I love any excuse for brunch. It makes me think of sunny days, meeting up with friends, and unlimited mimosas. On these special occasions I often splurge for Eggs Benedict or Florentine – who can resist a fluffy English muffin topped with Canadian bacon or spinach, a poached egg, and plenty of creamy Hollandaise sauce? But with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, there’s something even more romantic about preparing a lazy brunch at home for your loved one(s). And, despite its reputation Hollandaise sauce is easily prepared – it just takes some care and finesse.
Hollandaise is one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine (when my husband and I play trivia together this is always one of my favorite questions; the other four are béchamel, espagnole, veloute, and tomate). So it’s a good one to master as it teaches important skills about emulsions and is the basis for other sauces like bernaise. Making it is quite similar to making mayonnaise, although the heat requires closer attention. Egg yolks are whisked over a double boiler set over low heat. Then warm (not hot) melted butter is whisked in very slowly. Finally, lemon juice and cayenne are added to add a hint of acidity to the luxurious sauce.
People tend to face two major issues when making Hollandaise sauce. The first is that the egg yolks scramble instead of becoming light in color and doubling in volume. If this happens it is an indication that the heat is too high. The only thing to be done with scrambled egg yolks is to throw them out and start again, this time over lower heat. The other problem that can occur is that the emulsion “breaks.” This means that instead of the egg yolk and butter combining into a smooth sauce, the two are separate. Typically this happens during the phase where you are adding butter, and while this used to happen to me I’ve discovered a beautiful fix: if you notice that the sauce begins to look grainy and slightly curdled, that is an indication that it is about to break. Immediately stop what you are doing and add a splash of cool water, then whisk vigorously until completely smooth. That should fix it and you can resume adding butter.
I have also found that methods promising for an “easy” or “quick” Hollandaise don’t work as well and are more difficult to rescue. I’ve tried and failed to make it in the blender. And, always a fan of my electric whisk (it works miracles with whipped cream), it just didn’t do the trick with Hollandaise. Nothing seems to beat a traditional wire whisk and some good old fashioned elbow grease. Hollandaise really should be enjoyed immediately. You can keep it warm while poaching the eggs (it’s also great on steamed asparagus) but I wouldn’t keep it too much longer than that. Apparently you can freeze it, but I’ve never tried. For a delicious variation you can also make chipotle hollandaise by adding a pinch of chipotle powder.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 3 egg yolks
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Melt the butter over very low heat (or in the microwave). Skim the fat off the surface and set aside to cool slightly.
- Put the egg yolks in a heat-proof metal bowl and whisk until fully beaten.
- Place the bowl so it fits over a small pot filled with about 1-inch of water.
- Turn the burner to medium-low and whisk until the water is lightly simmering and the eggs are lightened in color, doubled in volume, and thick (do not allow the water to boil, and be careful not to scramble the yolks).
- Lower the heat. While still whisking the yolks, add a few drops of the melted butter.
- Once fully incorporated, continue adding the butter in a very, very slow stream while constantly whisking.
- If you notice that the sauce begins to look grainy and slightly curdled, that is an indication that it is about to break. Immediately stop what you are doing and add a splash of cool water. Whisk vigorously until completely smooth. Resume adding butter.
- Once the butter is fully incorporated, add a dash of salt and cayenne and whisk in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
- Taste and add more salt, cayenne, and/or lemon juice (up to 8 teaspoons) as desired.
- Remove from the heat and set aside while preparing the eggs. Whisk occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Use within 1 hour.