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"What is a "bain-marie"?"

Hi Anne and Sue,

My new recipe for crustless quiche and another for individual custards says to cook them in a "bain-marie." I haven’t a clue what this piece of equipment is or why it’s used. Please fill me in!

My thanks,


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Dear Terri,

Sometimes when cookbook writers assume that every cook knows what a term means, it’s frustrating. However, it’s equally tiresome when authors go into too much detail that one grows tired of reading before the actual cooking begins! Sometimes it’s a tough call for those who write cookbooks.

A "bain-marie" is the French term for a dish that’s surrounded by a water bath and baked in the oven. There’s no special equipment to buy: A cake pan filled with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish does the trick nicely.

While this may sound as if it’s a fussy way of cooking something, there are sound reasons for using a bain-marie. As your recipes indicate, a bain-marie is often used with egg-based dishes, because egg proteins are very sensitive to heat. The proteins in egg yolks begin to coagulate at 149ºF (65ºC). Egg-white proteins are even touchier, with the proteins beginning to unfold and set at just 140ºF (60ºC). When eggs are cooked too long or at too high a temperature, they become tough and rubbery.

Surrounding egg-based dishes with hot water insulates them from the direct heat of the oven. It’s a useful way of keeping crustless quiches tender and getting custards to set but still remain silky.

Anne and Sue




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