The title of this post should really be "How to Make a Hollandaise Sauce Without Mucking It Up".
A month or two ago I decided to whip up some Eggs Benedict for my family for Saturday brunch. It had been awhile since I'd made the dish, and my husband came into the kitchen as I was starting. He asked me, "When's the last time your Hollandaise failed?" I paused and thought about it... "You know, I really don't know, it's been such a long time." Little by little the rest of the family came in, made some number of distractions, and lo and behold, the sauce broke for the first time in as long as I could remember! I was so sad! We ate it anyway, and my younger daughter told me, "This is the best lunch you've ever made!" I felt happier for a minute, until she added, "That's because you never make lunch." OK, admittedly I'm pretty lazy on the weekends when it comes to our midday meal and they eat their weekday lunches at school, so I concede... *sigh* My Hollandaise failure pretty much made me a cranky grump for the rest of the day. I've begun to take myself too seriously!
There are a couple of major ways one can fail at making a Hollandaise sauce. The one that led to my sauce's demise is temperature. It is extremely important that your sauce is not allowed to overheat, EVER! This is important while making the sabayon of egg yolk and water, but much more important while making your emulsion. This is crucial: before adding the butter to the sauce, REMOVE IT FROM THE HEAT!
The second important thing to keep in mind is that the melted butter needs to be added in a small, steady stream, and you cannot stop whisking! Keep that whisk moving, and don't add too much butter at once.
So here we go...
Clarify enough butter to make 200mL, somewhere between 1.5-2 sticks. Do this by melting it over medium heat in a small saucepan until it bubbles and the solids begin to coagulate on the sides. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a glass measuring cup. Set aside until needed, keeping warm but not hot.
In a double boiler (water in the bottom pan) over medium heat, whisk together 2 egg yolks with 1 fluid ounce of water (= 30 mL for Europeans, 1 shot glass for the rest of us.) Whisk constantly until the heat begins to cook the mixture ever so slightly. It should look like thick, frothy pudding, not like scrambled eggs. This is called a sabayon.
Make your emulsification by whisking the 200 mL of melted clarified butter into your sabayon (OFF the stovetop, please!), pouring the butter in a very small, steady stream. Whisk constantly, making sure that the butter is incorporating well into the sabayon to make a smooth, homogenous mixture.
Season your sauce with a pinch of cayenne pepper and about 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, or to taste.
Serve over poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and an English muffin to make a standard Eggs Benedict, or do what I do and serve it atop eggs gently cooked over easy, Canadian bacon, and some toasted rustic sliced bread.
Here's to never breaking your sauce!