The Time Jeff Saved the Hollandaise

On the last morning of 2011, I did what a lot of people did: I made breakfast. However, it wasn’t just any breakfast, it was eggs Benedict, the mother of all brunch dishes. Although I had somewhat successfully made eggs Benedict on Thanksgiving, on December 31 making eggs Benedict was an ordeal.

It all started a couple of weeks earlier, at Santacon, when a friend, Jeff, was telling me about a recent episode of the The Best Thing I Ever Made. In it, Duff Goldman described the most amazing-sounding champagne hollandaise eggs Benedict.

“I think we should make it in Arnold over New Year’s Eve,” Jeff said.

Since eggs Benedict is my all time favorite breakfast dish, I was happy to oblige. What better time to make the somewhat complicated dish then a long and leisurely weekend at my family’s cabin in the Sierra Nevada? I started to research recipes, but sadly couldn’t find Duff’s champagne hollandaise eggs Benedict anywhere on the internet. So I read Martha Stewart’s recipe and Emeril’s version. I familiarized myself with the technique of hollandaise. It’s kind of like making mayonnaise, but instead of slowly whisking oil into egg yolks, you whisk clarified butter into egg yolks. The hard thing about hollandaise is it has to be warmed over a pot of simmering water. Oh and temperature does matter. If the mixture gets too hot, the hollandaise will break and you end up with a gross-looking bowl of scrambled egg yolks floating in butter.

The night before we were going to make the hollandaise, Jeff accessed his television’s saved programs through the internet (yay for technology!) and let me watch Duff make the hollandaise. We would replicate his exact method. Easy, right? Everything started out okay: Jeff and I were in charge of the sauce and poached eggs and Sonia, Jeff’s girlfriend, would toast the English muffins and brown the Canadian bacon. Earlier that morning when I randomly turned on the Food Network, we had lucked upon chef Anne Burrell making hollandaise sauce. She said to always keep ice cubes nearby. If it looks like the mixture is going to break, you throw in some ice cubes and whisk like mad. I made sure to put the ice bucket on the counter just in case we ran into a crisis.

After downing a glass of liquid mimosa courage, I decided it was time to get the eggs Benedict show going. When the water in a large saucepan was just simmering, I placed a metal bowl with three large egg yolks on top of the pan and started whisking. But my arm quickly got tired. Emily, one of my best friends, stepped in and whisked while I slowly, drop by drop, added the butter. It almost started to break, so we added a small ice cube. Jeff took over with the whisking, we added some champagne, lemon juice, cayenne and white pepper, and somehow, we ended up with a fluffy, creamy, thick, pale yellow, delicious-tasting hollandaise sauce!

However, while the hollandaise sauce was ready to go, we had yet to poach the eggs. This is where things start to get chaotic. The first egg didn’t really coagulate and ended up with a yolk that looked too hard. Since we had no eggs to spare, I offered to take one for the team and eat the first (overcooked) egg. While Jeff was poaching eggs and I was taking a few bites of eggs Benedict, the hollandaise broke. I turned around to check on it, but it was too late.

“Jeff! The hollandaise!” I screamed.

He quickly took the whisk in his hand, threw in a few ice cubes, and attempted to bring it back. It didn’t work. What had moments before been a beautiful French sauce was now a sad mixture of clear butter and scrambled eggs. Trying not to panic, I went to Twitter asking my followers for help. I Google searched, “how to save a broken hollandaise” and quickly read aloud the results to Jeff. Nothing worked.

“Breakfast is ruined!” Sonia cried in despair. The phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize.

“Maybe it’s Anne Burrell calling to tell us how to save the hollandaise,” I say, fantasizing that my life is a Food Network program. Alas, it’s not Duff or Emeril or even Guy Fieri, it’s my sister’s friend who doesn’t know anything about making eggs Benedict. Suddenly, I remember something Jeff had told me during one of our many conversations about hollandaise.

“Jeff, didn’t you tell me that your dad had a special technique for saving broken hollandaise sauce? Call him now. Hurry!”

Within minutes, Jeff is back in action. He tells me to poach the eggs and goes to work saving the hollandaise. I’m too busy concentrating on poaching the eggs to perfection to see what Jeff is doing. But somehow, miraculously, in what was surely a New Year’s Eve miracle, he manages to bring the sauce back together. It wasn’t as shiny as it was the first time around, but it would do for our breakfast. After we hastily devoured the last of the eggs Benedict standing at the kitchen counter, I asked Jeff what he did to save the hollandaise. Below, is what his dad told him to do.

How to Save a Broken Hollandaise Sauce

  1. Put a few tablespoons of water in a large metal bowl.
  2. Place the metal bowl, directly over a burner on your stovetop set to medium-low heat. You need the water in the bowl to come to a temperature that is hotter than the broken hollandaise.
  3. When it’s just about to boil, slowly and carefully whisk the broken hollandaise into the water. This should bring it back to life.

My other recommendation is to have lots of extra eggs on hand. We could have started to make the sauce over again, but we had no extra eggs. The next time I make eggs Benedict, I’m going to have a dozen extra eggs in the house!

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