How To Make, And Save, A Hollandaise Sauce

“Don’t be a fuddy-duddy with your hollandaise;
be bold, dunk your pretzels in it!”

Miss Piggy

In this post you will find:

Saucy Dressings’ super-cheats’ versions of hollandaise

My father-in-law was a man of fierce intellect, which was fine it itself but he was also a master of a hollandaise sauce. I decided not to even compete. So until a couple of months ago I was a hollandaise sauce virgin. I’d never made a hollandaise sauce and I was dimly aware that it might not be exactly straightforward.

So I made a sort of cheats’ version  of hollandaise:

Option 1: recipe for a super simple cheats’ version of hollandaise

  1. Warm some bought mayonnaise. There is a sort of logic to this. Both mayonnaise and hollandaise are made from egg yolks, an acid, and lots of fat. In the case of hollandaise the fat is butter; in the case of mayonnaise it is oil.
  2. Mix in a little bit of sherry vinegar, some grainy mustard, a spoonful of crème fraîche, thick Greek yoghurt or best of all, soft cream cheese.

OR

Option 2: even cheatier version – how to improve ready-made bought hollandaise

And bear in mind that, if all else fails, you can these days buy fresh hollandaise in supermarkets and it is really not at all bad. And a little crème fraîche makes it even better.

Alright, those might really be a bit too much of a cheat…. let’s look at how to make a real Hollandaise without the tears.

Failsafe hollandaise method

Two tips

So before we even start, there are two important things to know about making a hollandaise sauce:

First tip – even chaotic people should make an attempt to be organised

The good news about hollandaise is that, once you’ve cracked it, it is quick to make. The bad news is that critical moments happen very fast, and so it is best to ensure that you have everything you need to hand first.

This doesn’t just mean the ingredients. This means making sure you have sorted out your saucepans and beating equipment. I melt my butter in a glass jug in the microwave. The beating equipment is the one which you feel happiest, and most confident with. Some people love their blender, I do not. Other people, including me, use their stick blender for pretty much everything, but I don’t use it for making a hollandaise – it’s too much of a sledge hammer I feel. I used to use my capuccino whisk, but was never quite up to the job, so now I use the whisk of my electric, hand held mixer. The people who use ordinary hand whisks are probably chefs or boxers.

Second tip – temperature is everything

“The African sous-chef is the egg man today: anything that’s backed out of a hen is his responsibility. He beats a bucket of hollandaise.
Has it ever split on him? Once.

‘I was so surprised they could do that. Why would they split on me?'”

AA Gill, Breakfast At The Wolseley

The answer is simple. If the nascent sauce gets too hot, it splits.

Nevertheless, an ideal technique would remain simple and fool-proof, and not separate. I embarked on a hollandaise sauce research project in search of this holy grail.

This is the result. I am afraid, though, you still need to be careful of the heat.

Recipe for a failsafe hollandaise sauce

serves about three

Ingredients

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 125g/5 oz/½ brick and ½ cup of butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice – some people add a teaspoon of white wine vinegar to cut through the richness of the eggs and butter
  • some grinds of black pepper – people worried about aesthetics might add white pepper, others who like a little heat add cayenne
  • ¼ tsp Dijon mustard – not everyone adds this, but I think it brings out the taste of the eggs, adds sharpness in a subtler way than vinegar does, and it also helps the emulsification process.
  • pinch of salt

Method

  1. Melt the butter – either in a small saucepan, or in a glass jug in the microwave – but it needs to be HOT. It will have foamed, and in the process burnt off some of the water content.
  2. Get some water boiling in the bottom of a smallish saucepan, reduce to a simmer.
  3. In a heatproof glass bowl which will fit in the saucepan, so that it is above and not touching the water, whisk the egg yolks, and add the lemon juice the pepper and the mustard. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Put the bowl in the saucepan as described above, and over a very gentle heat, very slowly, one teaspoon at a time pour the butter into the egg mixture, whisking the whole time, and incorporating the butter each time, before you add more. Once the sauce has started to thicken you can begin to be a bit less cautious about how fast you add the butter.
  5. At the end, add a pinch of salt.
  6. You can’t make this too far in advance, but you could make an hour or so ahead and then keep warm in a thermos, or a thermal coffee pot. Or simply fill a bowl about half way up with hot tap water and put the bowl of sauce into it to keep warm.

