Recently Ms Crankypants asked for some help with Hollandaise sauce. She said "Hollandaise, florentine biscuits and fudge are the three things I just can't cook without them turning to culinary disaster zones."
Florentines are delicious, but a mystery to me too. Fudge I don't have the patience for (except the easy kind with condensed milk). But Hollandaise I can help with!
The first thing you need to know about Hollandaise is that I cheat. What I am happy to call a Hollandaise is not what a purist would acknowledge.
My cheating comes, however, with Elizabeth David's blessing. In French Provincial Food she notes that, when made with just butter, egg yolks and lemon juice (as it is supposed to be) it is apt to be insipid. Yes. Yes it is. So she suggests starting as for a Bearnaise, and making a reduction of white wine vinegar as the foundation of the sauce. It doesn't have tarragon, and it doesn't have shallots in it, so it doesn't taste like a Bearnaise, it just tastes much better than the plain version.
My second cheat is that I don't follow the traditional method. I find adding cold butter, cube by cube, to the eggyolks in a double boiler is far too fraught with tension. To get the eggs hot enough to incorporate the butter without scrambling is a knife-edge that I just can't walk. So I melt the butter, drizzle it into the yolks in my double boiler as if I were making mayonnaise and then cook it until it thickens.
So - without further ado - I present:
Hollandaise Sauce (makes an unhealthy amount for 2 or a good amount for 4)
3 tbs white wine vinegar
a few peppercorns
120g butter ( I use slightly salted)
Juice of half a lemon
In a small pan, combine the vinegar, bayleaf and peppercorns. Reduce over a high heat until there is only about 1tbs of liquid left. Strain the reduction into a pyrex bowl and allow to cool. For the sake of the washing up, use the same small saucepan to gently melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.
Beat the eggyolks into the cooled vinegar with a wooden spoon - not a whisk, I don't want the froth to hide any changes that indicate scrambling is about to happen.
Set the pyrex bowl over a pan containing a bit of simmering water, on a low heat. With one hand stir the eggs continuously, with the other drip the melted butter in, little bit by little bit, making sure each addition is incorporated before you pour the next bit in.
When all the butter is added, keep stirring. Make sure you are getting all round the base and sides of the bowl, wherever they are exposed to steam.
This takes a while. Don't lose heart, don't be tempted to turn the heat up.
The moment the sauce shows the slightest sign of thickening, turn the heat off under it (and if you are on an electric stove, take the pot off the heat).
Keep stirring! After another few seconds it'll be showing definite intention to thicken. Then whip the bowl off the pot of simmering water and keep stirring. At this stage it'll keep thickening, but you want to make sure you haven't got any hot-spots that'll scramble the bottom.
Pretty soon, you will have a lovely thick coating consistency. Add a little lemon juice and taste for seasoning. For this demonstration I added a bit of grainy mustard because I thought it'd be nice with my salmon fillets. If you were serving it with poached eggs and ham for an eggs Benedict, you won't need a lot of seasoning, but if it is with eggs and spinach for a Florentine, you'll want a bit more.
The last thing about Hollandaise is that it is a breeding ground for disease. Good-o. Either make it just before you serve it, or cover and chill it quickly and serve it cold (honestly, if you serve it on hot food and flash it under the grill at the last minute, no one will know!). It really isn't worth it to keep it warm for any length of time before serving.