Easy to Make by Hand or Blender
Making Hollandaise Sauce is something a lot of cooks — good cooks — shy away from. Too many things can go wrong, or so they think. They might overheat the egg yolks, causing them to curdle. They might not be able to form a proper emulsion. Their Hollandaise Sauce might be too thick, or too thin.
But if you pay attention to just a few details (easy ones), you should have no fear. And if you do run into problems, almost all are easy to remedy.
Besides, Easter is coming up. For many people asparagus is an Easter tradition — and what’s asparagus without freshly made Hollandaise?
So promise yourself that this year you’ll learn to make Hollandaise Sauce. And you’ll have the best Easter meal ever.
Recipe: Hollandaise Sauce
The basics of Hollandaise Sauce are a snap: Whip egg yolks and lemon juice over heat until the mixture is light and foamy. Then beat in butter a bit at a time until you’ve formed a thick emulsion. Finally, season to taste, and serve.
Beating egg yolks with liquid over heat is exactly what we did when we made Zabaglione. So if you made that delicious dessert, you’ve already mastered half the technique of making Hollandaise. The rest is easy — it just involves beating in butter bit by bit. Simple.
The trickiest part of making Hollandaise (or Zabaglione) is to make sure you don’t overheat the egg yolks. Do that and you have scrambled eggs. In the Zabaglione recipe, we beat the egg yolks in a bowl that was set over (but not touching) simmering water. You can also use a double boiler. But with care, it’s easy to make Hollandaise in a pan that’s set directly over medium-low heat. It’s even easier if you have a pan with sloping sides, like a Windsor pan or saucier pan (which is a more useful all around pan).
If you’re careful, you can even use a metal mixing bowl: Just set it over the heat element or flame of your stove. But be aware that because the metal is thin, it’s going to heat quickly, speeding up the point where your egg yolks could begin to scramble.
Most home recipes (including mine) call for three egg yolks. That’s enough to thicken about a pound of butter when making Hollandaise Sauce by hand. But the sauce is easier to make if you use less butter — and besides, who needs to eat that much butter? So we’ll use half a pound. And we’ll use even less when making the Hollandaise Sauce in a blender. If you use too much, the sauce gets too thick and may clog the blades of the blender (if this happens, you can correct it by adding another egg yolk).
Over the years, I’ve come to like Julia Child’s approach to making Hollandaise Sauce, and my recipe is adapted from The Way to Cook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. This recipes yields a cup to cup and ½ when making the sauce by hand, or about ¾ cup when making it in the blender. Total preparation time is about 10 minutes. You should use the Hollandaise Sauce right away, so make it at the last minute. I don’t recommend refrigerating leftovers.
- 3 egg yolks (consider using pasteurized eggs; see Notes)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, divided (½ pound)
- 1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- dash or two of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 3 egg yolks (consider using pasteurized eggs; see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons liquid (mixture of freshly squeezed lemon juice and water; I use 1½ tablespoons lemon juice)
- salt and pepper
- dash or two of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- Place egg yolks into saucepan (Windsor or saucier pan preferred).
- From a stick of butter, cut four 1-tablespoon pats. Reserve.
- Cut remaining butter into pieces of about a tablespoon each (to promote quicker melting), place in a separate small sauce pan, and heat until hot and foaming but not brown. Keep warm. But not too warm – it should be about the same temperature as the egg yolks when you add it to them in Step 7.
- Using a whisk, whip egg yolks in the pan for a minute or so until they are thick and pale yellow (in one of her recipes, Julia Child says to whip “vigorously”). Add the lemon juice and whisk for about 30 seconds to incorporate.
- Put saucepan with the egg yolk mixture over low heat (or simmering water if using that method), add 2 of the reserved pats of butter, and whisk at a moderate pace. (The butter will melt as you whisk, helping to avoid curdling the eggs.) Beat until egg yolks have thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. When the egg yolks are ready, they’ll cling lightly to the whisk and you’ll be able to see the bottom of the pan between strokes of the whip. If at any time you think the egg yolks are getting too hot and are on the verge of scrambling, lift the pan from the heat and beat more quickly to cool the mixture.
- Remove egg yolk mixture from heat and add the other 2 pats of reserved butter, one at a time, whipping continuously (the butter helps cool the mixture). You’ll see an emulsion beginning to form (the sauce thickens).
- Begin to beat in the warm melted butter by adding drops (maybe a quarter of a teaspoon at a time). As the sauce continues to thicken (it will look like heavy cream) you can add the butter a bit more quickly. But don’t overdo it — if you add too much butter at one time, the sauce can break and you’ll lose your emulsion (see Notes for how to correct). If there’s a milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan, do not add that.
