Thursday, August 7, 2008

French Laundry at Home Extra: Béarnaise Mousseline

In my nearly 40 years on this earth, I have made béarnaise sauce approximately fifty times. The first two times I made it, it did not turn out well, but I chalked that up to being a complete novice (and maybe a wee bit ferdoonkled on cheap wine). The other 48 times? Beautiful. It's kind of been my thing. I'm the girl who makes a great béarnaise.

On this, the 51st time, when I made Béarnaise Mousseline from The French Laundry Cookbook, I must say that I did quite an astounding job. I use the word astounding because the dictionary definition means to "amaze," "astonish," "bewilder," or "affect with wonder" and that is precisely what happened here.

I am amazed that I screwed up something so easy I've done a frillion times before.

I am astonished that I had to eat my juicy, most delicious steak sans béarnaise because I am such a colossal failure.

I am bewildered that I sucked at this more than others have sucked before me.

And, I am affect(ed) with wonder(ing) how I gots no skillz and feel like a complete dorknugget, because I'm having trouble figuring out how the hell I can spend THREE DAYS making the most PERFECT braised, stuffed pig's head but screwed up béarnaise. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME??? Venus must not have been aligned in Jupiter with 12 of the 17 moons rising over Uranus (*snerk*), or whatever planetary alignment lingo works for you.

I blame Al Gore. Surely it's his fault somehow.

Alrighty then, on with the shiz-ow. Here's my mise en place:


To start, I reduced some white wine vinegar with some chopped shallots, chopped fresh tarragon, and freshly cracked black pepper until the pan was nearly dry:



I added my egg yolks and half an eggshell of water per yolk (I've never added water to my béarnaise before, but that's what the book said to do, so I did it):



I whisked this mixture for a while, but it never really took shape. It's supposed to tighten up and then form ribbons, which then thicken as it cooks so that you end up with kind of a mayonnaise-y texture. Mine never got to that point, so I put it in a bowl instead and tried it over a pot of simmering water, thinking maybe, possibly, somehow, help me fancy Moses, that it would help. It didn't.

I soldiered forth and decided to just add the clarified butter, while still whisking away (which when you have carpal tunnel syndrome AND have been playing a certain videogame for a few hours *seebelow*, it ain't exactly a stroll down the Champs Elysées, know what I mean?). Then, I added the lemon juice and a little salt to taste and kept whisking and whisking, thinking that maybe if I concentrated hard enough and prayed to Sid and Marty Krofft it would thicken and become the texture I knew it needed to be. It did not. Didn't even come close.

I decided to strain it anyway, then add a fresh batch of chopped tarragon, chopped shallots, and black pepper before stirring in the whipped cream (this time, I thought 'hey, maybe if I let it sit and then whisk the crap out of it AGAIN when I add the whipped cream, it will work'):



Unlike a lovely glass of red wine, I don't think béarnaise is supposed to have legs. Or clumps. Or randomly distributed matter along the bowl.

Here's a (maybe) better shot of how soupy it ended up being:

So gross.

Sauce 101 FAIL.

But at least I got to drown my sorrows in this:


I don't really understand why this sauce didn't work. Was it the eggs? The water? Did my shallots have a bad attitude? Was it just one of those things that's as unexplainable as Paula Abdul's career? I usually make my SUCCESSFUL béarnaise the Escoffier way, which was slightly different than this, but not all that much. Harumph. I feel so stupid. This should've been easier than it was. Dangit. The way this turned out, it might've tasted terrific on my tripe.


Up Next: French Laundry at Home Extra -- Meet Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm

Resources:
Eggs from
Smith Meadows Farm
Tarragon from my garden
Organic Valley heavy cream
Shallot and lemon from
Whole Foods

Music to FAIL by: A playlist made up of all the songs on the Wii version of RockBand, because my neighbors just bought it for their kids, and I've lost count of the number of hours I've spent rocking out on the system at their house while they've been on vacation. It's completely addictive. I think I missed my true calling, and I'm really supposed to be the drummer in the Ramones or Fall Out Boy because I scored a 99% on both their songs (on medium, not easy, because I am that amazing at playing the [multicolored, plastic] drums), and really, I am not a 12-year old boy, I swear, but damn if I don't love that game and secretly drew up plans last night to add on a room to my house that will be a full-on Wii RockBand studio with a wet bar and lots of snacks and a stripper pole because when I inevitably become a famous RockBand player, people like Sebastian Bach and Ted Nugent will want to hang out at my house and I figure they'll bring their own strippers, and since I will clearly not be able to supply them with a delicious meal of steak with béarnaise sauce, I should appeal to their other, *ahem* needs, right?

