At the Culinary Institute, students (like yours truly a few years back) have to pass one final cooking practical to graduate. And of course a temperamental sauce like hollandaise is on the menu. So I thought I’d share the finer points of how to make hollandaise sauce, for those special occasions that warrant crafting it at home. Because I rarely order it at a restaurant for one reason, and one reason only.
The sauce is made hours before guests arrive, and sits waiting in a thermos to be served lukewarm at best. Not edible times if you know what I mean. Or the best way to enjoy eggs Benedict on a Sunday morning. But since hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolks and butter, a little bit of know how takes you far. Think more in the vain of culinary science, than science of the rocket variety.
Success relies on awareness, and a properly heated double boiler. However, even seasoned professional cooks break the sauce – or curdle the eggs – by not heeding the warning signs .
The sauce will break if the egg yolks are:
- Too thick to incorporate more butter (sauce doesn’t flow off the whisk)
- Less than 120° F
- More than 140° F
So when slowly whisking heated butter into warm, foamed egg yolks, add a tablespoon of warm water if it gets too thick. To keep it the right temperature, have a second pot lined with a towel on the counter (to steady while whisking), and move the bowl on and off the heat every minute or so.
A thermometer can be your friend in the beginning, but you’re better off training your eyes. Because knowing what to look for is better than trying to temp a sauce.. while holding a hot double-boiler with one hand and a whisk with the other.
How to fix hollandaise if it breaks
If your sauce breaks anyway – DON’T PANIC! Just crack another egg yolk in a new bowl, place over the simmering water, and SLOWLY whisk in the broken sauce. Or throw in the towel and buzz it up nice and smooth in a blender. It’ll take just as lovely drenching your buttery English muffins and over-easy eggs. Because pouched eggs are one thing I never cook at home.Print
To add a savory depth of flavor to your hollandaise, simmer up a quick reduction of vinegar and spices. To get right down to a classic version, use lemon juice instead.
For paleo hollandaise, use ghee instead of butter. It’s dairy-free as the milk solids are removed.
- 2 tbsp white wine reduction or lemon juice
- 2 egg yolks
- 6 ounces butter or ghee (clarified butter), unsalted, melted and keep very warm
- 1–2 tbsp hot water (as hot as the tap will give you)
- 1 cup dry white wine or white wine vinegar
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp black peppercorns, whole
- 1 small shallot, minced
Prepare Reduction (or use
- Combine ingredients in a shallow pan and simmer on medium-high heat until liquid is reduced to a quarter cup.
- Strain out aromatics and cool slightly.
To Make Sauce
- Combine 2 tablespoons of reduction (or lemon juice) with 2 egg yolks in heat-proof bowl.
- Melt butter in a separate dish or small pot and keep warm over low heat.
- Make ready off the heat: a second pot lined with a kitchen towel, and a measuring glass with warm water.
- Over medium heat bring an inch of water to simmer in a small sauce pot.
- Whisk eggs with reduction or lemon juice off the heat until foamy.
- Set bowl over pot and whisk constantly until eggs double in volume. Once you can draw lines in the bowl with the whisk, you’re ready for the butter.
- Off heat, slowly drizzle in warm butter to egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add warm water as needed to keep hollandaise a smooth, thick, but pourable consistency.
- Return bowl to heat to keep warm, and add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Do not over whisk once sauce is finished, simply stir gently to keep it emulsified (blended).
- Serve immediately over eggs, steaks, asparagus and more!
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