Hollandaise: The harder way, and a foolproof method

Whisking traditional hollandaise sauce, on September 5, 2018. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Whisking traditional hollandaise sauce, on September 5, 2018. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Some people are scared of hollandaise sauce. They shouldn’t be. How can anything this good be frightening?

Hollandaise sauce is like liquid sunshine — it’s even the color of sunshine. It is impossibly light, yet decadently rich. It is like a custard you can pour that makes everything it touches better.

It is sublime. It is the taste of happiness, if happiness were slightly lemony.

And yet, it has a reputation for being difficult to make. But it isn’t, really. It’s just that sometimes something goes wrong with it.

Occasionally a hollandaise sauce will break. That is, the butter separates from the egg and it looks curdled and kind of disgusting. The sauce typically breaks if the butter is added too quickly or if the sauce is made at a too-high temperature.

It shouldn’t happen if you’re careful, but it happens to everyone, even professionals. It can even be fixed, although it won’t be quite as good as if it hadn’t broken.

But there is no need to fear, because so far we have only been talking about making hollandaise the traditional way. There is also another way to make it that is foolproof. Well, more or less foolproof.

Traditional hollandaise requires a great deal of whisking over the moderated heat of a double boiler. But the foolproof method only requires a blender and a bit of patience.

It may not be as rich as the traditional hollandaise, but the foolproof method comes with the stamp of approval from Julia Child. Besides, less-rich hollandaise is still plenty rich.

Hollandaise is basically butter, egg yolks and lemon juice, lightly flavored with salt, pepper and maybe cayenne pepper. Served over eggs benedict, it is perfection. When matched with asparagus, it is unsurpassable. Spooned over poached salmon, it is the quintessence of elegance.

It tastes good, too.

I first made a batch of hollandaise sauce the traditional way. You begin by whisking together some egg yolks with a splash of lemon juice. Then you place that bowl on top of barely simmering water and slowly and continually whisk in melted butter — drop by drop at first, and then in a thin, steady stream.

You need one hand to pour the butter, one hand to work the whisk and one hand to hold the bowl to keep it and the pot from sliding around the stove. It’s easy. But if you only have two hands, you don’t really have to hold the bowl.

The bowl’s temperature is vital. If the eggs get too hot they will scramble. If the sauce gets too hot it will become too thick. If the sauce does get too thick — you should be able to pour it — take the bowl off the heat and whisk in a few drops of warm water. If it is still too thick, whisk in a few more drops.

If you get it right, you should have a sauce that is almost effervescent. It shimmers on the tongue.

The foolproof blender method is easier and faster. If you’ve never had it made the traditional way, you may think it is the best sauce ever.

You start off with egg yolks and lemon juice in a blender, along with salt and pepper. With the blender going full speed, you slowly add melted butter — again, drop by drop at first, and then in a thin, steady stream. Finally, you take a towel and wipe down the cabinets, your clothes and your hair, because pouring liquid into a spinning blender inevitably leads to a mess.

But the sauce is divine. Asparagus just isn’t asparagus without it.



Yield: 4 servings (1 cup)

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Pinch cayenne pepper

Pinch salt

1. Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel bowl until the mixture is thickened and doubled in volume. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler). The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Continue to whisk rapidly. Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble.

2. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. If necessary to keep the eggs from overheating while doing this step, take the bowl off the top of the pot while still whisking to allow it to cool down a bit. Then return to the heat. When done, remove from heat and whisk in cayenne and salt.

3. Cover and place in a warm spot until ready to use. If the sauce gets too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water before serving.

Per serving: 260 calories; 25 g fat; 16 g saturated fat; 245 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 1 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 593 mg sodium; 30 mg calcium

Recipe by Tyler Florence, via the Food Network


Yield: 3 servings (3/4 cup)

3 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch of pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

1. Place egg yolks, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a blender jar. You can add more lemon juice when sauce is done and will know what proportions you like for the next time.

2. Cut the butter into pieces and heat it to foaming hot in a small saucepan.

3. Cover the jar and blend the yolk mixture at top speed for 2 seconds. Uncover, and still blending on top speed, immediately start pouring in the hot butter in a thin stream of droplets. (You may need to protect yourself with a towel during this operation.) By the time two-thirds of the butter has gone in, the sauce will be a thick cream. Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan. Taste the sauce, and blend in more salt and pepper if necessary.

4. If not used immediately, set the jar in tepid, not warm, water.

Per serving: 328 calories; 35 g fat; 21 g saturated fat; 266 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 206 mg sodium; 35 mg calcium

Recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck