How to Make Classic Hollandaise Sauce

published Apr 14, 2022
Hollandaise Sauce
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Hollandaise is the classic French sauce that’s an egg Benedict’s BFF. It has a reputation for being difficult, finicky, a total brunch diva. But I ain’t afraid of hollandaise! I can see through that attitude. I can tell that deep down, she’s nothing more than a simple four-ingredient girl.

What Is Hollandaise Sauce?

At the end of the day, hollandaise sauce is just an emulsified blend of butter, egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt. Spice things up with some cayenne pepper or white pepper, or switch out some of the lemon juice for Dijon mustard if you want to take the tanginess in a different direction.

The Key to Making Hollandaise Sauce

The trick to a rich, smooth hollandaise is heating the egg yolks gently, just enough to warm them up, then thickening them with the natural swerves and curves of warm, melted butter. I find the easiest way to do this is by building the sauce in a stainless-steel bowl set over a small saucepan of boiling water.

For this DIY double boiler set up, the key is making sure the bottom of the bowl fits snugly into the saucepan without touching the simmering water. This lets the steam gently and evenly warm the metal bowl without creating any hot spots, like you might get when heating a pan directly on a burner. Once you’ve found the right bowl-and-saucepan combo, you’re ready to rock.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Make Hollandaise Sauce

  • Melt the butter. You’ll start by melting butter in another saucepan or in the microwave. Set that aside.
  • Combine lemon juice and egg yolks. Then, whisk lemon juice and egg yolks in the bowl that will go over the boiling water.
  • Create a nest for your bowl. As the water comes to a boil, roll up a kitchen towel lengthwise, then curl it into a circle on the counter near the stove. This will be a secure little nest for the warm bowl once it comes off the heat. It will keep the bowl from jumping around on the counter while you whisk.
  • Cook the eggs and lemon juice. Now it’s time to cook! Place the bowl of eggs and lemon juice over the boiling water and whisk constantly until the mixture starts to thicken. This should take 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Move bowl of sauce to your nest and add butter. As soon as the mixture thickens, pull it off the heat (you don’t want scrambled eggs!). Move it over to your kitchen towel nest and drizzle in your butter, whisking constantly. You might see some separation at first, but keep the faith and keep whisking. The sauce will come together and smooth out.

Why Melted Butter Makes Better Hollandaise

Some people prefer to add the butter cube by cube, but I take a cue from the blender version of hollandaise and drizzle melted butter into the warmed egg yolks and lemon juice. By melting the butter before you heat the eggs, it stays warm enough — but not too hot. It also keeps the temperature of the sauce at a nice, stable spot.

Plus, it takes much less time this way, and you don’t want to keep a diva (or her eggs Benedict) waiting!

Hollandaise Sauce

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 8 minutes

Makes about 2/3 cup

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 3

    large egg yolks

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (optional)

Equipment

  • Measuring spoons

  • Liquid measuring cup or spouted cup

  • Double boiler, or small saucepan and small or medium heatproof bowl

  • Whisk

  • Kitchen towel

  • Handheld juicer (optional)

  • Small fine-mesh strainer

Instructions

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  1. Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. (Alternatively, cut the butter into 4 pieces and place in a glass measuring cup. Melt the butter in the microwave. Make sure the butter is warm, but not scalding hot, before using.) Transfer to a liquid measuring or spouted cup and set aside.

  2. Bring a small saucepan of water or the bottom half of a double boiler to a simmer over medium-low heat. If using the saucepan, make the sauce in a small or medium heatproof bowl that fits over the saucepan without the bottom touching the water.

  3. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 medium lemon until you have 1 tablespoon, then pour the juice through a small fine-mesh strainer into the bowl or top half of the double boiler. Add 3 large egg yolks and whisk just until combined.

  4. Place a folded kitchen towel on the counter, where it can hold the warm bowl and stabilize it.

  5. Place the bowl over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until just starting to thicken (about 148ºF), 2 to 3 minutes.

  6. Immediately remove the bowl from the heat and place on the kitchen towel to stabilize it. While whisking constantly, pour in the butter very gradually and continue whisking until all the butter is incorporated. As you whisk, you may see the mixture separate slightly, but keep whisking and it will smooth out as the butter emulsifies with the eggs.

  7. Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper if desired and whisk to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

White pepper: You can substitute white pepper for the cayenne pepper.

Make ahead: Hollandaise sauce can be made up to 1 day in advance. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming, then refrigerate.

To reheat in the microwave, heat at 20 percent power in 15-second increments, stirring after each increment, until the sauce is warm and smooth, but not hot. You don’t want to overcook the eggs. Alternatively, reheat in a double boiler or bowl the same way you made it initially until warm but not hot.