Read My Previous Post: Q&A with Carol, Part Deux... and my dinner at Alinea

39 comments:

emmaAmethyst said...

It has to be the water! I've never seen a recipe that called for that -- what would be the point of reducing all the water out of the vinegar/wine base, just to turn around & add even more back in? (I'm momentarily away from my copy of The Book, so can't check The Word of The Man.) Even if it meant half a half eggshell, that still seems very odd.

Purdy lookin' steak there anyways, ma'am.

Karen said...

It seems that the mulsion just didn't come together, but I don;t think water causes that (the yolk would bind it to the butter)... Maybe there was too much water and more yolk was needed? What a mystery! But the steak looks very nice indeed

bristlesage said...

Shame about the bearnaise. Booooo!

But hooray for Rock Band, which is more fun than you can shake a drumstick at. My sister visited last weekend and played it for the first time. We had a lot of grand plans--Art Institute, architecture tour--and instead we just played Rock Band.

Anonymous said...

Was it thundering outside? One time I was trying to make homemade mayonnaise for a BLT (while I was a little looped) and it just wouldn't work - tried twice. Then looked more closely at Joy of Cooking (not sure which edition) and there in plain print it said do not attempt in a thunderstorm. Looked outside...thunder and lightning. Was stunned and then laughed for a good 10 minutes...who knew?

DanCole42 said...

What's left in the strainer looks almost like a frittata. Yum!

Have you ever made bearnaise directly in a pot before? I've only ever used a makeshift double boiler (bowl over simmering water).

My only thought here would be, I know the book says to use a pot, but maybe try it next time in one with sloped sides (a saucier, perhaps?). With your straight-sided pan, the whisk isn't able to get into the corners so you end up with yolk that's never actually getting stirred (which is the whole impetus behind the design of the saucier in the first place).

The colors in the finished, strained product remind me of the moon in the upper right of van Gogh's "Starry Night." See? Beauty from failure! :)

karleeneedsleep said...

Believe me, you're not the only one contemplating adding an extra room for Rock Band.

Txgrrl said...

Okay, I'm a 30-er-something year old woman with a crazy addiction to her Wii. And I mean that in the clean sense. I can play Mario Kart for hours. I like to blame my 19-year old male heart, but really, I think the Wii is *just* that much fun. I'm sure my husband will thank you for the sudden urgent need we will develop this weekend for Rockband.

Sarah said...

I'm so sorry your bernaise sauce didn't come out properly, but I am loving your thoughts on wii rockband!! I have it on xbox and agree best/worst game out there, you just can't stop playing. Oh and when you get bored with Rockband Guitar Hero is awesome.

E said...

I also astonishingly fail at emulsified sauces occasionally. I love RockBand, we have a band (my husband, my son & I), lol. On Xbox... if we had a Wii all I would ever do is the bowling, it's a blast.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the thunderstorm excuse...but the time I wrecked my Bernaise it was because the white wine was too cold. I have the best luck with everything starting at room temp (including the eggs). I never head of cream in a Bernaise before...

Zhopsik said...

Well, you know what Bourdain says-- that béarnaise smells fear and uncertainty. Perhaps it was the addition of water that gave you a bit of trepiditude. Per Bourdain, you can add a FEW drops of water if you're feeling cowardly, to prevent curdling, but since you are used to slapping the whole thing together without the crutch of a bain marie, I'd suggest trying again, but 86-ing the water.

Robert S. said...

So so so sorry about the sauce; this called for Harvey Korman proclaiming that you "don't get saucy with me, Bearnaise"...

BTW-RockBand? Best. Game. Ever.

spooneroonie said...

I can absoloutely confirm that Carol does kick ass at RockBand drummage. It is an amazing sight to behold.

What she's not telling you about is her amazing singing voice.

MrsVJW said...

Sebastian Bach? Oh, he hasn't gotten strippers for years. Not the good ones, anyway (someone seriously needs to introduce that boy to "conditioner"). Now Bret Michaels....

Sorry the sauce never came together. I guess it happens to us all!

Victoria said...

Am I the only person reading this who actually knows who Sid and Marty Krofft are?

