Forget what I said yesterday about having made hollandaise sauce. Whatever I mixed wasn't hollandaise, even though it had the same ingredients. Tonight I really made hollandaise.
Part of me really didn't want to spend the time, but I was hungry and eager to try, and it was either this, fry up some taco meat, mix new mayo/vinaigrette for some Waldorf salad or go out for food. Hey, retrying Eggs Benedict won't take much more time than my other options, right? (Well, I probably wouldn't have blogged about the other options after the fact. Oh well.)
I decided my biggest problem was probably that I hadn't actually cooked the yolks in the sauce yesterday, and probably the second largest problem was not clarifying the butter. So I put a stick of butter in a saucepan over heat and decided the money and time wasted on overcooking the yolks to scrambled eggs was not something to fear, and at least I would know what "too cooked" would look like.
I don't seem to have mentioned that I am trying to cook the sauce in a stainless steel mixing bowl held over an electric burner. I know about the "boil water as a heat source" bit but decided with just a little practice cooking over direct heat would be faster and simpler (and make me look teh awesome). Previous to tonight I had got the impression that the egg yolks could cook with the heat of the butter, but it's clear that you can just cook the yolks first and add the fat after. That makes more sense to me, and again I figured making scrambled egg yolks a couple of times learning how to do that would be effort well spent.
So I put two yolks in the bowl, whisked them a bit fluffier and whiter and started cooking them while stirring with the whisk. I was still shy with the heat at first but got braver and bolder with the heat. (BTW I had a silicone mitt on the hand holding the bowl, and I generally didn't have the bowl in direct contact with the burner but put it closer or further as I saw fit.) I didn't overcook them! They finally got pretty darn stiff and nearly white, and I decided they were done.
The clarified butter I actually finished before starting cooking the yolks I hadn't done that beore, but it seemed simple enough except I wound up with about 4 oz. of clarified butter out of an 8 oz stick. I knew there'd be less, but not that much less. The recipes call for 4-6 oz per yolk, and I'm using large eggs. Eh, I didn't feel like making more butter and read you don't have to use that much. So this will be "light" hollandaise. (snicker) To separate the fat and solids I skimmed some foam off the top and the poured out most of the rest into a strainer lined with a damp paper towel (in lieu of damp cheesecloth called for by some instructions somewhere). Well, the paper towel apparently clogged up and I had to let the last tablespoon or two trip through the wire mesh. It looked like clarified butter to me.
Adding the butter to the yolks was pretty easy; I'm getting faster at that after my recent emulsion cooking experiments. The sauce really thickened up a lot. I took a taste of just the yolk/butterfat mixture and...YUM! There was richness, complexity and velvety texture that were just not there yesterday. I added salt, lemon juice (from a real fresh lemon, no less) and cayenne--a bit too much again, I thought (it's a big bottle of powdered cayenne and I just sprinkled more than I intended directly into the sauce). However it was not too much cayenne; this properly-made sauce incorporated the zing without being overpowered by it, and the heat did not build. The lemon juice thinned the sauce out a bit which was fine because it was about ready to get up and walk around I think.
I hadn't started the rest of the Eggs Benedict yet because I was expecting a possible dinner of scrambled egg yolks or an abort into an alternate dinner. But now that I had hollandaise I proceeded. I left the eggs to poach a bit longer than last night, but had not left them on the counter as long beforehand, so I think it balanced out. Again, I'm not sure if they were perfect or slightly undercooked. Somehow the egg whites separated much worse tonight, and the first poached egg slithered right through my nylon half-whisk that I was using in lieu of a slotted spoon and separated most of the remaining egg white from the yolk, but surprisingly the yolk held. The other egg came apart a bit, too, but not the yolk, so I put poached egg yolks with a little bit of white and shredded poached egg white on my canadian bacon and english muffins. The hollandaise poured beautifully. It was a beautiful moment. And it tasted great.
In other news I now have a baking stone for my oven and a bench scraper to help with cleanup when I make my next batch of bread.