Hollandaise is by far the most finicky of all the French Mother Sauces. Numerous things can go wrong when making this sauce; whether your emulsification breaks, the eggs start to curdle, etc. Many cooks allow this sauce to frighten and intimidate them. However, if you understand the underlying principles of hollandaise, then it really isn’t that scary.
First and foremost, hollandaise is an emulsified sauce in which egg yolks not only serve as the emulsifier, but also as a thickening agent. The final viscosity of your sauce will be determined by how much fat is emulsified in and to what degree the egg yolks are cooked. The more you cook the egg yolks, the thicker your hollandaise will be. However, the more you cook your egg yolks, the more chance you have of ending up with scrambled eggs instead of sauce.
To prevent their eggs from scrambling, a lot of less experienced cooks will heat their egg yolks in a stainless steel bowl placed over a pot of gently simmering water (aka double boiler). The gentle heat of the steam is much more forgiving than a direct flame. With that said, lets go over a couple guidelines.
Guidelines for Making Hollandaise
- Eggs start to curdle at around 160-170°F/71-76°C. The trick is to heat your egg yolks enough to get them thick, but stop right before they reach this temperature.
- Acid (usually in the form of lemon juice and/or vinegar) will help to keep your egg yolks from coagulating. If the PH in you egg mixture is around 4.5, then the curdling temperature of the yolks is raised to about 195°F/90°C. This is why most classical version of hollandaise call for the addition of a vinegar reduction to be cooked with the yolks.
- When making hollandaise, some chefs use whole butter while others use clarified. Although it really comes down to personal preference, just remember that whole butter is about 15% water whereas clarified butter is straight butter fat. Because of its water content, more whole butter is needed to thicken a hollandaise then just straight clarified butter.
- Make sure your acid reduction is cool before the egg yolks are added or they may curdle.
- The fresher your egg yolks, the easier it is for you to make your emulsion.
- Use a stainless steel, round bottom bowl. The round bottom will make it easier for you to beat the egg yolks evenly and the stainless steel will not react to the acid and discolor your hollandaise.
- When adding your butter to the egg yolks, make sure that it is warm (about 130°F/55°C) but not hot. If your clarified butter is too hot it will instantly curdle your egg yolks.
- Whenever making any type of emulsion, always add the fat or oil slowly at first, a couple drops at a time. Hollandaise is no different. If you add the butter too fast, then it will give the fat a chance to “coalesce,” which will cause your sauce to separate.
- Another common reason why hollandaise will break is the addition of too much fat. The standard ratio is 6 egg yolks to 1lb of clarified butter.
- If concerned about the consumption of raw egg yolks, heat yolks to at least 165°F/74°C or use pasteurized egg yolks to make your hollandaise.
Classical Hollandaise Recipe
To make 2 cups of hollandaise, you will need:
- 1 1/4 lbs of butter, clarified (you should end up with about 1 lb of clarified butter)
- 1/8 teaspoon Peppercorns, crushed
- 1/8 teaspoon Salt, (kosher preferred)
- 1.5 oz White Wine Vinegar
- 1 oz cold water
- 6 Egg Yolks
- 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- Salt and Cayenne Pepper to taste
- Clarify your butter.
- Place salt, vinegar and crushed peppercorns into a sauce pan and reduce by 2/3. Remove from heat and add water.
- Transfer reduction to a stainless-steel mixing bowl.
- Add egg yolks and beat over a simmering pot of water until the egg yolks become thick and creamy. (If unsure about the thickness, monitor with an instant read thermometer and make sure the eggs do not exceed 150°F/65°C).
- Once the egg yolks have reached the desired thickness, remove from heat. Using a ladle, slowly drizzle in the warm clarified butter, starting with just a few droplets first to get the emulsion going.
- Continue streaming in the clarified butter until it is completely incorporated. If the hollandaise becomes to thick before all the butter is emulsified in, thin the hollandaise with a couple drops of warm water.
- Finish by seasoning your hollandaise with salt, lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste. Add just enough cayenne to help cut through the fat of the hollandaise and to add depth of flavor; your hollandaise should not be spicy.
- Adjust final consistency with a little bit of warm water to both lighten the sauce and give it better flow.
- Keep warm over a double boiler (ban-marie) until ready to serve. The best holding temperature is about 145°F/63°C. This temperature both discourages the growth of bacteria and is hot enough to keep the fat in your hollandaise from solidifying. For both food safety and quality control, hollandaise should not be held any longer than two hours.
How to Fix a Broken or Curdled Hollandaise
If your hollandaise breaks or curdles, it’s not the end of the world. Simply follow the steps below to salvage your sauce.
- Pass through a chinois to strain out any curdled portions of the hollandaise.
- Make sure to keep the whole strained portion of the sauce warm.
- Add 1 yolk plus 1 tablespoon of warm water to a new stainless-steel mixing bowl and whisk in your strained hollandaise.
- Congratulations, hollandaise saved!