Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Channeling Julia: Hollandaise Sauce

As a way to push outside my comfort zone, learn new things, be brave, explore options, and pursue something I feel excited about, I’m taking a culinary arts course at the local community college this semester. We meet twice a week in the evenings for three scheduled hours, although I rarely get to leave on time and we need to show up early to set up so it’s more like a ten hour a week commitment to being in class. Plus, I have chapters to read, homework to do, quizzes to study for, shifts in the student cafe to work and restaurant reviews(!) to write. We’re not learning to be better home cooks or building a repertoire of recipes, although that’s a side effect; we’re learning culinary techniques and how to maneuver in a professional kitchen.

I’ve learned that working in a professional kitchen is quite different than cooking at home - the pace, the scale, the equipment, the ingredients, the teamwork, the heat, the way time flies. I’ve already inflicted more wounds on myself at school than I have in ten years of cooking at home. We all have heard it, but it’s true - tools are sharper and pots are hotter in the professional kitchen! One of my classmates was gone for two weeks after cutting himself very badly on the electric slicer. When the paramedics showed up that night, I thought I might faint. I’ve learned to be a lot more conscientious, methodical and aware of my surroundings.

The truth is, I hadn’t expected it to be so different, although I think it’s good to be surprised and humbled sometimes. It’s part of the joy of learning new things. When you come out on the other side, you know that you worked really hard and have learned something really well. That’s what I tell myself, at least, when I feel frustrated.

I’ve read a lot of blogs about people who are going to or have gone to culinary school, scouring them for everything I can glean about what it would be like. From what I gather, culinary classes normally include some sort of demonstration or at least lecture explaining the recipes and then the students go to the kitchen and re-create what they’ve just learned about. This is not the case in my class. We are set loose each evening with a set of recipes, and that’s it. No demonstration, no instruction, no nothing. Just the skills from home that we already showed up with. As the semester has progressed, everyone has gotten more comfortable in the kitchen, but on our first night of cooking, everyone literally ran around like crazy looking for ingredients and equipment and frantically trying to produce something edible. I learned quickly to be more assertive, ask lots of questions and to shout, yes shout, in the kitchen. It was exhausting and overwhelming and I may have wanted to cry in the dry storage room at least twice. I took comfort in washing and sanitizing the dishes. At least that was something that I definitely knew how to do - it’s straightforward and has a clear beginning and end with a tangible accomplishment. What satisfaction!

We’re working our way through the five Mother Sauces, and they have been stressful to say the least. Everything we’re making I’m confident I could prepare beautifully at home in the comfort of my own kitchen, but having to produce these sauces under the stress of the school kitchen coupled with my extremely high standards for myself have led to disappointing results. My first attempt at Velouté was too thin. Luckily another classmate had pity on me and walked me through the fine points of a brown roux, and my second attempt was much better. My Espagnole was a little better, although I think it also could have been thicker, and my Béchamel was pretty good, but I’m told it is the simplest of the Mother Sauces. Tomorrow night is the dreaded Hollandaise, and tonight I’ll be brushing up on its ins and outs with Julia Child. Julia always makes me feel more confident and brave in the kitchen.

I made Hollandaise a few weeks ago at home, and it turned out perfectly. I followed Julia’s instructions to the letter, and although I was worried something would go wrong, she armed me with all of the troubleshooting tips I would need so I stayed calm. And in the end, I didn’t need those stinking trouble shooters anyway. I have a sinking feeling that things are going to go awry tomorrow night so in an effort to boost my confidence, I’m going to post about the beautiful Eggs Benedict Andrew and I made with the perfect Hollandaise and homemade English Muffins. I need to remind myself that I can do this because if there is anything that will make a sauce go south fast, it’s the smell of fear. I need to channel Julia and kick that Hollandaise into gear tomorrow night!

So, here is Julia’s Hollandaise, proof that I can make a divine Hollandaise. This is already pretty long, so I’ll post the recipe for the English Muffins later this week. For now, I just need to focus on the sauce.

Hollandaise sauce is made of egg yolks and butter and flavored with lemon juice. It doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But, as Julia writes, “It is often the most dreaded [sauce], as the egg yolks can curdle and the sauce can turn.” Yikes!

Sauce Hollandaise 
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

7 ounces butter
3 egg yolks
1 Tb cold water
1 Tb lemon juice, plus additional to taste
White pepper
A bowl of cold water (just in case you need to cool off the bottom of the bowl)

Cut the butter into pieces. Melt 6 ounces (3 Tablespoons) butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside.

Fill the bottom pan of a double boiler with water and bring to barely a simmer. Beat the egg yolks in the top bowl of a double boiler. Beat until they are thick and sticky, about 1 minute. Add the water, lemon juice and a big pinch of salt. Beat about 30 seconds more. Add 1/2 ounce (1 Tablespoon) cold butter, but do not beat it in.

Place the bowl on top of the pan of boiling water and stir the egg yolks with a wire whip until they slowly thicken into a cream. This will take 1 to 2 minutes. If they thicken too quickly or even suggest a lumpy quality, immediately plunge the bottom of the bowl into cold water, beating the yolks to cool them. Then continue over the simmering water. The egg yolks will have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whip.

Immediately remove the bowl from the heat and beat in 1/2 ounce (1 Tablespoon) of cold butter. This will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking.

Then, beating the egg yolks with a wire whisk, pour on the melted butter by droplets or a quarter-teaspoon at a time until the sauce thickens into a very heavy cream. Then pour the butter a little more rapidly. Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the pot.

Season the sauce with salt, white pepper and drops of lemon juice to taste.

Et voilà! Pas de problème, n'est-ce pa?


  1. GIRL! this is so awesome! i am so glad you are trying this!!! i think i would like to do the same, but i am a chickenshit and i have more ideas than time or follow through so i'll probably never get around to it!

    you won't even believe this, but i have never even tried Hollandaise sauce. it looks creepy to me, so i have never even tried eggs benedict. i am such a weirdo, but i am trying to be slightly more adventurous on the food front. slightly. i tried figs for the first time last week. and coconut water. i wasn't too impressed with either, although i bet a fancy french fig tart would be delicious!

  2. Thanks! It's been scary but fun.
    You should definitely give Eggs Benedict a try. Don't order it just anywhere though. Find a trusted restaurant that you know will do a good job because bad Hollandaise will ruin it for you!
    I'm not a fan of coconut water at all. We tried it in Nicaragua and I thought it was disgusting. I don't know how people can drink it. I do like figs in salads or in things, but I can't bring myself to eat one plain.

  3. Yikes!!! You didn't tell me about your classmate and the electric slicer!!!!! Paramedics??? Possible fainting??? HaHa... Poor guy! Hope he was OK! How did the sauce making go???

    1. Yes, poor guy. He is ok and has now come back to class.

      The sauce was fine, although it was stressful because our instructor was kind of indecisive in his directions to us. It was fun though and in the end I had a sauce that didn't break. I don't think it's nearly as tasty as the recipe above though so I'm sticking with Julia's. Also, get this, when I mentioned that I like Julia Child's recipe to my instructor he said, "don't listen to her, she's just a cook." WTF?


Hey, thank you!

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