Making hollandaise was a rite of passage when I was in cooking school. We started out in the kitchen learning all the master sauces of classical French cuisine and the most nail-biting one of them all was hollandaise.
We did it all tense and fussy, with a bowl over a water bath, whisking in tiny ladles of melted clarified butter bit by bit. Gallons of scrambled and broken hollandaise went into the garbage.
It was only years later, watching Julia Child on an episode of "The French Chef," that I learned you could make hollandaise over direct heat with whole—not melted—butter. It’s so much easier!
What is Hollandaise?
You probably know hollandaise best as the sunny yellow sauce cascading over Eggs Benedict at brunch.
It’s a warm emulsion of butter and lemon juice with egg yolks acting as a buffer and adding creaminess and a custardy body. When these ingredients are combined with care, you can coax them into a smooth sauce that’s both light and rich.
How Do You Make Hollandaise?
Hollandaise is an emulsion. An emulsion is a suspension of one substance inside another—eggs and melted butter would normally not mix, but by constantly whisking and adding the butter slowly, you achieve a velvety rich sauce as a result.
Using a blender is a popular, and fast, way to make hollandaise. We even have a blender version on Simply Recipes. But, I prefer the stovetop method because the sauce whips up into an almost mousse-like consistency.
Here are a few tips to achieve a perfect sauce:
- Use room temperature, not cold, butter. Butter straight from the fridge is more likely to cause the hollandaise to break.
- This recipe involves a lot of whisking. You can use an electric hand mixer on medium speed or a handheld electric whisk if you don’t want to do all that whisking by hand.
- Whisk like you mean it. Whisking is what keeps the sauce from separating, plus it gives the sauce a lighter body.
- Use a nonreactive pan, such as stainless steel because making this sauce in an aluminum pan can give it a gray hue.
Simple ingredients can still lead to tricky issues. I’ve identified some of what can go wrong when making hollandaise and how to fix it so you end up with the perfect sauce every time.
If your sauce is:
Greasy, separated, or runny: The emulsion broke, and the butter is no longer suspended in the liquid. It’s possible that you added the butter too fast, didn’t whisk fast enough, or the butter was too cold.
- The Fix: If it’s early in the process and you haven’t added all of the butter, you can fix the sauce by beating in about a tablespoon of cold water, a little at a time. But, if the sauce is very separated, it might not work. You can also restart with fresh egg yolks and water, just as if you were making the sauce from the beginning and beat the separated sauce into the new egg yolks (instead of butter) a bit at a time.
Chunky or gritty: The egg yolks scrambled because the heat was too high.
- The Fix: There’s nothing you can do but throw the sauce away. Consider it a life lesson, start over and use a lower heat next time.
Sauce lacks body: The yolks didn’t get beaten long enough in the initial step of whisking before adding the butter. When the yolks are properly cooked the sauce will gain body and volume as you whisk in more butter.
- The Fix: Relax. Hollandaise should be fun to make, not stressful. Go with the flow and your hollandaise will dazzle.
Like many fundamental sauces in French cuisine, hollandaise has plenty of variations to try.
- Turn your hollandaise into a Maltaise sauce by replacing the lemon juice with blood orange juice. And add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely grated blood orange zest to the sauce.
- Add a little lemon zest for a very lemony sauce.
- Use cayenne pepper instead of black or white pepper.
- Add chopped fresh herbs such as dill, chervil, tarragon, or chives.
- Add chopped capers or minced cornichons.
- Stir in a little mustard, either whole grain or Dijon.
- Add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon minced chipotles in adobo sauce.
Storing Leftover Hollandaise
Hollandaise is one of those sauces you want to make and serve immediately. It doesn’t reheat well, nor is it best for keeping. But sometimes leftovers happen, and I’m not a fan of throwing things out.
Because life is life and you are at home, not a chef serving hollandaise to the masses, here are a few tips for keeping and storing hollandaise.
- You can hold hollandaise sauce warm by keeping the pan on a burner on the lowest setting for about half an hour. It might form a skin; occasionally whisk it and the skin will disappear. Don’t leave it on the stove for more than 2 hours max.
- I don’t recommend making it ahead of time, but you can refrigerate leftover sauce for up to 3 days. It’ll harden—this sauce is mostly butter, after all. Spread the tangy, butter-firm sauce over toast like a flavored butter. Don’t keep it in the refrigerator for more than 3 days.
- You can freeze hollandaise for up to 1 month. Thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and rewarm as directed below.
- To rewarm cold sauce: Let the leftover sauce come to room temperature before gently warming it over a double boiler and whisking. Fair warning: Hollandaise doesn’t love being reheated. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth it.
How to Serve Hollandaise
Honestly, some folks would be happy to have hollandaise in shot glasses. But classically, it’s served over delicate vegetables, seafood, and beef tenderloin. Here are a serving options:
- Steamed asparagus or broccolini
- Eggs Benedict
- Baked, steamed, or broiled fish
- Poached chicken
- Sautéed scallops
More Easy Hollandaise Recipes
- Easy Blender Hollandaise Sauce
- Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
- How to Make Eggs Benedict
- Vegetarian Eggs Benedict with Spinach and Avocado
Most restaurants make hollandaise in a blender, which makes for a runnier sauce. This stovetop version has more body, almost like a mousse. If you're more familiar with blender hollandaise, you may prefer to strain the finished sauce, which thins its body. You can also whisk in warm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to reach your desired consistency.
- 10 tablespoons (142 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black or white pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, and water:
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, and water. Whisk off the heat until the egg yolks double in volume.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter and cook sauce:
Set the pan over low heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Whisking constantly, cook the sauce, very gently until the eggs are thick, pale, and fluffy.
The whisk should leave trails in the sauce. This could take up to 5 minutes. Don’t skimp on this step! It’s what makes a thin, so-so hollandaise into a sensational sauce with body.
Whisk in remaining softened butter:
Once the egg mixture is thick, begin whisking in the remaining softened butter, one tablespoon at a time. Make sure each addition of butter is fully incorporated into the sauce before whisking in the next piece. This can take up to 10 minutes and you may need to move the pan on and off the burner to regulate the heat and prevent the sauce from cooking too quickly.
As you whisk in more butter the sauce will grow in body. When you’ve added all the butter, reduce the heat as low as it will go.
Season, taste, and strain the hollandaise if desired:
Add the salt and some freshly ground pepper, to taste. If using a pinch of cayenne pepper, omit the freshly ground black pepper. It’s an intense sauce, so dip a raw vegetable like a carrot stick in there, to taste and adjust for seasoning as needed.
If you’re serving it with something salty, like ham, you might not want to season it as aggressively, but I do think this sauce is better when it’s on the salty side, and I usually wind up adding a few more pinches of salt.
If you desire a thinner hollandaise, you can thin the sauce by using one of two methods. You can strain the seasoned sauce into a large bowl using a fine mesh sieve. Use a rubber spatula to help you strain the hollandaise, if needed. You can also whisk in warm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to reach your desired consistency.
How to keep hollandaise warm before serving and how to store:
You may hold the sauce for up to 30 minutes on the stovetop with the burner on its lowest setting. You may need to slide the pan on and off the burner in order for the hollandaise to not overheat and break.
Refrigerate leftover hollandaise within 2 hours of making it and use the leftovers to spread on toast within 3 days. It does not reheat well, but if you decide to try to reheat it do so in a double boiler whisking continuously.