- Taste and season.
- Place egg yolks, liquid, and salt, pepper, and optional cayenne pepper to taste in blender jar.
- Cut butter into about 8 pieces (to promote quicker melting), place in small sauce pan, and heat until hot and foaming but not brown. Allow to cool for a minute or two before you begin the next step.
- Cover blender jar, and process at high speed for 2 seconds to whip egg yolk mixture.
- With the blender still running, remove top of blender (many have a small cap that allows you to pour liquid in without removing the whole top; remove cap if your blender has that feature), and slowly pour in hot butter. You want a very slow, thin stream of butter — droplets, really. Pour in all butter except milky residue that may be at bottom of pan.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So I suggest using pasteurized eggs. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? And although you’ll be cooking the egg yolks, it’s possible you won’t heat them sufficiently to eliminate all salmonella.
- Here’s the easiest and fastest way to separate eggs: First wash your hands thoroughly. Then crack the egg, open the shell into the palm of your hand, and let the egg white run through your slightly open fingers. I find that it’s fastest if I transfer the egg from one hand to the other once or twice during this process. When all the white has left your hand, put the egg yolk in separate bowl. If you have plans for the egg whites, I always put them in a separate bowl, too, so if the yolk breaks on the next egg I’m separating, it won’t get in my whites.
- What to do with the egg whites? Make dessert! A perfect dessert for Easter – or any special occasion – is Homemade Meringues.
- Many professional kitchens make Hollandaise Sauce with clarified butter (butter that has the fat solids and water removed). Why? Because you can make a thicker sauce with clarified butter (there’s no water in the butter to dilute the sauce).
- Of course, sometimes you don’t want a thick sauce. If your sauce is too thick, beat in some hot water.
- I tend to put just a bit of salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in the egg mixture at first so I don't risk over seasoning. Then I adjust the seasoning right at the end.
- Same with lemon juice: If your sauce doesn’t have enough lemon flavor, add a bit more lemon juice at the end.
- You can substitute vinegar for the lemon juice in Hollandaise if you wish, but in my opinion the flavor isn’t as good.
- The most common mistake people make with Hollandaise is adding melted butter that is too hot, or adding too much too soon. When this happens, the emulsion breaks — it becomes thin and grainy.
- If your butter is too hot, just stop making the Hollandaise for a minute or two to allow the butter to cool. Resume when the butter is about the same temperature as the egg mixture.
- If your sauce breaks or doesn’t thicken in the first place, put a teaspoon or two of lemon juice in a bowl, and add a tablespoon of the sauce. Whip until the sauce forms an emulsion (it will thicken), then beat in the rest of the sauce a tablespoon at a time. Make sure each tablespoon of sauce has emulsified and thickened before adding the next.
- If your sauce breaks, you can also rescue it by adding a tablespoon of heavy cream, beating in a bit at a time.
- If your sauce is too thin, beat in more butter a pat at a time until it's the consistency you want. If too thick, beat in hot water a tablespoon at a time until it's the proper consistency.
- Making Hollandaise in the blender is practically foolproof — I’ve never had a failure doing it this way. But I rarely use this method anymore because it’s such a pain scraping the sauce out of the blender with a spatula.
- A tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon or other herb is a flavorful addition to Hollandaise.
- Hollandaise Sauce is best if served immediately.
- If you need to wait to serve the Hollandaise sauce, it will hold if placed near (not on) a stovetop element turned very low; or in an extremely low-heat oven (150 degrees); or over a pan of warm (not hot) water.
- You can keep leftover Hollandaise for a day or two. You can even freeze it. However, in my opinion, the pizzaz just won’t be there when you reuse it. Better to make a fresh batch.
A Mother Sauce
The famous French chef Auguste Escoffier simplified and modernized traditional haute cuisine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among his contributions was recognizing that most sauces in French cooking were based on and derived from 5 basic recipes — he called them Mother Sauces. Hollandaise is one of the five. The others are béchamel (a white sauce made with milk or cream), espagnole (veal stock), velouté (a white sauce made with poultry, meat, or fish stock), and tomato.
Of all these sauces, Hollandaise may be the one that tastes best on its own. But of course you make the sauce because you want to put it on something!
It’s the classic topping for Eggs Benedict. And Hollandaise has a marvelous affinity for fish (salmon in particular). Another classic pairing is with artichokes. Dip each leaf in the sauce, and then scrap the artichoke meat — and sauce — off with your teeth. Heaven.
Or try Hollandaise on asparagus. I think it goes particularly well with the intense flavor that develops when you roast the asparagus. And because Roast Asparagus is a tradition at the Kitchen Riffs’ Easter table, it will be the subject of a post later this week.
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