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asparagus-hollandaise

As I’ve said, I’m working on Chapter 2 of my book Domestic Intelligence, a book about changing recipes to fit your life.  Chapter 2 is How To Make a Recipe Bigger or Smaller.  I picture most chapters as having about a dozen recipes treated in detail.  Sometimes I have to search and search for a recipe to illustrate a strategy, but sometimes, blessedly, a recipe finds me.  When we chose our cookbook of the month for May, Sonja Lee’s Sauce, I didn’t realize that one of its recipes would be perfect for chapter 2.  Imagine my delight.

The recipe is for hollandaise, a classic French sauce, lemon-flavored butter custard, perhaps best known as the sauce on Eggs Benedict.  I need to find out what the connection is to the Netherlands; most of the things we call Dutch in English are insults, dating from the great trade rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And it would also be nice to know why those eggs are called Benedict.

But all that is by the by.  What’s important about the recipe for chapter 2 is that it illustrates the strategy “Make it bigger to make it easier.”

Here are the ingredients for Sonja’s hollandaise:

2/3 cup butter
2 eggyolks
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

And here’s what she wants you to do (in my words, not hers):

Take two saucepans, A and B.  Melt the butter in saucepan A, warm the eggyolks in saucepan B.  With a whisk, beat the yolks in saucepan B, all the while keeping the eggs from overcooking by moving saucepan B over the burner and then away, over and then away.  Keep an eye on saucepan A to be sure the butter doesn’t burn.

When the yolks have absorbed enough air to change color from eggy yellow to a pale lemon color, remove both saucepan B and saucepan A from the stove.  Quickly, before they have a chance to cool off, pour the melted butter from saucepan A in a steady, thin stream into the yolks in saucepan B, whisking like crazy all the while.

When you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Voila, hollandaise.

If that way of making hollandaise sounds hard to you, believe me, it is hard.  I used to make hollandaise that way a zillion years ago, before I owned a blender.  As soon as I had a little mechanical friend to help me, I started making hollandaise like this:

Put the yolks in the blender, turn it on high, and beat air into the yolks.  Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove.  When it has just melted, take the little inner cap off the blender.  With the blender running, either pour in the hot butter in a thin, steady stream or spoon it in a spoonful at a time.

Again, when you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Again, hollandaise.  Hollandaise that’s just as good, just as authentic, and dead easy.

There’s only one problem about making the hollandaise the easy way with Sonja’s ingredient list:  It won’t work.  Or rather, it won’t work in my kitchen (it might in yours).  It won’t work because my blender won’t beat only two yolks.  They’ll just lie there under the reach of the blades, and when I pour the butter in it will make scrambled eggs.  Delicious scrambled eggs, but not what I’m looking for.

What do I need to do?  Make it bigger to make it easier.

I happen to know that my blender will blend three yolks just fine.  (To check yours, sacrifice a few yolks; then you’ll know for all time how many you need.)  Two yolks plus half of two yolks (one yolk) equals three yolks.  Now do the same thing to the butter.  Two-thirds of a cup plus half of two-thirds of a cup (one third of a cup) equals one cup.

Or, to put it more succinctly, but at the risk of scaring away the mathphobic, multiply each of the main ingredients by 1.5:

2/3 cup butter x 1.5 = 1 cup of butter
2 eggyolks      x 1.5 = 3 eggyolks

The minor ingredients, the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, I’m going to be adding to taste anyway, so I don’t bother to multiply them by anything.

Your blender may be different.  Two yolks might work fine, or you might need four yolks, in which case you’ll need a cup and a third of butter.  (Two times two-thirds of a cup of butter is four-thirds of a cup, or a cup and a third.  A third of a cup of butter is an awkward measurement; call it five Tablespoons.)

Great.  Now I have a very easy recipe and more hollandaise than I really wanted.  I guess properly the second half of the story goes in chapter 5, how to make a recipe cheaper, where we talk about never wasting anything, but I don’t expect to be working on that chapter till 2012, so I’ll bring you hollandaise part 2 as soon as I figure it out.

Stay tuned.

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