Hollandaise is a buttery, lemony sauce that is probably the most well known of the French sauces. It is also the scariest because it can be temperamental and prone to curdle or not thicken. It requires constant attention when cooking so be prepared to do nothing else for about 20 minutes while you make it.
Having never made it before from scratch, I decided to pull out my copy of Julia Child's The French Chef Cookbook, which is a wonderful compendium of recipes from her legendary cooking show. I must admit that I really didn't understand the magnitude of the impact that Julia Child had on the culinary world - and to cooking on television in particular - until I read My Life in France last summer. She was a pioneer and a perfectionist and tested and tested her recipes until they were fool-proof. She made classical French cooking accessible to the "average American housewife" and was the first woman on television to have a cooking show.
As with most complicated recipes, I find having all your ingredients in place before you begin - your mis en place - makes all the difference to success or failure. The thing I love most about Julia's recipes is the detailed list of tools needed and ingredients up front, and then the step by step instructions, complete with visual cues to help you along. I find detailed descriptions, photos and tasting helps me immensely in knowing if I got something right.
So below is Julia's recipe for Hand-made Hollandaise Sauce, almost untouched by me and achieved on my first try! I am very proud of that fact - and it is a testament to her ability to communicate. She also has a blender version, but I went for the handmade. Man, that was a lot of whisking but the result is extremely satisfying.
Hand-made Hollandaise Sauce (Julia Child from The French Chef Cookbook)
1 6-cup saucepan
1 wire whip
1 pan of cold water (I tossed in a few icecubes to keep it cold)
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper (oops I used black)
1 tablespoon cold butter
6 to 8 oz. very soft or melted butter (I used 6 oz and it was VERY buttery and rich)
Off the heat, whisk the yolks in the saucepan for 1-2 minutes to thicken them slightly and prepare them for what is to come. Then beat in the lemon juice,water, salt and pepper. Continue to beat and add in the tablespoon of cold butter, this will melt slowly when you put the eggs over the heat, and provide a little anti-scramble insurance.
Set the pan over moderately low heat (I was set at 2-3 on my electric stove) and continue to whisk at a reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook. Remove the pan from the heat now and then. If you think the eggs are cooking too quickly or if they seem to be lumping at all, plunge bottom of pan in the cold water, beating to cool. Then continue beating over low heat.
The yolks are beginning to cream when you notice a steamy vapour rising from the pan. In a few seconds the should be thick enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes. When they form a creamy layer over the wires of the wisk, they are done and you are ready to beat in the melted butter.
Also, while I think Julia's recipe worked to perfection I found the taste extremely buttery and I do wonder if I could manage with 4 oz. butter and achieve the same results next time. Not the classic preparation, but if one wants to actually make Hollandaise and use it with any regularity, the waistline must be considered!