Basics: Hollandaise Sauce

Image of asparagus with Hollandaise

Hollandaise sauce is one of those things that can strike fear into the heart of even the most experienced cook. Get the temperature wrong or turn your back for a minute and you can end up with a curdled mess. 

It’s happened to me more than once and it’s particularly infuriating if you’ve managed to make a perfect sauce and left it on the back of the stove to keep warm and then it splits. People say it’s easier to make in a food processor than in a saucepan. Well, maybe, but I’ve managed to curdle it both ways and I prefer the texture of a hand-made Hollandaise, it’s richer and less fluffy. I’ll give both methods here.

It’s critical that all the ingredients are kept at the same temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. Don’t put the finished sauce in the fridge or (see above) in too warm a place. It’s not a sauce that holds well so it’s best made at the last minute.

If, heaven forfend, it does split, try whisking in a teaspoon or two of boiling water, a drop at a time. If that doesn’t work, break an egg yolk into a clean bowl, whisk in a tablespoon of cold water and then the split sauce, drip by drip, as you would if you were rescuing a mayonnaise. If it gets too thick, add a small splash of warm water.

And please don’t be put off by all these do’s and don’ts … a good home-made Hollandaise is divine in Eggs Benedict or poured generously over poached salmon, steamed asparagus or broccoli.

Hollandaise Sauce

Image of Hollandaise Sauce


100g butter

2 tbsp white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar

1 tbsp ice-cold water

2 egg yolks

A squeeze of lemon juice

A pinch each of salt and cayenne pepper

Image of asparagus with Hollandaise


In a small saucepan, reduce the vinegar until you have a scant tablespoon remaining. Keep warm.

Melt the butter and skim any white solids from the surface. Keep warm.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil. Take a glass or metal bowl that will fit over the pan without touching the water.

Off the heat, pour the vinegar into the bowl and add a tablespoon of ice-cold water. Now add the egg yolks and whisk for several minutes until thick and frothy.

Put the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk continuously until thick, about three to five minutes.

Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the warm (not hot) butter, bit by bit, until you have a thick sauce, stopping before you get to any solids at the bottom of the butter pan. Whisk in the lemon juice and season with salt and a little cayenne pepper.

Variation: Blender Hollandaise

This is Katie Stewart’s recipe. She’s never failed me yet.

Melt 100g of butter and keep hot. Put 3 egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into a food processor or blender and season with salt and pepper. Cover and whizz for a few seconds. Gradually pour the bubbling hot butter onto the egg yolks while the blender is at high speed. Whizz for a few seconds until thick and fluffy.

7 thoughts on “Basics: Hollandaise Sauce

    • I don’t use the blender method either, although I have used it to rescue a split sauce. If I do it, I make it in a regular food processor jug. But I generally use the double boiler method on the stove.

      • Ah, me too. Good to have that as a rescue plan, I’ll keep that in mind for the coming asparagus season and finally all the good sauces again!!!!!!

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