Herbed Hollandaise sauce and eggs Benedict

Herbed Hollandaise sauce and eggs BenedictI LOVE brunch. Both the delicious although totally absurd food (s’mores pancakes, anyone?) and the lazy weekend it represents. I used to go to brunch with friends fairly regularly, hitting a number of pretty excellent places in my brunch-restaurant-laden hipster neighborhood.

Then I decided to work brunch instead of eating it. And while being behind the scenes has its perks (donuts have to be tasted regularly. You know, for quality control), I do miss meeting friends over an amazing stack of pancakes or a perfectly balanced plate of chilaquiles. And it doesn’t help that my boyfriend hates brunch. But to make up for it, he goes all-out when cooking breakfast at home, which means I get to eat yummy food without changing out of my pajamas. I’m not going to complain about that.

Homemade English muffins

We made eggs Benedict a few weeks ago and it was great, but I just had a feeling that it could be more. So I threw in some herbs, switched out Canadian bacon for applewood smoked, and added some cheese. And oh boy, did it deliver. I mean, let’s be real. There’s cheese and there’s bacon, so it’s hard to go wrong here. But the magic here is not in the bacon, for once–it’s in the sauce. The freshness of the herbs and the acidity of the lemon cut through the other flavors and wrap it all up in buttery goodness. It’s a pretty classic Hollandaise with thyme, rosemary, and basil to amp it up and a hefty squeeze of lemon for good measure. (Note: if you’re up on your haute cuisine French sauces, you may know that Béarnaise is basically what I’m explaining here: Hollandaise with herbs added. The difference is that Béarnaise has specific herbs, namely shallots, chervil, tarragon, and peppercorn.)

Time for thyme!

And the magic of the sauce comes from our favorite culinary sorcerers, egg yolks. In the chocolate mousse we saw them at work as thickeners, but here they’re playing the role of emulsifier. It’s very similar to the mayonnaise I raved about last year.

We talked in detail about emulsions in that post, but here’s a quick refresher: start with two liquids that don’t like to mix (usually oil and water). Break one of them (usually oil) up into pieces, like when you whisk a salad dressing, and you get a brief mixture but each side will hurriedly find its own kind and form two separate layers again. But if you break that oil up into little tiny miniscule pieces, it sees only water in every direction, gives up on ever finding its own people again, and settles down to live as an outcast in a strange land. Well, it might not be that dramatic. But the gist is that we need to get small oil droplets separate from each other and stabilize them in water, which they don’t usually like.

Herbed Hollandaise sauce

Enter the egg yolk. It works as a sort of peacekeeper. We talked briefly about the phospholipids hidden deep inside the egg yolks in the first post in this series, and now you get to see how they work. They have two main parts, represented by each half of the word. “Phospho” refers to the phosphate head, which has one phosphate atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms. It carries an electric charge and so it likes to be around water (we call this hydroPHILic). “Lipid” is just another word for fat, and it refers to the two long carbon and hydrogen chains that extend from the phosphate head. We see these long chains in all of the oils we use in the kitchen, and we’ve talked before about the difference between chains with double bonds (unsaturated fats) and chains with all single bonds (saturated fats). Since these tails look so much like oils, they don’t like to be around water (we call this hydroPHOBic).


Thanks to Claire for this lovely image! Click for more on phospholipids.

So we have the phosphate head that wants to be in water and the lipid tail that wants to get far away, but they’re connected to each other. They end up acting like a bridge between the two groups: the head hangs out in the water part and the tails flock to the oil. Because the egg yolk has lots of these phospholipid molecules, it can do lots of bridging between the water and those tiny oil droplets, making both sides a lot happier. The result is a mixture of oil and water that’s stable and will stay mixed up, and it’s all thanks to the power of the egg yolk.

Mmm butter

Herbed Hollandaise sauce and eggs Benedict

Start the day right with a breakfast that has it all. Poached eggs on top of crispy bacon on top of melted cheese on top of an English muffin, all covered in a fresh, lemony Hollandaise sauce. Grab your favorite English muffins from the store, or go all out and make your own (I used this recipe).

Yield: 4 servings, 2 loaded English muffin halves per serving

For the herbed Hollandaise sauce:

½ c. plus 2 T. butter

5 leaves basil

2 stalks rosemary

6 sprigs thyme

3 egg yolks

Juice from ½ lemon (about 1 T.)

1 t. water

Generous pinch salt

Fresh ground pepper

For the eggs Benedict:

4 English muffins (try homemade!)

8 slices sharp cheddar cheese

8 strips bacon

8 eggs

Make the herbed Hollandaise sauce: start by clarifying your butter. This removes water and milk solids and will give you clearer flavor and a thicker sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 basil leaves, roughly torn, leaves from 1 stalk of rosemary, and leaves from 5 sprigs of thyme. The butter will start to bubble and foam, stir occasionally.

Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place over a bowl. When the butter stops bubbling, the water is all evaporated and the milk solids will start to brown. As soon as you see this, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into the prepared strainer. Let it cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, and water. Slowly add the clarified butter, whisking constantly. The mixture should thicken as an emulsion forms.

Chop the remaining basil and rosemary leaves, and remove the thyme leaves from their stems. Add the herbs to the Hollandaise.

Troubleshooting: this sauce can be tricky! If it cools too much and it looks spotty, heat it gently over a water bath and whisk constantly until it comes back together. If you have trouble forming or returning to the smooth emulsion, try adding an extra egg yolk or buzzing it with an immersion blender.

Make the eggs Benedict: start boiling about 2 inches of water for poaching the eggs in a large saucepan while you prep the other toppings. When it is just about to boil, turn the heat down slightly and gently crack 4 eggs at a time into the water. Cook until the white is completely set, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the appropriately topped English muffins, or into a bowl while you finish the other components.

Fry the bacon in a dry frying pan until it’s how you like it (I love bacon so crispy it’s almost burnt. Blame my mother). Be sure to save the bacon fat! You can do all sorts of things with it.

Split your English muffins with a fork and top each half with a slice of cheese. Place under the broiler until melted.

Top the cheesy English muffins with one slice of bacon per half, then slide the poached egg on top. Drizzle with Hollandaise sauce and dig in!

Hollandaise sauce adapted from The Food Network.

Herbed Hollandaise sauce and eggs Benedict