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In The Family
What Is a Bain Marie?

All about your cheesecake’s best friend.

Anyone who’s hard-boiled an egg knows that they can go from firm and creamy to rubbery and disgusting in a heartbeat. Egg-enriched recipes like quiche, soufflé, and cheesecake face a similar problem—if you bake too hot, or for too long, your dish is toast. Enter the bain marie, which is just a fancy way of saying a big pan full of hot water that surrounds your baking dish as it cooks in the oven.

The water acts as an insulator, slowing the rate of heat transfer between the oven and your baking dish and redistributing that heat evenly around the pan. Slow, stable heat means a way lower likelihood of overcooking the cheesecake or soufflé and reduces the risk of cracks forming on top from uneven heating. To make your own bain marie, lay a kitchen towel in the bottom of a wide, deep pan, like a roasting pan, then place the ready-to-bake proto-battered dish inside.

Bring the pan over to the oven and place it on the desired rack. Only then should you add hot water to the outer pan until it goes about halfway up the inner pan. The kitchen towel will keep the two pans from scratching each other, and adding water once you’re at the oven is a lot safer than dragging a pan full of boiling water around the kitchen.

RECIPE: Pan Dulce Con Manzanas

Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.