Perfect for Easter Brunch — or Any Special Occasion
People love Eggs Benedict for brunch — especially at festive occasions. And why not? The dish offers a terrific combination of flavors and textures: Toasted English muffin topped with sautéed Canadian bacon, which in turn is topped by poached egg. All of which receives a glorious blanket of Hollandaise sauce.
It’s a rich dish, so most us don’t eat it too often. But it’s perfect for special days — like Easter. Which, if you haven’t noticed, is on tap for this Sunday, March 31. It would also be perfect for Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 12). Or for any holiday, really.
It tends to be a “restaurant only” dish for many people. I’ll bet the majority of us rarely (heck, never) make Eggs Benedict at home. And that’s understandable — there are aspects to this recipe that give many cooks pause. To begin with, it requires poaching eggs (which lots of people assume to be difficult). And it requires Hollandaise sauce — something that even quite experienced cooks may find challenging.
But if you break the dish down into segments, it’s not really that hard. Glance at my recipes for Poached Eggs and Hollandaise Sauce, and you’ll see that both are quite doable. The biggest challenge with Eggs Benedict is juggling several different tasks at the same time. But I have a strategy for coping with that (it includes making the poached eggs ahead of time).
So for some special occasion soon, maybe you should step outside your comfort zone and tackle Eggs Benedict. People will start applauding when they hear you’re even considering it. And when you actually serve your Eggs Benny? Expect overwhelming adulation — with a side of adoration.
Recipe: Eggs Benedict
The standard recipe for Eggs Benedict these days specifies the use of Canadian bacon (the eye of the pork loin that’s cured like bacon). But you see many recipes that opt for ham instead, and some people prefer to use “regular” bacon. There are many more variations, including some vegetarian ones, as discussed below. For today’s post, though, we’ll do the standard version.
The most difficult thing about making Eggs Benedict is timing several different tasks: toasting and buttering English muffins; sautéing Canadian bacon (or ham or bacon, if you prefer); poaching eggs; and preparing Hollandaise sauce. They all need to finish at more or less the same time — that is, when you’re ready to assemble the final dish.
To avoid this juggling act, I suggest that you prepare things ahead of time as much as possible. For example, it’s pretty easy to toast the muffins and sauté the Canadian bacon 10 or so minutes before they’re needed, and then keep them warm in the oven. Also, as discussed in our previous post, you can prepare Poached Eggs ahead of time (even a day or two ahead), chill them, and then reheat in warm water for a minute just before serving. That leaves only the Hollandaise sauce to be made from scratch at the last minute — and if you use the blender method discussed in our Hollandaise Sauce post, this process should be quick and fairly simple.
This recipe is intended to serve two people. Each serving of Eggs Benedict requires the following: one English muffin split into 2 halves and buttered; 2 slices of Canadian bacon; 2 poached eggs; and a nice dollop of Hollandaise sauce. My recipe for blender Hollandaise sauce, which makes about ¾ cup, will be way more than enough for two people. But that’s OK — just serve your Eggs Benedict with some nice Roast Asparagus, which will happily accommodate all the extra sauce.
If you’re serving more than two people, just increase portions accordingly. My blender Hollandaise recipe makes enough to amply cover three servings of Eggs Benedict (i.e., 6 eggs) and will stretch to cover four servings (8 eggs) — although some might find the amount of sauce a bit skimpy.
Assuming you poach the eggs ahead of time, you can complete this recipe in 20 minutes or less.
- 4 Poached Eggs, prepared ahead of time and chilled in cold water (following the procedure in the recipe)
- 2 English muffins, split into two halves
- ~1 tablespoon butter (for buttering English muffins; you’ll be using more butter throughout the recipe)
- 4 slices Canadian bacon
- ~1 tablespoon additional butter (for sautéing the bacon)
- 3 egg yolks (for the Hollandaise Sauce; see Notes for why you might want to use pasteurized eggs)
- 1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice (for the Hollandaise Sauce)
- ½ tablespoon water (for the Hollandaise Sauce)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (for the Hollandaise Sauce)
- a dash or two of cayenne pepper, to taste (optional; for the Hollandaise Sauce)
- 1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces; for the Hollandaise Sauce)
- chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
- Poach the eggs ahead of time using my recipe for Poached Eggs. You can even poach them a day or two ahead — just store them in cold water in the refrigerator, as directed in the recipe. If you want to poach them at the same time you’re preparing the rest of the Eggs Benedict recipe, see Notes below for how to time them.
