The slow even heat of the double boiler is the perfect method for melting chocolate and thickening milk and eggs for sauces and puddings. Other than the love she put into her food, the reason that your grandmother’s pudding was so much better than the instant kind most often used today, was the way it was prepared. Slow cooking over softly simmering water in a double boiler results in a rich, smooth, and silky pudding worthy of bragging about.
The double boiler is nothing more than a saucepan and a tight fitting insert such as a smaller saucepan or wide-bottom stainless steel or glass bowl, a double boiler cooks by indirect steam heat. Double boilers can be purchased as a single tool or you can create one from items you all ready own. If you decide to make you own, be sure that the top portion, whether a second saucepan or a heatproof bowl, fits snug to make a tight seal. If the seal is not tight, there will not be enough steam to cook properly and if you are melting chocolate, the water vapor of the escaping steam will cause the chocolate to separate or seize.
To use a double boiler, partially fill the saucepan with water making sure that it will not touch the bottom of the insert or bowl. Bring the water to a simmer over a low heat before placing the insert on top. You do not want the water to get to a rolling boil, as this will create more heat and can cook your ingredients much quicker than you want and may boil away before you are finished cooking. Always use potholders when you remove the top of the double boiler and take special care not to be burned by the released steam.
Egg-based sauces such as Bearnaise and Hollandaise are traditionally made using a double boiler and once mastered, add an extra layer of flavor and flare to your dishes. Bearnaise sauce, a gorgeous butter and tarragon sauce, is most often served with roasted meats and fish but can also be drizzled over vegetables for an elegant and flavorful presentation. Eggs Benedict with homemade Hollandaise sauce is a wonderful start for a romantic day or a special treat for a family brunch. These classic French sauces do take time and practice to perfect, however, the difference in the flavor and texture between a homemade sauce and a sauce made from a packaged mix is remarkable and will make a so-so dish a star.
A less finicky double boiler recipe is rice pudding. Variations of this dish are found in many cultures, from Italian to Amish to Turkish, and it is equally enjoyable for breakfast or as a dessert after lunch or dinner. A simple rice pudding starts on the stovetop by slowly steaming long grain rice and milk in a double boiler until the rice is soft. A mixture of beaten eggs, vanilla, sugar and nutmeg is then added to the soft rice before finishing the pudding in the oven.
A search of the Internet yields dozens of recipes that use the soft heat of the double boiler. Whether preparing a silky lemon curd for a mouthwatering lemon pie or a savory polenta side dish, learning to use a double boiler is well worth the effort. Give the following bread pudding recipe from the Uncle Phaedrus, Finder of Lost Recipes website a try and you will become an instant fan of the double boiler.
WINNIE’S BREAD PUDDING
1 c. light brown sugar
3 1/2 slices bread, buttered on both sides
2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Dates or raisins
Put the sugar in the top of the double boiler. Cut buttered bread into one-inch cubes and put on top of sugar. In a small bowl, mix eggs, milk, salt and vanilla then pour over the bread cubes. Do Not Stir. Add chopped dates or raisins on top. Sprinkle all with a little sugar and cinnamon. Cover tightly. Cover over gently boiling water for approximately 1 hours or until firm. The bread will rise to the top leaving the custard sauce on the bottom.