Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Breakfast: Eggs Benedict, Country Style

Special guest blogger, Pat, shares this year's Mother's Day breakfast.

The typical eggs Benedict consists of a poached egg and a slice of ham served on a toasted English muffin, with Hollandaise sauce on top. This is great if you can get it, but I've never been any good at poaching eggs, and we hardly ever have sliced ham. Usually we don't have English muffins, either. Instead, I like to use a fried egg, bacon—everything's better with bacon—and a slice of toast (preferably Lori's homemade wheat bread). The results are one of Lori's and my favorite breakfasts.

For Mother's Day we had some English muffins so I went ahead and used them. Here are the results:

Making this is easy: just cook up some bacon, fry some eggs, toast some bread, stack them up and drizzle Hollandaise sauce over the top. “But wait!” I hear you say, “where do I get Hollandaise sauce?”

OK, I'll admit it. Hollandaise sauce isn't easy. It's hard work to make, and if you mess up, you could end up with scrambled eggs swimming in a pool of melted butter. But with some basic knowledge and a couple of tricks, you too can make one of the most delicious substances ever to grace a breakfast plate.

In technical terms, Hollandaise sauce is a heated emulsion of butter and lemon juice. Ordinarily, those two things go together as well as, well, oil and water, but if you add an emulsifier, such as a lecithin-rich egg yolk, you can mix them into a smooth, creamy sauce.

Here's what you'll need:
3 egg yolks
1 tsp water
¼ tsp sugar
¾ cup butter cut into chunks
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
a dash or two of cayenne pepper
If you're using unsalted butter, you'll also need ½ tsp salt.

For equipment you'll need a saucepan, a metal mixing bowl and a whisk. The bowl should be able to sit on top of the saucepan such that the bottom of the bowl is several inches above the bottom of the pan.

Now, before we go any further, let's take a moment to clear something up: Lemon juice comes from one of these:

Lemon juice does not come from a green and yellow bottle—I don't care how “real” it claims to be. If you use nasty, fake lemon juice, you will end up with nasty, fake Hollandaise sauce. Now, back to the sauce making.

Fill the saucepan with an inch or so of water, and heat it to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat. Keep it gently simmering until the sauce is done.

Off the heat, whisk the egg yolks and water in the mixing bowl for a minute or two until they lighten in color. Then whisk in the sugar.

Put the bowl on top of the simmering saucepan and whisk constantly for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Now it's time to add the butter. Remove bowl from heat and whisk in the butter one chunk at a time. Return to the heat periodically to keep the sauce warm enough to melt the butter.

The main trick to making Hollandaise and other emulsions such as mayonnaise, is to add the oil very, very slowly at first. Once the emulsion starts coming together and thickening up, you can start speeding up, but the initial stages are critical. Many recipes will tell you to melt and clarify the butter and drizzle it into the egg mixture. While this works, it's much easier to mess up and add too much. Using solid butter and letting it melt helps to ensure slow, even addition.

At this point you should have a nice, creamy sauce. Whisk in the lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt (if you used unsalted butter). Serve immediately. If you're not quite ready with the eggs, bacon and toast, you must keep the sauce warm. Once it cools, there's no reheating it.

Only one loose end remains: the extra lemon juice I didn't need for my sauce. Here's what I like to do when life gives me lemons:

Happy Mother's Day!

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