Thick, creamy hollandaise sauce is a great way to take your next brunch from boring to gourmet. It’s a lot easier to make than most people think.
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When it comes to a brunch menu, a classic eggs benedict gets my vote every time. The salty ham, runny poached eggs, and lightly toasted english muffin are all important, but they are nothing compared to the hollandaise sauce on top.
A good hollandaise sauce is thick, creamy, and buttery with a light, lemony essence. In addition to the classic benedict, it tastes great on vegetables, omelets, steak, and seafood. It’s also one of the five “mother sauces” which make up the foundation of French cooking.
The latest take on hollandaise is to make it in a blender, which may be easier for some, but this recipe is for the classic way: in a pot on the stove. It can be easy to mess up, but if you know how it works you will get it right every time.
There are two rules for making a great hollandaise. 1. Keep the flame as low as it will go. 2. Don’t stop whisking. Note, I said rules. A lot of what I do and say in my kitchen are guidelines, which I outline in hopes of inspiring you to try something new. These however are hard and fast rules. If you don’t follow them you will end up with an unpleasant version of scrambled eggs.
You can make this sauce in either a non-stick or stainless steel pan. My best whisk is metal, so I chose my favorite stainless steel pan. If you have a great quality silicone whisk, let me know what it is in the comments below, and feel free to use it with a non-stick pan. You will want a heavy pan with a wider bottom that heats as evenly as possible.
I used a 4-quart chef pan from Calphalon. The pan appears to be out of stock in most places right now but with a wide bottom and rounded edges it’s ideal for whisking together sauces without ingredients getting stuck in the corners.
As you can see in the video, I don’t use the double boiler method when making my hollandaise sauce. I find that it’s just as easy to do it straight in the pan. If anything, it takes less time, but still cooks consistently.
The video is time lapse video and is the easiest way to show how the sauce comes together as it cooks. I have also included a full written description below the video.
The recipe makes about 6 servings, but can be sized up or down depending on your needs. Start by preparing the butter. We will use 6 ounces total. The butter needs to be just right or it will break the sauce. You can achieve the right consistency by letting the butter sit on a hot stovetop for 6 – 8 hours, but who has time for that?
Instead, I chop the butter into 1 tablespoon sized chunks and place them all into a 4 cup glass measuring cup. Microwave it for 30 seconds on defrost (which is 30% power, not 50% power). Pull it out and stir it. Microwave for another 30 seconds on defrost, pull it out and stir it. The butter should not be melted to a liquid form or to the point of separation. It should still have the same color as cold butter and be slightly softer than “spreadable” butter, as you can see in the picture above. Let the butter sit on the counter until you are ready for it.
Add the egg yolks into a cold pan. The cold pan allows the eggs to temper as it heats up. You won’t use the whites in this recipe but they do freeze well for later.
Add the lemon juice, white wine, and salt to the eggs and whisk thoroughly. The wine and lemon juice add flavor, while the salt helps to relax the proteins in the egg yolks, creating a silkier, smoother sauce. You only need a pinch, which is less than half of 1/8th of a teaspoon. I use what I can pinch between my thumb and forefinger.
Place the pan containing the whisked yolks over a burner on the lowest heat setting possible. If you have multiple burner sizes on your stove, make sure to use a smaller burner as well. Start whisking and don’t stop until it’s done.
You can see that the sauce will get foamy and lighten in color. Keep whisking – don’t forget to scrape every surface of the pan! The foam will start to dissipate and the egg yolks will turn creamy. Don’t stop whisking! Next the sauce will start to thicken. Keep on whisking! When the sauce is thick enough that you can clearly see the bottom of the pan for a second or two after the whisk has scraped it, you’ll know it’s done. See what I mean in the picture below.
Remove the pan from the heat. For a gas stove this can be as simple as turning it off, but for electric you will have to move the pan to another surface. Be careful not place the pan on a cold surface, like a granite or marble counter top. A good alternative would be a trivet or a wooden cutting board.
Continue whisking and immediately begin adding the butter two to three tablespoons at a time. I use a ladle and rely on estimated measurements. Keep whisking and adding butter until no more remains in the cup. At this point, you can stop continually whisking. Yay!! You made it!!
Scrape the rest of the butter from the sides of the cup into the sauce, add a pinch of white pepper and a dash (which is half of a pinch) of cayenne pepper. Give it one last whisk for good measure and then give it a taste. If it tastes too buttery, try adding 1/2 tsp of wine or lemon juice. If it needs more spice, try another dash of cayenne or white pepper. If it tastes slightly bland, add an extra pinch of salt.
Congratulations! You have successfully mastered one of the five mother sauces! Cover the sauce with a lid to keep it warm or pour it into a thermos. If it starts to cool off, you can reheat it over a low flame while whisking constantly, but once it gets cold this sauce can not be returned to it’s former glory.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy hollandaise sauce? Let me know in the comments below!
Hollandaise Sauce Recipe
- 6 ounces of butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 TBSP lemon juice
- 1 TBSP dry white wine
- pinch of salt
- pinch of white pepper
- dash of cayenne pepper
- Start by softening the butter. Chop the butter into 1 tablespoon sized chunks and place them all into a 4 cup glass measuring cup. Microwave it for 30 seconds on defrost (which is 30% power, not 50% power). Pull it out and stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds on defrost, pull it out and stir. The butter should be soft, but not melted to a liquid form or separated.
- Add the egg yolks into a cold pan. Add the lemon juice, white wine, and salt to the eggs and whisk thoroughly.
- Place the pan over a burner on the lowest heat setting possible. Start whisking and don't stop until it's done.
- The sauce will get foamy and lighten in color, turn creamy. then thicken. Keep whisking! Once it is thick enough that you can clearly see the bottom of the pan for a second or two after the whisk has scraped it, you'll know it's done.
- Remove the pan from the heat by turning it off the gas burner, or moving the pan to a trivet or a wooden cutting board if cooking with electric.
- Continue whisking and immediately begin adding the butter about 2 - 3 tablespoons at a time.
- Keep whisking until all the butter has been added.
- Add a pinch of white pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper, then taste and adjust as necessary.
- Keep the sauce warm until ready to serve.