Chocolate is, self-evidently, delicious. And as anyone who has ever left a chocolate bar in their pocket on a warm day will tell you, self-evidently melty as well.
But when it comes to adding chocolate to a cake batter you might be wondering how (short of going for a run with a block of chocolate tucked into your shorts) you’re supposed to mix the hard block into the soft batter.
Microwaves are actually pretty awesome for this task (in fact, the chocolate melting properties of micro-waves lead direcrtly to the invention of the actual microwave. However, if you don’t have a microwave (I don’t) or if you want more control over your melting process (I do) the answer is a stove top bain marie.
You can’t just chuck your block of chocolate in a pan and hope that by trying it is it will melt. It will kind of melt but in a horrific burning way that will leave you with a virtually inedible mess. This is not just me being fussy about quality – it really will totally ruin your chocolate.
So what you do is use a bain marie. This is a fancy french term ‘for put half a pot of water onto simmer and pop a bowl on top of the pot’. Or, if you’re an etymologist a ‘bath of Maria’ from the Latin ‘balneum Mariare’ which is actually a translation of the Greek ‘kaminos Marias’ or ‘furnace of Maria which is supposedly something to do with Jewish alchemists. Sometimes etymology isn’t terribly helpful.
But the thing itself is quite handy. The idea is that the bowl on top should sit comfortably in the rim of the pot of simmering water – i.e. it needs to be big enough to not fall in. You also want to make sure that the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl as it simmers away.
Then all you do is put the chocolate in the bowl and give it a bit of a stir. The chocolate will start to melt beautifully – no burnt horror. The bain marie works by better distributing the heat – the hot steam heats the bowl which in turn heats your chocolate. I’m not exactly sure why the chocolate reacts so much better to distributed heat, but it definitely works!