The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking Exploratorium
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recipe: Hollandaise Sauce
emulsion at work

Hollandaise Sauce Recipe: Sometimes eggs function as mediators. Try mixing oil and water, and you'll get, well, oil and water. But with the addition of an egg yolk, oil and water—or fat and water—can blend together into a smooth mix.

In hollandaise sauce, melted butter and water form a creamy mixture. Tiny droplets of the butter are dispersed in the water, creating a delicious combination. A chemist would call this an emulsion. A substance that helps two liquids remain in this state is called an emulsifier. Egg yolks contain a number of emulsifiers.

Why are oil and water so difficult to mix—and how does adding an egg yolk help?

There are many different recipes for hollandaise—every chef seems to have a variation of his or her own.

Recipe Conversions

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Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups
Prep Time: 2 minutes | Cook time: 8 minutes
 
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What Do I Need? .
3 egg yolks Did You Know?
Without the egg’s ability to join fat-based and water-based liquids, we wouldn't have cake or mayonnaise or Caesar salad dressing!
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon salt
a pinch of white pepper
1 1/2 to 2 sticks (6–8 ounces) melted butter  
Tip
If you use a double boiler over hot (but not quite boiling) water, you'll get a more even heat and reduce the possibility of the eggs' coagulating. But this precaution comes with a price—you'll have to whisk the mixture for a longer time.
a wire whisk

a medium-weight stainless steel, enameled, or glass saucepan, or a double boiler

Why does the kind of saucepan matter?

 
What Do I Do?

 

1. Put the egg yolks in the pan and beat them with a wire whisk for a minute or two until they are slightly thickened.

 

 

2. Beat in the lemon juice, water, salt, and pepper until they are well combined.

   

3. Place the pan over low heat and stir the mixture with the wire whisk until it becomes smooth, creamy, and thicker. You’ve now created the initial emulsion.

Why do I have to keep the heat low?

Tip
Remove the pan from the heat occasionally to keep the mixture from cooking too quickly.
   

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Begin adding the melted butter by no more than a quarter teaspoon at a time, quickly beating in each addition before you add the next. Make sure you scrape the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. When the sauce is as thick as heavy cream, you may beat in the butter by half tablespoons. It takes about 5 minutes to create the final emulsion.

Why do I have to keep whisking? Why can't I just dump all the butter in at once?

Did You Know?
This rich sauce is perhaps best known as a companion to the poached egg in the classic Eggs Benedict. It is often poured over asparagus and other green vegetables as well.
   

5. Serve at once—or keep the sauce warm by setting it over a pan of lukewarm water. Hollandaise is served warm, not hot.

Can curdled hollandaise sauce be saved?

 
 

 

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