The Perfect Hollandaise Sauce – More Science in the Kitchen…

A photograph showing the classic (and ever so delicious) "There goes my diet" eggs Benedict!Make the Perfect Hollandaise Sauce

Eggs Benedict!  The perfect breakfast item.  Probably.  If both you and I love this indulgent breakfast staple, it’s down to that wonderful creamy and tangy garnish that is really the glue that holds the eggs benedict together.  The perfect Hollandaise sauce…

My liking for eggs benedict is tantamount to an obsession, I confess!  If I’m out for brunch, and they are on the menu, I become oblivious to the other dishes on offer.  Now I suspect the scientists who undertook the following research may suffer from the same… erm… “condition”.  Judge for yourself…


Preparation Methods influence Gastronomical Outcome of Hollandaise Sauce

Until now, relatively few studies have focused on the culinary perspectives of butter sauces.  Researchers in Norway, Denmark and Germany have examined the physical factors that affect the quality of a hollandaise sauce – and they worked out the best way to make one. Of course, it’s a very serious study!

Diagrams showing the different types of Emulsions: water-based or oil-based.
Different Types of Emulsions

From a scientific perspective, a hollandaise sauce is a colloidal suspension of oil in water.  But it’s no ordinary oil-in-water emulsion, as it also contains air bubbles.  And while the oil phase itself is a complicated mixture of butter, fat and egg-yolk lipids, the continuous water phase can have vinegar and even wine too.

Culinary practice and molecular gastronomy have often focused on how the choice of ingredients can influence the final product.  In this study, the procedure is the main field of interest because there are many ways in which the hollandaise sauce can be made.

This study was done to determine how common butter sauce preparation methods influence perceptional parameters such as texture, mouthfeel and flavour.  The goal of the study was to evaluate and quantify the differences in texture and flavour, originating from different butter sauce and the effects of the various preparation methods, in order to gain control of the process and obtain the desired sauce properties.

Yes.  But how do you make the perfect Sauce Hollandaise?


Experimental Setup

Five model sauces, prepared with the same amounts of ingredients, but with different procedures, were produced and analysed.  These experimental sauces were named: Carême, Escoffier Mayonnaise, Sabayon WB (for “warm butter”) and Sabayon CB (for “cold butter”).

Inspired by McGee’s On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2004), the team used five distinct sauce-making techniques (also known as recipes) to create the model sauces, using the same composition of ingredients for all. The explored methods represent both old and new techniques, preparations using different tools and the difference between addition of warm and cold butter.

All five recipes used the exact same combination of ingredients.

Each recipe contains 856 grams of ingredients:

  • Egg Yolk  130 g

  • Wine Reduction  120 g

  • Clarified Butter  580 g  (warm or cold)

  • Lemon Juice  20 g

  • Salt  6 g.


Sauce preparation methods differed regarding the:

  • Amount of Mechanical Treatment,

  • Order of Addition of Ingredients,

  • Ingredient Temperatures,

  • States Reached during Production.

Egg yolk-stabilized butter sauces, such as hollandaise sauce, are fundamental elements in classic French haute cuisine, and were adopted as the staples of gourmet restaurants all over the World.  Structurally similar, the sauces differ mainly regarding the aromatics used to impart flavour.  They can be made using a number of different procedures.  According to the French Larousse dictionary, the most important sensory qualities of sauces are “colour, lustre, aroma, taste, texture and viscosity”, thus underlying the fundamental importance of the sauce in a dish.


Physical Properties of the Hollandaise Sauce

The five model sauces were analysed by:

  • particle size distribution,
  • water and airiness measurements,
  • microscopy,
  • colour measurement,
  • descriptive sensory analysis,
  • analysis of volatiles.
A graph showing the particle size distribution in the Hollandaise Sauce.
Particle Size Distribution in Butter Sauces.  The technique measured the size of oil droplets (butter) in sauces. Sauces were grouped into three significantly different sauce groups, where Mayonnaise had the smallest droplets.

Results demonstrated large differences between the explored types of hollandaise sauce, with texture and mouthfeel properties varying significantly with different preparation techniques.

