The Bain-Marie Technique
In terms of cooking technique, the use of a Bain-Marie has a long history. It may be that the first appearance of water boiling gave rise to the idea of cooking certain types of foods over boiled water. The effect of this type of cooking technique is a smoother texture. Most anything that requires a smooth custard-like texture benefits from cooking or baking with a Bain-Marie process.
Uses for A Bain-Marie
Using a Bain-Marie is similar to using a double-boiler. A Bain-Marie, in simple terms, is a "water bath" where a larger pot or cooking vessel is submerged in water up to 1 inch from the bottom of the pot or vessel. The Bain-Marie provides additional moisture in an oven that keeps textures from hardening. Very often, the Bain-Marie may be covered to ensure even flow of moisture throughout the baking or cooking process.
When to Use a Bain-Marie
In the oven, the Bain-Marie is responsible for the smoothest custards, rice puddings and steamed desserts. Or, for main dishes, it can also be used for making a delightful Yorkshire pudding to accompany a delectable roast beef. Various Italian rice dishes also require the use of a Bain-Marie to prevent rice from congealing or hardening. What usually results with rice dishes is an elegant, full-bodied grain texture. The technique is fairly simple:
- Fill a large rectangular glass or aluminum baking pan with at least a 2 inch rim.
- Place the custard dishes, rice molds or steamed pudding tube pan into the rectangular pan.
- Fill the rectangular pan with water so that it covers at least a half inch of the second pan.
It's important to remember that the Bain-Marie serves the purpose of "cooking". So, water beneath the second pan should be sufficient to allow proper cooking from the underside of the second pan containing your ingredients.
Bain-Marie for Top-of-the-Stove Cooking
When a Bain-Marie is used atop the stove, the process is similar: Use a large Dutch oven with up to 1 inch of water. From this point, however, the process may differ slightly, depending upon the recipe. Many steamed cakes require slow cooking in a stovetop Bain-Marie process. It's a good idea to allow the water to heat to boiling before inserting the second cooking vessel into the water. This makes it easier to gauge the cooking time.