- Fill a large skillet or shallow pan with about 2 inches of water. (You’ll be using this water to rewarm the poached eggs.) Place on stove and turn heat to high. Once the water begins to just simmer, turn the heat down to keep the water at the barest simmer. Because it takes a while for the water to come to a simmer, this is the first thing you want to do when you prepare Eggs Benedict, although you won’t actually warm the eggs until you’re ready to serve.
- Split the English muffins in two. It’s easiest if you use two forks — if you use a knife, the texture won’t be as rough, and the rougher the texture, the more butter the muffin absorbs — and toast the halves. Because you need to toast only the split side, it makes sense to toast the muffins in the broiler: Just turn on the oven broiler, place the muffins on a baking tray, and slide under the broiler. The amount of time it takes to toast depends on your broiler, but keep an eye on the muffins — once they start browning, they toast in a hurry. If you prefer, you can toast them in the toaster. When the muffins are done, turn the oven to 200 degrees F (just hot enough to keep the muffins warm), and butter the muffin halves. Return the muffins to the baking pan and slide the pan into the oven to keep warm.
- While the muffins are toasting, get started on the Canadian bacon. Place a skillet on medium heat, melt a tablespoon or so of butter, and sauté the Canadian bacon on both sides. This is sold already cooked, but you want to both warm it and put a nice little sear on it. Once cooked, place the Canadian bacon in the 200-degree oven with the muffins to stay warm (you can either put the whole skillet in the oven, or remove the slices of Canadian bacon and place them on the baking sheet with the muffins).
- OK, at this point you have your muffins and Canadian bacon done, and your skillet of water should be at a simmer (or soon will be). Time to prepare the Hollandaise Sauce! I’ll repeat the steps from my Blender Hollandaise Sauce post so you don’t have to flip back to that as you’re making your Eggs Benny.
- Separate the eggs, reserving the whites for another purpose (see Notes for the easiest way to separate eggs).
- Place egg yolks, lemon juice, water, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne pepper in blender jar.
- Cut butter into about 8 pieces (to promote quicker melting) and place in a small sauce pan. Heat until hot and foaming, but not brown (you can also do this in the microwave). Allow to cool slightly (if the butter is too warm you can have problems with the sauce’s emulsion).
- While the butter cools somewhat (it requires only a minute or two), remove the English muffins and Canadian bacon from oven. Place muffin halves on plates (2 halves per plate) and top each one with Canadian bacon.
- Your water should now be at a simmer, or just below (as long as it’s quite warm, it’s fine). Gently drop the 4 poached eggs into the water to warm, and set a timer for 1 minute.
- Now mix the Hollandaise sauce: Cover the blender jar, and process the egg yolks, liquid, and seasonings at high speed for 2 seconds to whip the 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 the hot butter. You want a very slow, thin stream of butter — droplets, really. Pour in all butter except the milky residue that may be at the bottom of the container. This will take under a minute.
- Your timer is probably going off. Turn your attention away from the Hollandaise (don’t worry, it’ll be fine) and with a slotted spoon, remove the poached eggs from their water bath. I usually blot them briefly on a towel, then transfer them to the waiting English muffins, placing each poached egg on a round of Canadian bacon.
- Back to the Hollandaise: Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (just give the Hollandaise a brief whirl in the blender to incorporate any additional seasoning). Then top each poached egg with a dollop of Hollandaise. Use at least a tablespoon of sauce for each egg, or more if you like (I’m in the “more” camp).
- Garnish with parsley if you like, and serve.
- If you don’t want to poach the eggs ahead of time, it’s easy enough to fit them into the sequence of events that I’ve listed above. I would start at the Step 5 stage (delay making the Hollandaise sauce): Crack the eggs open and place each in a small ramekin or bowl (as directed in the post on making Poached Eggs. Add the eggs to the simmering water, and set the timer for 4 minutes (the amount of time it takes to poach the eggs). Then proceed with Step 5, making the Hollandaise. If you time things right, the poached eggs will be ready to come out of the water right at Step 13. If the egg timer goes off before you actually make the Hollandaise, no worries: Just let the eggs sit on a kitchen towel to drain — they’ll remain fairly warm. If the Hollandaise is ready a minute or two before the eggs are, again no worries: Just let it sit in the blender jar for a minute or two. It’ll be fine.