A lighter, more stable version of hollandaise

If that all seems a bit nerve wracking you can make a far more stable, and a lighter version of hollandaise by following Delia Smith’s suggestion and make what she calls ‘foaming hollandaise’. This approach has two advantages: first, you are not left wondering what to do with the egg whites; second, if you really must freeze your hollandaise (see paragraph below) this version of the sauce freezes much better than the traditional version.

For this method, you beat the remaining egg whites until stiff and then fold into the sauce – you can keep this in the fridge and reheat gently over a bain marie.

But, remember, the egg won’t have been cooked, so this is no good for the elderly, pregnant etc

Keeping warm and freezing

How to keep a hollandaise sauce warm

As I mention above, you can keep a hollandaise sauce hot for an hour or so in a bowl of hot tap water, or in a wide thermos, or a thermal coffee pot. For more on thermal coffee pots, follow this link. The planetary design pot is the best, especially for keeping hollandaise sauce warm.

You can freeze a hollandaise sauce

I was very surprised to hear from a helpful reader, Phillip Trevino, that you can, actually, freeze hollandaise. He tells me that “Julia Child did this all the time, and repeatedly showed using the frozen sauce by unceremoniously adding it to a hot saucepan.” Further research shows that some people allow the sauce simply to defrost to room temperature becoming ‘hollandaise butter’ – good with smoked salmon and rocket on brown bread. If you have mistakenly made too much hollandaise sauce, freezing it and using it as butter, setting it melting on a hot piece of fish, for example, is a good way to reduce waste.

Others heat it gently (I have tried this, as you can see below, only sort of successfully…. I haven’t had the guts to try the ‘adding to searing hot pan’ approach) to transform it back into a sauce. I am doubtful about it. But foaming hollandaise will heat up more successfully.

How to save a hollandaise sauce

The solution when you have a disaster – words of encouragement before you start

I am on the LoveFood mailing list and a recipe for eggs Benedict by Mat Follas popped up on my screen right at the beginning of my hollandaise ‘journey’ (Ugh!), when I was still a hollandaise virgin. I printed it out, and the following day set to.

It really didn’t look all that complicated. The instructions were to beat two egg yolks in a bowl with lemon juice and vinegar. Then heat butter and pour the egg mixture straight in, whisking the while to combine. Finish with a pinch of salt.

I did this. It separated. However, all was not lost. I simply collected up the solid part using a slotted spoon and deposited on the poached egg. The Chief Taster noticed nothing amiss (honest) and deemed the whole dish ‘delicious’.

Saving a hollandaise sauce, method 1 – pay attention, gents!

Saving a hollandaise is one sure-fire way for a guy to make his number with a gal – see Seduction – The Ploy for much more on this, but basically all you need to do is outlined in the quote below.

“There are a few small errors you can make which any man who cooks should be able to rectify. Take hollandaise sauce, for instance: nothing curdles more easily, and nothing is easier to fix with a tablespoon of boiling water and a bit of stirring”

Mimi Sheraton, The Seducer’s Cookbook

Saving a hollandaise sauce, method 2

Alternatively, if the suggestion in the quote above doesn’t help, and if it gets too hot and starts to separate, whisk in a small ice cube.

Saving a disasterous hollandaise sauce, method 3

And if the sauce has curdled a bit more seriously, then:

  1. Keep it warm.
  2. With a slotted spoon lift out any scrambled-eggy looking curdled bits.
  3. In a clean, stainless steal bowl mix a room temperature egg yolk with a teaspoon of warm water and a knob of room temperature butter until smooth.
  4. Slowly whisk in to the broken sauce.

Seven uses for hollandaise sauce

  • with asparagus, also good if you add a little wasabi to your sauce
  • with artichokes
  • with Brussels sprouts
  • with green beans
  • in a chicken pie
  • with salmon
  • with sole

Hollandaise over eggs on old-fashioned muffins for various sorts of breakfast or brunch

“The hearty breakfast eater will welcome a new thrill in the form of Eggs with Ham and Muffins.

Split and toast as many muffins as you will need. On each half place a round of fried ham, and on the top a well-drained poached or fried egg. I believe the more adventurous, greatly daring, have been known to add a Sauce Hollandaise, through this seems rather outré.”

