Hollandaise Sauce

Categories: Gluten Free, Recipes, Sauce, West
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: October 30, 2011

Hollandaise sauce has a reputation for being a difficult sauce to make and it’s probably justified.  Creating an emulsion with eggs is always tough to do, it is very heat sensitive and can split for no apparent reason.  But there are a few tricks you can use to keep the temperature under control and to stabilise the emulsion.

There are a number of ways to make hollandaise sauce and each has its own merits.  For instance, you can use clarified butter to make the emulsion, it’s more stable and creates a much thicker sauce but it is not as silky or as tasty as using melted or softened butter.  Using melted or softened butter is another issue, softened butter will give you a nice buttery taste but will require more work with the whisk to create a full sauce and it is more prone to splitting.  Melted butter will give the same flavour as the softened butter but it won’t be as thick or as stable as the clarified butter sauce.  For me, the melted butter option is the best way to go.  I find a hollandaise made with clarified butter can be too thick and using melted butter gives you the full flavour but without the difficulties of using softened butter.

Then there is the choice of acid, lemon juice or some kind of vinegar?  The different vinegars will give you a slightly different flavour to the sauce, which is nice but I prefer using lemon juice and only adding white wine or sherry vinegar when I feel more acid is required to stabilise the sauce (or thin it out a little bit).

There are also different ways to rescue a dying hollandaise sauce.  If it becomes scrambled eggs, there is nothing you can do, bin it and start over.  But if it’s splitting due to being too hot then you can sit the bowl in iced water while whisking furiously to try and save it.  If the sauce is too cold and thin then heat it up or warm up the butter before adding any more into the sauce.  While I haven’t tried it myself, some say adding an additional egg yolk in and whisking the dying sauce into it can restore a hollandaise.

Lastly there are a number of different ways to heat a hollandaise sauce.  I personally prefer to stick to the traditional method of using a bain marie.  Some people (and I used to be one of them) just can’t be bothered setting one up but really all it requires is a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (without letting the water touch the glass) and that is the best way to melt chocolate so if you like to bake, you might as well get used to it.  Some recipes suggest a food processor or cooking on a direct low heat or even using a microwave!  I’ve never had great results using those methods and even when it has been successful, I don’t think it’s quite as good in taste and quality.  One of those methods might work out better for you, give them a try but for me, the bain marie works out best.

The quantities I use here are enough for two when served as a main meal (with poached smoked haddock & eggs) or four as a starter or side dish with a vegetable like asparagus.



4 Egg Yolks

250g Unsalted Butter (cubed)

Half a Lemon (juiced)

White Wine or Sherry Vinegar (optional)



1.  In a small pan, slowly melt the cubes of butter until it has completely melted.  Then set to a very low heat or just reserve and keep covered.

2.  Bring another pan to the boil.  Place the four egg yolks in a glass bowl and whisk together with a pinch of salt and pepper.

3.  Reduce the pan to a simmer and suspend the bowl of egg yolks over the water, ensuring the bowl does not sit in the water.

4.  Add the lemon juice to the egg yolks and whisk.

5.  Slowly and while constantly whisking, add in the warm melted butter.

6.  If the sauce is too thick, add in the vinegar.

7.  Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately as the sauce does not keep well.



Remember that the glass bowl will continue to heat the sauce even after you remove it from the hot steam.  So either remove the sauce before it reaches the desired thickness or have a pan or bucket of iced water ready to place the bowl into – that will immediately stop the cooking process.  If you don’t keep an eye on it after it has been removed from the heat, you could easily end up with scrambled eggs.

If you feel the sauce is still too thick after adding in some vinegar and you don’t want the sauce to end up tasting too strongly of vinegar, then add in some warm water (again whisking constantly).

You can’t really make hollandaise sauce ahead of time.  The best way to keep it is to put it in a thermos (once you know it is at a safe temperature to store) or to keep it in a covered pot.  Even then, it will only keep for an hour or so at best.

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