The One Ingredient That Can Make Or Break Homemade Hollandaise Sauce

On paper, the ingredients in hollandaise sauce seem simple enough: butter, egg yolks, lemon juice, and a little seasoning. Why then is it such an intimidating sauce to try making at home? The reason is that a perfect hollandaise is a creamy sauce with a thick enough texture to cling to fish and steamed vegetables, or to coat the top of an eggs benedict. Achieving that texture without the sauce separating or curdling is a bit of a trick. 

As this TikTok hack shows, gently heating the egg yolks is the first step to a great hollandaise; whisking the yolks in a double boiler allows them to thicken over indirect heat and prevent scrambling. The other important ingredient at play is the butter, which forms an emulsion with the egg yolks to create the sauce. Instead of melting the butter for this step, make the emulsion come together more easily by using softened, room-temperature butter. 

Butter itself is an emulsion — fats and liquids held together in a suspension. Instead of breaking this emulsion by melting it, let the butter emulsion help the sauce. Whisk small pieces of softened butter into the warm yolks and lemon juice, waiting until they're fully incorporated before adding more. The sauce will come together with a thick and silky texture. 

It's how The French Chef made this French sauce

Trying to decide on the proper temperature of butter for hollandaise sauce is made all the more difficult by the varying opinions out there on the topic, especially from well-known celebrity chefs. A quick search of hollandaise sauce recipes reveals that many chefs go all in with hot melted butter for their sauce, including Jamie Oliver, Thomas Keller, and Tyler Florence.

However, the softened butter technique was a favorite of the original celebrity chef, Julia Child. She demonstrates this technique on a 1972 episode of her show "The French Chef." After thickening egg yolks in a small saucepan on the stove, and whisking in a little concentrated lemon juice, Child removes the eggs from the heat and begins to feverishly whisk in spoonfuls of softened butter. She explains that the butter helps bring down the temperature of the eggs so that they don't continue to cook in the warm pan. As Child slowly incorporates more butter into the eggs, the emulsion comes together into a velvety Hollandaise sauce. 


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Child also warns that the eggs can only handle so much butter — too much and the sauce will break. She recommends using a ratio of no more than three ounces of softened butter per egg yolk.