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The Country Bunny talking to the Big Jackrabbits from DuBose Heyward's "The Country Bunny"

An image from DuBose Heyward's "The Country Bunny"

Easter in my household is a distinctly feminine affair.

The holiday starts the night before with a reading of our traditional Easter book, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward. My mother has read it to me every Easter and my grandmother read it to her as a child. The story is a heartwarming tale about overcoming hardship and negativity. In it a little girl bunny dreams of growing up to be the Easter Bunny, but all the boy and aristocratic bunnies mock her and tell her to go back to the country and raise little baby bunnies. It is a magnificent feminist children’s book written in 1939 by the same man who wrote the opera Porgy and Bess. If you have not read it then check it out: The Country Bunny on Amazon

When I was younger I would bounce out of bed in search of what the elusive Easter bunny had left. Now I bounce out of bed to prepare Easter brunch. This holiday I was lucky enough to have Benjamin and Kippy staying at the house.

Mimosa

Mimosa

Kippy and I were in charge of brunch and decided to meld our traditions. The menu consisted of Fresh Fruit, Mimosas, Asparagus with Mornay Sauce, Kielbasa and Eggs Benedict/Florentine covered in a sumptuous Hollandaise sauce. Or at least that was the plan.

The first part of the menu went off without a hitch, then it came time for the Hollandaise. Hollandaise sauce is as elusive as the Easter bunny and generally as satisfying as the sugar rush he leaves behind. I’ve seen people quiver with both desire and fear when discussing Hollandaise. My college roommate swears that her heaven would be floating in a vat of the stuff.

“In these fat-fearing and egg-fearing times, I think we may be forgetting just how good hollandaise is, with its voluptuously silken texture and its lemony-buttery flavor.” – Julia Child from Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home

Hollandaise is an utterly sinful culinary delight; well it is if you can pull it off. Hollandaise is the true diva of sauces. All to often and easily this magnificent sauce can go wrong and you’re left with a curdled soup of yolks and butter.

Emulsion: noun. A mixture of two or more liquids that are not soluble in one another. One is suspended as small droplets in the other.

Hollandaise is an emulsion sauce, like Mayonnaise. It is completely dependent upon the ability of the egg yolks to absorb the butter and flavors. The egg yolks hold the butter in suspension to create a creamy and decadent sauce. But if it goes array the emulsion fails and the eggs curdle and separate from the butter.

In a hurry I grabbed the first recipe I found out of Julia Child’s Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom.I used her directions but went with the traditional method of making the sauce over a double boiler. Kippy and I furiously worked together while balancing the task of cooking the meat and slicing the rest of the ingredients. We tried to be careful, following the recipe and we treated it with love! Yet somehow before we knew it we had a sad curdled Hollandaise starring up at us. But no! What happened? We clarified the butter. We thought we had cooked everything right!

Hollandaise Gone Wrong!

Hollandaise Gone Wrong!

Naturally, my mother managed to stroll into the kitchen during our moment of culinary failure. Peeking into the pan she chuckled and suggested a new cookbook for us and grabbed Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home. Julia has a different method with softened butter, no double boiler and clear instructions from Jacques about cooking the yolks or “sabayon”.

Sabayon: noun. A light, frothy mixture made by beating egg yolks with water or other liquid over gentle heat.

Our biggest mistake was patience; we had rushed the emulsion.  When cooking the yolks make sure you whisk them thoroughly but don’t beat them into a fury. The key here is to cook and thicken the yolks. Next make sure you add the butter slowly. Give it time to absorb and adapt to the butter. We had much better luck using chunks of warmed/softened butter than with the melted/clarified butter. Traditionalists, like Jacques Pepin, swear that using clarified butter results in a thicker Hollandaise. Our version, with the softened butter, was exactly how I like it and I could not imagine it being any thicker. It simply doesn’t seem worth the time to bother with the other methods involving double boilers and clarified butter. Another big difference was the size of the saucepan. We used a far to large pan the first time and the volume of the pan didn’t match the amount of yolks. Using a smaller pan gives your greater control. It really is a capacity issue! Also this recipe took very little time and was much easier than blender Hollandaise recipes.

Remember this sauce is very rich. It took so long to recover from that it took this blog entry a week and half after Easter to come to fruition. But you shouldn’t wait for the next holiday to make this truly sumptuous and classic sauce.

The finished Hollandaise on our Eggs Benedict/Florentine

The finished Hollandaise on our Eggs Benedict/Florentine

Hollandaise Sauce adapted from Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home

Makes about 1 cup

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbs water
  • 1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice (we ended up adding a bit more at the end for flavor)
  • 8 ounces of very, very soft unsalted butter. (It must be unsalted butter the sauce needs very little salt)
  • Itty bitty pinch of salt
  • Pepper
  1. Whisk the yolks, water, and lemon juice in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan. Whisk until thick and pale. Set the pan over moderately low heat and continue to whisk at a reasonable speed. Whisking in a figure eight pattern is best in order to keep the eggs from overcooking.
  2. Moderate the heat by frequently moving the pan of the burner for a few seconds and then placing it back. As the yolks cook they will become frothy and increase in volume/thicken. When the yolks are thickened and you are able to see the bottom of the pan through the steaks of the whisk (like in risotto) remove from the heat.
  3. In 1 Tbs chunks add the soft butter and whisk constantly to incorporate each addition. Work slowly. Do not rush the butter. As the emulsion forms, you may begin to add the butter in slightly larger chunks but always whisk until fully incorporated.
  4. Continue adding butter until the sauce has thickened to your preference.
  5. Season lightly with salt, pepper and additional lemon if wanted. Whisk in well and then serve.
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