I don't get this. The closest to bearnaise I get is hollandaise, and that doesn't have water added. Nigel Slater says that if hollandaise breaks, 99 times out of 100, an ice cube will restore it. That would make me think water is not the culprit, but I know every time I made Elizabeth David's chocolate souffle recipe and following the directions exactly, added water or liqueur, the chocolate would seize, so I just started eliminating the liquid, and it works perfectly every time. I would try it without the water and see what happens, assuming you're inclined to try it again.

But I think you hit the nail on the head. It was Al Gore.

Anonymous said...

perhaps the bernaise didnt come together as binding fat and water is difficult. There are several things that could have gone wrong here- adding water before bringing the eggs up to 160 degrees could cause it to split. Heating the yolks too quickly could casue the to curdle- a blender may have helped, or a thermometer. It looks from the photo like the yolks did not reach the proper temperature. Have no fear, try again. After all, that's what we do in the kitchen. isn't it?

Jonathan said...

I agree the eggs needed to be exposed to more heat. Water is fine.

pdxblogmommy said...

Vic...I know who Sid and Marty are...and HRP and Witchie Poo and Sigmund etc... :-)

CMB...The steak looked good.

What shall we have for dinner next SATURDAY NIGHT????

Sondra said...

Those salt and pepper mills in the first picture... Are they a recent purchase? Where did you get them? They’re gorgeous.

Carol Blymire said...

Sondra: I've had those for a few years -- they're Kuhn Rikon and I found them at TJ Maxx for about 10 bucks each and LOVE THEM.

Luke said...

I love the word, ferdoonkled, I think it works as both an adjective and verb!

Jaye Joseph said...

Color me impressed with your mad drumz skillz. I've yet to meet but one person who can actually play the drums on that thing.

It is still, however, the greatest game ever.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

It's got to be the humidity. I recently failed (badly, and TWICE) at making Quick Aioli--something I've made before without any problems.

Misery loves company, so feel better here: http://melissacooksgourmet.blogspot.com/2008/08/quick-aioli.html

Roberto N. said...

I've always added a spoonful of water to my emulsified egg yolk sauces from the start. What I've seen that breaks them up is either temperature or the speed of the mixing or adding the butter. It is, however possible to recover from this. Take a clean bowl, add a spoonful of water, start whisking until frothy and slowly start pouring the broken up sauce. If done properly you should re-form the emulsion.

Anonymous said...

As a culinary student who has had to make hollandaise and Bearnaise numerous times, and failed about half of them (I swear I can make an awesome bearnaise until it's 5 minutes out and then i constantly am screwing it up), I can tell you what our school has taught us and what has worked in the end. We make the reduction (using tarragon vinegar instead of white wine vinegar and dried tarragon instead of fresh)and then add a bit of water back to refresh the reduction. Put this in the bottom of a bowl and whisk it with the yolks until it is foamy. Then put it over boiling water, whisking, until it thickens. At this point, you are cooking the egg yolks but it is very easy to make scrambled eggs at this point, so be careful. When "ribbons" form, remove the yolks from the water and slowly whisk the clarified butter, whole butter, oil or whatever you choose back in. You want the color to be pale yellow so if it gets to bright, add a bit more of warm water and then add continue adding fat until the correct texture is met. They say you should have 2 oz of fat for each yolk. Strain and add fresh tarragon.

It sounds like you just needed to cook the eggs a bit more over the double boiler.

Bob del Grosso said...

I think I could help nail down the problem if I could see what happened between the (beautiful, sexy even) pictures of the yolks and the (sad but charming) pictures of the broken sauce prior to the (alas, by then pointless) addition of butter and whipped cream.

The water was not the problem, neither were any of the ingredients -or their proportions- responsible. I don't know for sure, but I suspect the sauce failed because of a technical error. The error could be in the book, or perhaps you were having a bad day and forgot to do something (like temper the eggs) that you would have done if you were more on your game.

For what it is worth, sauce mouselline is an order of magnitude more difficult than sauce Bearnaise/ Hollandaise -mostly because you must add cold whipped cream to a warm emulsion. If the cream is too cold, the butter will harden upon contact and BLAP! the sauce is KAPPUT. If the base is too warm, the cream deflates and the mousseline does not happen.

His success with stuff like this is of the reasons why Keller is such a hero.

Finally, I love your blog.

ayankeeinasouthernkitchen said...

I hate it when I mess up something that I have made a gazillion times before. I have a great recipe for Bernaise and I don't even use a double boiler, perfect every time. So glad you had the steak for comfort food.