Ambrose Heath, Good Food on the AGA – first published in the 1930s
  • eggs Benedict – has bacon, ham, or Parma ham under the eggs
  • eggs Florentine – has spinach – very good with smoked eel added
  • eggs Chesapeake – has crab
  • eggs Royale or Hemingway – smoked salmon or trout. If the smoked salmon is wrapped in a circle around the egg to contain the sauce, it becomes eggs Arlington
  • eggs Hebridean – Stornoway black pudding
what to do with a hollandaise sauce
Eggs Florentine at Blakes hotel in London.
Eggs Royale, made with smoked wild trout, at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Connemara in Eire

Daughter sauces of hollandaise

Hollandaise is categorised as a ‘mother sauce’ (see Mother Sauces). Daugher sauces are:

  • Béarnaise sauce – which incorporates shallot, chervil and tarragon
  • Mousseline or Chantilly – has whipped cream
  • Devine – add reduced sherry to the cream before whipping, than add to the hollandaise
  • Bavaroise – cream, horseradish and thyme
  • Noisette – made with brown butter
  • Câpres – has capers, good with crab
  • Caviar – has cream and caviar

“I remember one account by the actress, Diana Quick, of her time at Oxford in the 60s. Lucky to become part of a private dining club bankrolled by a pal, she ate foie gras and oysters, drank Château Latour, and was inspired to make caviar sauce, a hollandaise enriched with cream and caviar to go with fish. That’s what I call an education.”

Ajesh Patalay, writing in The Financial Times


A bit of history

The history of the hollandaise sauce

There’s a good chance that hollandaise sauce came originally from…. Holland, an area famous for both sweet butter and eggs! AA Gill, in his Breakfast At The Wolseley reports that:

De versandige kok – a book written in 1683 that really ought to be about group sex but is, in fact, Dutch for ‘The Sensible Cook’ – lists a source of butter, eggs and vinegar to be served with eels.”

However, he goes on to say that he thinks it’s more likely to have originated in Germany where there is an obsession with asparagus. And asparagus cries out of hollandaise. In any case there is a recorded recipe (minus method) in English for a ‘Dutch’ sauce written in 1573. And in 1651 La Varenne mentions it in his Le Cuisinier François, again paired with asparagus. Both books were published before the Dutch tome cited by Gill.

Albert Jack, in his endlessly fascinating What Caesar Did For My Salad suggests that, yes, the sauce was invented in The Netherlands, but by fleeing French Huguenots.

Hollandaise sauce is one of Escoffier’s five mother sauces. See above.

The history of eggs Benedict

The history of eggs Benedict is rather fun. There are, as always, two versions, but Charles Ranhofer, the chef ,at Delmonico’s in New York has laid a more substantiated claim to being the inventor by dint of having included the recipe in his modestly entitled tome, The Epicurean published in 1894. The story goes that an incredibly demanding, fussy and pernickety female client (sound familiar?) came into the restaurant, looked through the eleven page menu and found nothing which appealed. The name of this Grand Dame was, appropriately, Mrs LeGrand Benedict. She demanded that Ranhofer concoct something for her, anything as long as it was eggs. Ranhofer, creating with the gentler sex in mind, devised a lighter than normal cream sauce and added the ham and muffin. Miraculously it pleased the lady….. and many others as it soon became a favourite on the menu.

Ranhofer’s claim may be more substantiated, but is it true? AA Gill argues that any character named Mrs LeGrand Benedict must be a creation of Wodehouse or Runyon, and cannot have been real. Gill makes the case for Lemuel Benedict (that’s quite a name, too) who went to The Waldorf in New York with a monster hangover and asked head chef, Oscar Tschirky for toast, crisp bacon, poached eggs and a spoonful of hollandaise. Tschirky substituted the toast for an English muffin (follow this link for exactly what that is) and the crispy bacon for back bacon, and voilà! The eggs Benedict!


“Eggs Benedict is genius. It’s eggs covered in eggs.
I mean, come on, that person should be the president.”

Wylie Dufresne

Eggs Benedict at The Kensington Hotel
Eggs Benedict at The Kensington Hotel
This post is dedicated to my father-in-law.
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