When you put a pot on the stovetop, it gets hot – especially the parts of the pot that make physical contact with the heating element, be it flame or electric coil, of the stove. I’m not going to speculate about how hot your stove gets, since it depends on how your stove is powered, but that flame or coil is very hot. When heating something in a pot, the portion that comes in contact with the very hot bottom of the pan will heat up more quickly than the rest of the food. This isn’t a problem for most foods, but it is a big problem for some things, such as chocolate and delicate sauces, that burn very easily. The solution is to use a double boiler.
A double boiler consists of a bowl placed on top of a pan of simmering water. The bowl does not touch the water, but creates a seal with the bottom pan to trap the steam produced by the simmering water. The trapped steam keeps the top bowl going at just about 212F (100C), the temperature at which water turns to steam and a far lower temperature than could be achieved by putting the bowl directly on that burner. Inside the top bowl, you can melt chocolate without worrying that it will stick and burn.
You can buy a double boiler, but it’s easy to make one at home. All you need to make a double boiler is a mixing bowl (preferably glass/pyrex or metal) and a saucepan that the bowl will fit on top of. The two should fit tightly together; you don’t want a gap between the bowl and the saucepan, nor do you want a bowl that sits precariously on a tiny saucepan. To use the double boiler, add water to the pan and bring it to a simmer, then place the bowl on top and fill it with whatever you intend to cook or melt.
Kelsey/TheNaptimeChefSeptember 10, 2009
Excellent tip, I do this a lot too!
FX930September 29, 2009
That is a very innovative idea. Nice!!!
Kit OConnellMay 25, 2011
Thanks, that was exactly what I was looking for today! I’ll be back to this site for sure.
PaulNovember 15, 2011
Well, thank you for this no nonsense soution!
TimDecember 3, 2011
Thanks, great information, exactly what I googled for!
LauraDecember 18, 2011
Thanks for the thorough but incredibly simple explanation. I’ve been trying to melt chocolate (and failing) because my bowl didn’t seal the edges of the pan–you helped me solve my dilemma immediately…thanks again!
christieFebruary 26, 2012
thanks for the thorough explanation, now i can try that.
evanMay 16, 2012
I use this a lot to fondue and always have sat the top pot in the bottom pot, leaving a half inch gap evenly around the two pots, and a couple inch gap from the bottom of the pot with water… by doing this the heat is distributed evenly throughout the top pot (more similar to a crock pot). Although your method still is a double boil, there is a minimal contact point due to the fact that the pot is on top of the heat source (just as the bottom pot is ON TOP of the stove)… the only downside to this is that you let off a considerable amount of steam due to long periods of boiling… check water level about every 30 minutes.
janJuly 4, 2012
i have that exact pot and bowl!
Khairani YeonOctober 9, 2012
Thank you, Thank You, Thank you… u’ve solve my problem to melt my chocolate..
GeorgeNovember 18, 2012
Thanks for this wonderfully practical solution. Just wondering though if the pressure from the steam would dislodge the vessel on top . . .
DanDecember 29, 2012
Ingenious, thank you….
Marie from NZFebruary 5, 2013
Thank you for this tip! I’m trying to make Lemon Honey with a recipe and I had no idea what a double boiler was till I googled this and came to your page. Much appreciated for you help 🙂