This study also included feedback from experienced chefs regarding their habits related to hollandaise sauce preparation.

That’s all very good.  But how do you make the perfect Hollandaise sauce?


Method…  Ah!

Traditionally, butter sauces have been hand-made in a saucepan or over a bain-marie.  Today, the normal kitchen tool is a balloon whisk, where the number of wires and beating rate influences the oil droplet size in the emulsion, in addition to the degree of air incorporation.

A photograph showing the yellow ingredients of the Hollandaise Sauce being balloon-whisked.The emulsion is created by mechanical mixing, which breaks the oil phase down into small oil droplets incorporated in the continuous phase.  The size of the droplets depends on various factors, including the amount of air and fat.  How big or large the drops are ultimately affects how smooth or runny the sauce will turn out.

However, hand-made sauces represent too much variations for research purposes.  For the purpose of this study, the hollandaise sauces were standardised using an induction stand Kenwood food mixer.

As the use of such a kitchen apparatus results in more vigorous beating of the emulsions than what would otherwise be normal when making butter sauces by hand, trained chefs were involved in the sauce development phase of the experiment, to ensure the model sauces resemble professional hand-made sauce.

Original recipes by Carême and Escoffier both call for the addition of water during sauce preparation.  In normal culinary emulsions, the oil droplets vary in size and the requirements to water phase percentage is lower than in an ideal emulsion.  So, it is in fact possible to use as little as 5% water in an emulsion, although the resulting sauce will be unstable and very likely to separate due to water evaporation.  Enough water was then added to yield a stable emulsion from the start of the procedures.

Yes, yes!!  But how do you make the perfect Hollandaise sauce?

Without further ado…


The Perfect Recipe for the Hollandaise Sauce

Of all five methods investigated, today’s culinary professionals seek hollandaise sauce properties that are best represented by the Sabayon WB procedure.  It’s now been scientifically proven!


Scientifically Perfect Hollandaise Sauce

The total preparation takes 7 minutes:

  1. Put 130 g of egg yolks in a bowl and whisk with a “balloon whisk” at speed 4.

  2. Add 120 g of wine reduction.

  3. Set the temperature to 80 °C.

  4. Bring the sabayon to a temperature of 66-67 °C.  (It takes about 1 minute.)

  5. Reduce the whisk speed to 2.

  6. Add 580 g of warm butter (65 °C)

  7. Add 20 g of lemon juice and 6 g of salt to the sauce.  Stir for a further minute.

  8. Finally, pass the finished sauce through a sieve to a new bowl.

The optimum result is achieved with an approximate number of 57,300 whisk turns.  The temperature in the finished sauce is 57 °C.

No-one really knows when or where hollandaise sauces originated, but Rognså et al. concluded that tastes have changed over the years, with modern chefs now preferring “airy” sauces.

Four confocal laser scanning micrographs of Hollandaise sauce samples.
Confocal laser scanning micrographs showing the lipid droplet size distribution of Sabayon WB (a), Sabayon CB (b), Escoffier (c) and Carême (d) sauces.  All four sauces were poly-disperse emulsions with Escoffier showing the largest, and Carême showing the lowest variation in size distribution.  The brighter appearance of Carême is due to the fact that the image is a result of inversion of the autofluorescence recording of the water phase.  Bar equals 50 μm.  Source: Rognså et al., 2014

After testing the sauces with confocal laser scanning microscopy (I kid you not!), the researchers put Sabayon WB first, because it is the most “airy”, with the foam structure “more or less conserved in the butter sauce”.

The stability of the foam, they believe, is “probably caused by the coagulation of egg-yolk proteins, which stabilises the air bubbles”.  The sauces were also rated by a special panel, which judged the sauces on the basis of their odour, appearance, flavour and texture, including “smoothness”, “creaminess”, “melt-ability”, “fattiness” and “mouth-coating”.

And there you have it.

It’s early morning.  It’s been a hectic night here in Scotland, and I could use some calories.  I’ll be foraging in my fridge for eggs and…  Well…  What better hangover cure for the morning-after the Scottish referendum?!


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