I live alone and almost always cook just for myself. With most recipes, I can just cook a smaller amount than given in the recipe, and I have optimized most of my cooking gear for small quantities. But I have a problem with some dishes which are both too rich to eat more than one, maximum two portions in a day, and too perishable to store for longer. Some of those, like the egg foams (zabaglione, hollandaise) and some sweet dishes involving melted chocolate, require a bain marie.

I don't have the storage space for single-purpose gear. When I need bain marie, I use a regular pot and a Pyrex bowl whose upper diameter is somewhat bigger than the pot's. My smallest pot is 16 cm, and a bowl which fits on it is too big for one or two yolks. When I try beating them, they smear themselves on the walls and cook there before they've flowed to the bottom. Also, the heating is somewhat quick, because the whole mass is only 1 cm thick or less. Making 40 g ganache is no easier.

I prefer beating such small amounts in a tea cup or mug or in a 6 cm bowl, inserting a single beater into the mixer. But I cannot do it when I need a bain marie, because I have no pot where they'd stay on top. And even if I could find a small replacement for the pot (like a steel mug or a djezwe), it won't heat on my induction hob - even if the "pot" was ferromagnetic, the hob has a built-in protection and only switches on if it detects a cooking vessel at least 12 cm wide.

Do you have any ideas for an easily built bain marie setup which is small, uses common utensils (not necessary kitchen ones, but preferably something I already have), and quickly dismantled when not in use? Maybe there is some way to suspend the tea cup into the big pot and hold it firm despite the mixer's force?


Can you repurpose a stovetop coffee pot/percolator? I prefer the glass ones (do an image search for 'coffee percolator glass', so you can keep an eye on progress throughout. If you were to replace the drip container at the top (that usually holds the coffee) with a small stainless steel bowl (your standard IKEA type mixing bowl), the rim will be held stable by the coffee pot.

Plus it already has a handle built in so you don't burn yourself in search of the perfect chocolate ganache!

ps: I'm in Germany too - I saw some at Tchibo last week.


For such small amounts, does the pot of hot water really need to be on the stove the whole time? If not, you could use two glass bowls the same size that stack. Put down a dish towel, then a bowl, pour in lots of rolling boil water (ok not lots, practice with cold water how much you need), then the second bowl, in goes your egg yolk or whatever, and beat away. You can hold the stack steady with a silicone thingy if the dishtowel alone isn't cutting it. Obviously this is a no-go for something that needs to be gently beaten over simmering water for 15 minutes, but for some of your recipes it might work.

  • Basically, you are right that with enough water, I probably don't need to heat it constantly. But a bowl of this size can hold about 150 ml of water when filled to the brim. When most of its volume is taken up by a second bowl, the outer bowl cannot hold enough water to heat the inner bowl and its contents. And taking a bigger outer bowl has the same problem like a big outer pot - how do I hold the inner bowl in the water? – rumtscho Mar 31 '11 at 14:40
  • How long would the water that isn't displaced maintain its heat while simultaneously transferring energy from to the other bowl? It might be better to have a metal bowl on top, and an insulating bowl on the bottom. – mfg Mar 31 '11 at 16:08
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    @mfg I agree with the metal bowl. Also if shape differences between a randomly chosen metal and glass bowl meant that more water could be in the lower bowl, it would then cool more slowly. – Kate Gregory Mar 31 '11 at 16:25

Do you have a pot with a small diameter, i.e. 4-5" (the kind that typically falls over from the weight of the handle)?

If so you can do your double boiling in a saute pan or whatever (the small pot held, probably at an angle, over the saute pan full of heated water), but you will be hands on the pot the entire time. It's not the worst skill to learn; and learning new skills neither costs money nor requires storage space.

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  • A single yolk in a saute pan? This is worse suited to small quantities than my glass bowl solution. I need some way to keep a tea cup or a cup-sized glass bowl suspended in the water, and in a 5" pot (I am currently using a 16 cm, which is just over 6") it will fall to the bottom. A 4" pot has the same problem, beside not getting heated on the hob because it is smaller than the activating size vessel. – rumtscho Mar 31 '11 at 13:42
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    @rumtscho I think @mfg meant hold the teacup/small-pot-with-long-handle with one hand over/in a saute pan of simmering water. – Kate Gregory Mar 31 '11 at 14:04
  • @Kate this makes more sense, thanks. But I have never seen a dish (saute pan or anything else) which has a 5-7 cm (2-3 inch) upper diameter, 3-4 cm (1 1/4 - 2 inch) bottom diameter, rounded walls, and a handle long enough to keep my hand outside of the steam (probably at least 15 cm/6 inch). The tea cup has the size, but not this kind of handle. – rumtscho Mar 31 '11 at 14:35
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    I just realised that I have seen utensils like that. Only they are not called "saute pan", they are called "ladle". I think I'll try it out. Still looking for a more practical solution though (I usually need one hand for holding the mixer and another one for pouring ingredients, so there is no way to hold the handle). – rumtscho Mar 31 '11 at 14:47
  • @Rum If you're going to buy something, they make pots ("multipots") with steamer and double boiler attachments. In either case, the attachment sits on top of the rim of a (stock) pot, and in the case of the double boiler it dips down well below the rim. The problem you have of scale (e.g. for yolks) may persist though. – mfg Mar 31 '11 at 15:21

It doesn't meet your criterion of something you already have (or the answer would have occurred to you already), but perhaps a aebleskiver pan or a poaching pan would do the trick.


If you already have them, this might work. You can use a small Pyrex measuring cup (the 1 or 2 cup size) with a handle hooked over the edge of your pot. The type I linked to has a handle that is essentially a hook already, so it might work.

In addition, have you considered simply letting your bowl rest on the bottom of the pan rather than suspended? (I don't know if it's reasonable, but it might work.)

I'd also be tempted to see if I could use a steamer insert in a pot to hold the bowl suspended above the bottom of the pan. Let the water rise above the bottom of the seamer insert but not above the edge of the bowl. This would give you a more stable surface and separate your bowl from the bottom of the pan.


You just need to add another bowl, and a second layer of water. It won't be quite as responsive, but you add some hot water to the bowl above the pot, and then place a smaller bowl inside it.

So, you have stacked up:

  • a small bowl, with whatever you're cooking
  • a larger bowl (that won't fall in the pot), with some hot water in it (to transfer heat to the smaller bowl)
  • a small pot filled with water (that isn't so high that it touches the bowl above)

If you have a pyrex measuring cup, like Martha mentioned, I'd use that for the upper bowl -- it gives you a handle to hold onto while mixing. A coffee mug might work as well; something so you don't have to put your hand into the hot water of the lower bowl. (although, you can also put in less hot water)

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