The mayo’s ancestor: the Hollandaise sauce


When we talked about emulsified sauces, I overlooked, willingly, the Hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise sauce is one of the cornerstones of the French cuisine and belongs to the 5 mother sauces, from which you can derive all the others.

The reason why I waited so long to talk about it is that, well...I am not very familiar with the Hollandaise sauce :P If mayo is undoubtedly appreciated in my native country (Italy, btw), Hollandaise sauce didn’t see the same popularity. I actually never tasted a Hollandaise sauce before stepping in Belgium. But, even there, I didn’t give it the same consideration, classifying that as one of the many dressings.

I started to give to Hollandaise sauce all the attention it deserves once in Ottawa. In North America, this sauce has found great appreciation, in particular in the preparation of one of the cornerstones of brunch: Benedict’s eggs. Now, I must confess that, although intrigued by their appearance, I never tried Benedict’s eggs. What I can say, I prefer something sweet for the brunch and I usually go with yogurt, fruit, maple syrup… Last but not least, I never prepared Hollandaise sauce.

You can now understand I didn’t feel the most qualified person to speak about Hollandaise sauce! ;) But, eventually, I read a lot about that and I finally feel ready to face the challenge!

A bit of history

Hollandaise sauce has ancient origins, as it was already reported in books from the XVII century. The appellation “Hollandaise” is unclear. Probably, the original recipe was Dutch, but there is no trace of that in books, therefore it is a mere speculation.

Already in 1800’s cooking books, chefs described in details the preparation of Hollandaise sauce. They also provided tips and tricks to obtain a perfect sauce and to “save” a ruined Hollandaise.

The chemistry corner

From the physical-chemistry side, Hollandaise sauce is a colloid as its relative mayo. Differently from the latter, however, it contains butter (the hydrophobic phase) and it is prepared under a very mild heat. Another difference is that Hollandaise sauce just wants egg yolks, while mayo can be prepared with whole eggs.

The preparation of Hollandaise is similar to that of zabaione. The egg yolks (the emulsifier) are beaten in a pot kept in a bain-marie, while water and lemon juice are added (the hydrophilic phase). Once the yolks have incorporated enough air, we can add the melted butter (the hydrophobic phase), slowly and under constant stirring.

Eventually, the final colloidal system is much more complex than a simple emulsion. The air incorporated generates a foam and the suspended proteins a suspension...a bit of a colloidal mess! ;)

The problems of Hollandaise sauce (and how to solve them)

As all colloids, also Hollandaise sauce can destabilize. There are two crucial points in the preparation of Hollandaise sauce:

  1. The control of the temperature
  2. The amount of water

Point 1_the temperature

In the Hollandaise sauce, egg proteins should not coagulate. Therefore, temperature control is crucial. As a rule of thumb, it is good to stay below 61 ˚C, the temperature at which the egg proteins start coagulating.

Point 2_the amount of water

An insufficient amount of water brings the hydrophobic and hydrophilic phase to separate. This happens because there isn’t enough water where to disperse the fats.

Now, points 1 and 2 are somehow related as more water evaporates with the increment of the temperature. As a consequence, we might get to the point where we have no more aqueous phase to disperse the liquids.

How to save a ruined Hollandaise sauce?

The best trick is adding a couple of spoons of cold water to the sauce, under constant stirring. In that way, we reintegrate the water needed to disperse the hydrophobic phase (the butter).

I hope you found the post interesting! The next appointment is with the usual weekly recipe :)


This, Hollandaise Challenge, Anal. Bioanal. Chem., 2016, 408, 4767-4768

This, Solution to the Hollandaise Challenge, Anal. Bioanal. Chem., 2016, 408, 7543-7544