- 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 an 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 a separate bowl. If you have plans for the egg whites, I always put them in a separate bowl, too — that way, if the yolk breaks on the next egg I’m separating, it won’t get into the whites.
- What to do with the egg whites? Make dessert! A perfect dessert for Easter — or any special occasion — is Homemade Meringues.
- If your Hollandaise sauce is too thick, add a bit of hot water and whirl in the blender to mix.
- If your sauce doesn’t have enough acid flavor, add a bit more lemon juice.
- 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 sauce is adding melted butter that is too hot, or adding too much too soon. When this happens, the emulsion breaks — so the sauce 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. More tips about what to do if you have problems with Hollandaise (i.e., if it breaks or doesn’t thicken) can be found in my post on making Hollandaise Sauce.
- BTW, you can keep leftover Hollandaise sauce for a day or two. You can even freeze it. However, in my opinion, the pizzazz just won’t be there when you reuse it. Better to make a fresh batch.
- Some fancy schmancy restaurants top their Eggs Benedict with truffle slices. If you have these on hand (who does?), they would be a nice touch. For a simpler (and much less expensive) variation, use slices of black olives instead.
- You can replace the parsley with another fresh green herb — tarragon is particularly nice in this dish.
- I always serve Eggs Benedict with Tabasco or Sriracha sauce on the side; a bit of heat adds nice zip to this dish.
Eggs Benedict: Origins and Popular Variations
So where did the recipe for Eggs Benedict come from? Well, there’s a French dish called Œufs à la bénédictine (or more usually, œufs bénédictine) that uses some of the same ingredients — but it’s really based on a different concept. The French dish features a tart filled with a brandade (a garlicky puree of refreshed salt cod mixed with potatoes; some versions specify that the brandade should be spread on triangles of fried bread); it’s all topped with poached eggs enveloped by a creamy sauce — usually Hollandaise, but sometimes a cheese (Mornay) sauce. It doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not Eggs Benedict.
The dish we know as Eggs Benedict seems to have originated in the United States. Most stories say it was created in New York City. The best history of this dish I’ve found is an April 8, 2007 article by Gregory Beyer in the New York Times. He notes that the dish reportedly originated in 1894, inspired by a stockbroker and society type named Lemuel Benedict. It seems that, after a night of heavy drinking, Benedict decided to refuel with breakfast at the original Waldorf Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street (the current hotel, called the Waldorf-Astoria, is on Park Avenue in midtown). He ordered two poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and a small pitcher of Hollandaise sauce. Benedict’s breakfast interested the maître d’hôtel (known as Oscar of the Waldorf). After sampling an order for himself, he put it on the menu, substituting ham for the bacon and English muffins for the toast.
There’s another story that credits a Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict with inspiring the dish — supposedly sometime in the 1890s at Delmonico’s Restaurant in lower Manhattan. According to this story, the couple couldn’t find anything they liked on the restaurant’s menu, so they discussed some options with the chef, Charles Ranofer. He came up with a dish he called Eggs Benedict, and included a recipe for it in his cookbook, The Epicurean, which was published in 1894.
There are now many variations on the dish, and you can find an extensive list in the Wikipedia entry on Eggs Benedict. These variations include:
- Eggs Blackstone, which substitutes streaky bacon for the ham and adds a tomato slice.
- Eggs Floreintine, which substitutes spinach for the ham (makes a nice vegetarian version).
- Eggs Mornay, which substitutes a cheese (Mornay) sauce for the Hollandaise.
- Eggs Atlantic, which substitutes salmon or smoked salmon for the ham. (Sometimes this dish is called Eggs Hemingway, Eggs Royale, or Eggs Montreal.)
- Huevos Benedictos, which substitutes sliced avocado or Mexican chorizo for the ham, and adds salsa to the Hollandaise topping.
- Artichoke Benedict, which replaces the English muffin with a hollowed artichoke.
- Country Benedict, which replaces the English muffin, ham, and Hollandaise sauce with a baking powder or buttermilk biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy (a cream gravy). This dish is also sometimes called Eggs Beauregard.
- Portobello Benedict, which replaces the ham with Portobello mushrooms (another good vegetarian version).
But I’m most partial to the Eggs Benedict recipe we feature here. So that’s what we’ll be serving chez Kitchen Riffs on Easter morning. Or anytime we want a special brunch, really. But unlike Lemuel Benedict, we won’t be consuming it as a hangover cure.
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