Many recipes require the use of a double boiler to melt chocolate or to heat delicate sauces without scorching them. However, many people do not have a double boiler. Rather than spending your money and taking up valuable cabinet space with an extra cooking vessel, make your own double boiler using simple tools that you have around your house--the recipe will never know the difference.
A double boiler is a set of two fitted saucepans or pots that are stacked together with space between them. The bottom saucepan is filled with water, then the second saucepan is stacked on top. The steam from the bottom pot rises and heats the upper pot. This indirect form of heating allows the contents of the upper pot to heat slowly and evenly, and is ideal for melting chocolate and for gently heating egg and butter-based sauces that would otherwise burn with direct heat. Double boilers are available from most big box retailers that sell housewares as well as from specialty cooking supply stores.
Instead of spending money on a double boiler that you'll only use once in awhile, use a Pyrex or a stainless steel bowl as your upper saucepan. First, select a large pot and fill it with 1 to 2 inches of water and place it over low to medium heat until the water begins to simmer. Choose a bowl that has a diameter larger than that of your pot and place it on top. Make sure that your bowl does not fall into the pot or touch the simmering water. Place your chocolate, sauce or other substance into the bowl and let the steam heat the bottom of the bowl. Stir as directed by the recipe.
Steam from the bottom pot will gradually escape. Depending on your recipe, this could be a bad side effect of a homemade double boiler. If steam gets into melting chocolate, the chocolate will seize up and be ruined. Make sure that you allow the steam to dissipate without getting into your food.