How to Cook with a Water Bath

Holiday How To — Day 20 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Creamy cheesecakes. Silky crème caramel. Crème brulée that melts in your mouth. What do they have in common? They owe their smooth textures to a water bath or bain marie.

A water bath is used to gently cook delicate foods, especially egg-based dishes, to keep them from overcooking, which is what causes cheesecakes to crack. To prepare a water bath, simply place your baking dish (or ramekins or springform pan) inside a larger dish or pan. Carefully pour warm water into the larger dish until it comes about half way up the sides of the smaller baking dish or ramekins, making sure no water splashes or spills into the smaller baking dish holding your custard or batter.

I find it easier to place the pans on the oven rack before filling them with water. This way, you don’t have to try carrying a pan full of batter in a pan half-full of water to the oven without spilling.

This slow, gentle cooking helps food cook evenly and is what gives dishes their creamy texture. It’s important to remove your baked goods from the water bath as soon as they’re done. Extra time in the water can also lead to overcooking.

In restaurants, water baths are often used to keep food or sauces warm without overcooking them.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “How to Cook with a Water Bath

  1. I have to agree with you on filling at the oven rack instead of hauling the dish across the room, praying you don’t slosh any water into the dish.
    It not only helps keep the foods moist, but it will prevent brulée and cheesecakes and the like from cracking and splitting along the top.

  2. The hot water provides a constant, steady heat source and ensures even, slow cooking for recipes that call for a water bath.

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