an inch of depth and then bring that to a boil then lower the heat for it to simmer. The next step is to place the heat-safe glass bowl right on top of the pot. Don’t worry about the glass sticking to the pot because the steam from the water will heat the bowl.
Now get the ingredient that you want to melt (like for example, chocolate – note that chocolate melts way faster in the double boiler if you chop it into smaller pieces) and place it into the glass bowl. Careful to not get any water into your glass bowl by mistake.
The mixing bowl can slightly touch the water in the below pot, but it is preferred that it remains above it to some extent.
If you need to cover your mixing bowl containing the food item, use a sheet of aluminum foil, a pan lid or even a large ceramic plate.
This Do-It-Yourself double boiler technique is one of the best options for when you don’t have a double boiler.
Use a mason jar
Another substitute double boiler technique involves using a mason jar.
Simply fill a pot with water and bring to a simmer. Unscrew the glass mason jar and put the lid aside. Place the mason jar in the simmering water, and voila – a mason jar double boiler!
Create a “Baking” Bain Marie
This method is a bit more complicated than the others but it works as a substitute for a double boiler especially for custards.
- Start by preheating your oven.
- Choose a large and deep oven-safe baking dish with high sides. This dish will be holding your smaller oven-safe dish that will contain the food item you wish to heat.
- Next, place a kitchen towel or silicone baking pat inside your large baking dish. This step isn’t mandatory, however, it’s recommended to prevent your small container(s) from sliding and moving during the cooking process.
- Place your small container(s) into the large baking dish. Allow 1-2 inches of space between the smaller container(s) and the edges of the large baking dish.
- Boil water and pour it into the large baking dish. Make sure to fill it up to reach half the length of the smaller container(s).
- Heat until the water in the large baking dish starts to simmer. Keep checking on your dish. If the water starts to boil, reduce your oven temperature. If the water level gets too low, refill it with warm water mid-way.
- Once done, turn off the heat and carefully remove the small container(s) using heatproof oven mitts.
- Leave the large baking dish in the oven until it’s cool enough to take out!
Tip: You can place your large dish in the oven before filling it up with water if it will be carrying multiple containers making it heavy.
Use a microwave
Some experts advise the use of a microwave, but only in some cases, it is OK to use a microwave when you don’t have a double boiler. The microwave method is good for melting a small amount of chocolate and only for a few seconds, for example.
Do note that you should keep checking on your mixture to ensure it doesn’t burn! Take it out of the microwave every few seconds and mix. Stop the microwave before your ingredient is completely ready because it will continue “cooking” after removing from the microwave.
However, it is important to remember that microwaves will get your ingredient heated up very quickly; whereas a double boiler heats gently. Use other substitutes for more efficiency.
What NOT to use as a Double Boiler Substitute
A silicone double boiler is not the best option as a double boiler substitute. It could seem like a great idea because silicone is known for its heat resistance and flexibility.
However, silicone transfers heat very slowly and the entire process will take much more time than it should. Keep silicone for using as a mold and use the substitutions provided above for better and more efficient results in your cooking.
Double Boiling Tips when using substitutes
- Don’t fill the pot containing the water more than halfway (the water will end up boiling up and spilling over)
- Ensure that stovetop heat is adjusted to provide a constant simmer (do not keep the water boiling the entire time)
- Use heatproof oven mitts/gloves to remove your cooking from the stovetop because the kitchen equipment you’re using will be very hot
- If using the mixing bowl method, the bowl and pot should not be fitted too tightly or else their steam would get trapped and build up, potentially leading to an explosion and a huge mess
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