Using a water bath, or bain-marie, is a great technique to learn for helping more delicate bakes, such as cheesecakes, bake perfectly evenly. Let’s take a closer look at what it is, how it works, and how to use it.
What is a water bath?
A water bath is just a pan of hot water placed in the oven, into which you put the baking dish that contains the food you need to cook.
The hot water helps keep the temperature surrounding the food more consistent. This is particularly useful for recipes containing eggs, which can be quite temperamental in unmoderated temperatures. Delicate bakes using a custard or something similar (like cheesecake) will benefit greatly from the use of a water bath.
Water baths can also be used to create delicate sauces like hollandaise, keep sauces warm, and melt chocolate or butter. In such cases, it’s often preferable to create a water bath on the stove, rather than in the oven itself.
Why is a water bath useful?
As well as ensuring things bake gently and evenly, a water bath also creates moisture in the oven that will stop bakes from drying out. This could mean the difference between a beautifully smooth and moist cheesecake and one with a hideous crack through the middle (you may have also seen or heard of water baths used in baking bread - in these cases, the water bath is used solely to keep the bread moist, the bread pan isn’t placed inside the water bath).
To start your water bath, simply bring water to the boil in a kettle. Place your cake tin within a wider dish in the oven, then fill the wider dish with the boiling water. Remove the cake tin and close the oven. Then fill the cake tin with the cheesecake batter and return it to the wider dish in the oven.
Note that, while filling the pan with water with the empty cake tin placed inside isn’t essential, it will ensure you don’t use too much water and end up flooding your oven or drowning your batter once you place the full cake tin back inside.
Another good tip is to place a metal jar top to float in the water bath. By doing so, the jar top will rattle against the bottom of the pan once the water level has gotten too low. This way, you’ll know when to refill the water bath without constantly opening the oven door or risking damage to your pan.
What else to use a water bath for?
The above water bath technique will also come in handy for other delicate bakes that use a lot of eggs, such as custard pies, flans, and creme brûlées. You can also use them for savoury dishes like soufflés and even quiches.
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