Ali said...

Sorry, Carol-- I hate bearnaise-related disappointment as it is the Mack Daddy of all sauces. Looking forward to your next post with the egg purveyor, howev, because the color on those yolks is gorgeous. I can only ever find anemic eggs, even at Central Market or Whole Foods, and it makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

Carol-
The addition of water is to help establish a finished sauce that is not too "tight". The addition of wter with the yolks can increase the necessary cooking time by a significant amount as well. Everytime you make an emulsified egg sauce do it over a double boiler to not do so is pretty hairy, but possible. I think you have toi whip those eggs until your arm falls off. Thanks for trying though it made for a very entertaining read

J.T. said...

Birds gotta fly, Dogs gotta bark, and sometimes... sauce has to break. Or never come together in the first place. As a fellow, much less accomplished, home kitchen enthusiast... I say hey! At least the meat turned out, right?

And RockBand? Ree-donk-u-lous; though at our house it's Wario Ware or nothing at all.

Kevin said...

You cook amazing food, have great taste in music, AND you play Rock Band? When can we go out on a date? ;)

ac3jc said...

the addition of the water is to emulsify the butter and to make your sabayon lighter and foamier. i can clearly see that you overcooked your egg yolks thats what those chunks were. the secret to a great hollandaise type sauce is to have a great sabayon to start with, with enough liquid for the butter to emulsify with, if not it will brake. by looking at your picture it looks like you made cooked eggyolk soup. just be gentle with it, make love to it dont phk it

Brian said...

I think it's safe to say that you never got an emulsion started, so there was no rescuing it down the road. As bob del grosso said, it was a technical error before you added your butter. Probably you didn't use enough heat to get the egg yolks (lecithin) fully denatured (um, unravelled), so there was no basis for the emulsion to form.

I would try whisking the yolks first in a bowl just like you do for bernaise, then adding the shallot/tarragon reduction as you're doing that, perhaps not all at once, so you can get the emulsion started.

And contra the previous comment, the water doesn't emulsify the butter, it provides room for you to add more butter to the emulsion, the emulsion is supported by the lecithin in the yolk. There is enough lecithin in an egg yolk to emulsify god knows how much fat, but if it's done in too little volume, you can't keep the fat blobs apart. The water adds volume to the aqueous part of the emulsion.

Look it up in On Food and Cooking. Also, silly as it may be, Alton Brown's Good Eats handled emulsion based sauces with admirable clarity.

bchef8 said...

seven minute bernaise all day every day. Start reduction in pot put one pound of butter in microwave. Place bowl over pot. place one egg out at room temp. Add cream to reduction once au sec. reduce. Place one egg in warm bowl add lemon juice half egg shell warm water. Wisk until ribbons. add reduction slowly, and butter. Temp is what makes or breaks the sauce.

Anonymous said...

I just made Keller's bearnaise. It worked fine. But I admit to maybe having been lucky. I got momentarily distracted (thanks rugrats!) and had a giant gloppy mess starting. I panicked, through in the water (which I had held out per your concerns above. Unbelievably, it started to reform and then by the time I through the whipped cream in, it was really nice.

But, if it makes you feel better, my steak from the organic butcher was not as tender as usual.

Actually, the sauce was fine, but with all due respect to Mr. Keller. I don't know that it was SOOOOO much more light that it was worth the extra effort of adding the whipped cream. I don't think I would do it this way again...

alice said...

I suspect something went wrong with your vinegar and eggs. When acid meets protein, they tend to precipitate. That's the same problem I have making lemon ice cream. :( Sigh~ Good luck!

amber said...

bernaise, smernaise...

you're playing drums on medium and getting 99%!?!

::bowing down::

chefjohnpaul said...

Amazing- you have a broken mess that you are perplexed over and someone says, I love your salt and pepper shakers-is this Martha Stewart.com?!?!

Acid to your egg yolks at the start would have helped- I made bearnaise every night for nearly 10years and always had some acid such as lemon or the vinegar reduction right in the egg over the flame (I started with a baine marie then got astoundingly good stainless steel bowl, open fire- thrill seeker for sure!)

Smooth said...

COOL the reduction of acid and tarragon before adding the yolks or they will overcook. Transfer this cooled mixture to a mixing bowl set over simmering water. Add the yolks and beat the crap out of them. Then add the WARM (not hot)butter in a small stream to start.Keep adding until volume builds. Then stop.

Hope this helps.