Chocolate. Cheesecake. Chinese soups. And the one secret to cooking all three well.
Want to melt chocolate without accidentally burning it? The secret is to use a water bath!
A water bath, also known as a bain marie, has a simple setup. First there is a smaller vessel containing what we want heated or melted. This is then lowered partway into a larger vessel that is filled with water.
The chocolate will not be over-heated or burnt because the larger vessel ensures two things:
1) Gradual and even heating. The water in it insulates the smaller vessel from the direct heat of the fire. Water has a large heat capacity, which is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature by 1 degree. Hence the heat from the fire is only transferred gradually and evenly to the smaller vessel.
2) 100°C/212°F maximum temperature. When the water boils and evaporates as steam, the temperature does not rise. All the heat is absorbed for the phase transition of water from liquid to gas. This latent heat (i.e. heat absorbed without temperature change) means the maximum temperature is capped at 100°C/212°F.
The chocolate thus melts slowly, and we can control just how melted we want our chocolate to be. We can see how this works in the short 1-minute video below about melting chocolate in a water bath.
The water bath is not only great for melting chocolate, but it is also used in many other recipes. An example would be the recipes for making cheesecake. One of the pleasures of eating cheesecake is just how yummi-licious the cheesecake looks. Sometimes, though, the top of the cheesecake cracks from uneven heating. Baking the cheesecake in a bain marie helps to prevent that.
The water bath is used in Chinese cuisine too. It is commonly known as “double boiling”, and often used to make double-boiled soups and medicinal herbs. The gradual and even heating ensures the full flavors and nutrients of the ingredients are extracted. Read all about it at the 1-Minute NomNom “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”), and compare the intriguing similarities and differences (see what cooks use as the inner vessel!).
Talk about East meeting West (or is it West meets East?) in a water bath!
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