Hot Emulsions in Heurre 

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The Struggle:

I’m going to lay it all out on the line. Really bear my soul to you, the reader. Well here goes nothing… The one thing that has broken my heart more than anything is hot emulsions. But I am not alone, clinical studies have shown that 100.3% of cooks have had an emulsion break on them. When you see that distinct separation of oil and water, even the coldest hearts will ache. It is common to begin conversing with the former sauce, “no no no no no!” and “Why are you doing this to me?” One time, I believe I heard the sauce whisper back “it’s not you, it’s me”. Broken emulsions cause so many broken hearts Taylor Swift has probably written a song about them. Sometimes they are instantaneous, you just know they won’t work. Other times they last and turn on you just when you least expect it. But as you age, you find your preferred method and settle down a bit. You find numerous ways to prevent or mend the broken emulsion. But there must be a way to keep these sauces for longer without fear. 


“How can I stabilize my hot emulsions?” 


Like Dr. Ruth for Sauces 

Hollandaise, beurre blanc, and beurre monte are the most common varieties of hot emulsions. These sauces require butter which is already an emulsion, so these sauces are kind of like emulsion Inception. All kidding aside these are some of the best sauces to create because they require precision, patience, and technique. I will assume we have all made these sauces and are looking for the best way to prevent separation. 


Let’s start by covering hollandaise. Hollandaise contains egg yolks and clarified butter. The egg yolks contain natural lecithin that aids in the emulsification process. But egg yolks are finicky. If they are cooked at too high of a temperature the proteins will coagulate. As the proteins coagulate and they will not be able to emulsify with the clarified butter. The best way to make and hold hollandaise is over controlled heat. If you prefer to make hollandaise by hand in a double boiler you can do so. But we do suggest placing it in a container that will maintain the heat at a proper temperature of 140°F. Gone are the days of resting the sauce on top of an oven in just the right spot that it doesn’t break. Holding the sauce can be done in a coffee carafe or a whipping siphon placed in the bath of an immersion circulator. If you have an immersion circulator handy you could place all the ingredients in a vacuum sealed bag and cook it to 167°F. At this temperature the proteins in the eggs are at the perfect consistency to create an emulsion with little to no agitation. The same can be done on a Breville | Polyscience Control Freak as it allows the sauce to be heated to a precise temperature. One last benefit is that these sauces can be saved and reheated in the same fashion the next day. This prevents the massive amount of waste these sauces usually produce. The lecithin contained within the eggs works as a perfect emulsifier in hollandaise, but what about the other sauces that don’t contain egg?


Beurre blanc and beurre monte are both butter sauces that have a water base. The only emulsifier is sheer elbow grease. It’s just you, a whisk, and the ingredients. Granted, these sauces are done day in and day out in restaurants across the world. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to keep them from breaking. A broken sauce can be fixed, but many times it just leads to waste. So if there is a better way to keep it then we as responsible cooks should utilize that method. The first ingredient that is commonly used is xanthan gum, this is a thickener and emulsifier. I find this works but it is not the most stable emulsion, after testing it. The emulsion can’t be heated too high or it just breaks like normal. It can be whisked back together as it cools but this isn’t Ideal. During a recipe stress test using xanthan gum I was able to break the emulsion at just 140°F. The reason that’s not good is hot food must be held above 135°F. That means we only have a 5 degree F window to work with before our world comes crashing down. The other test I did was with polysorbate 80. With polysorbate 80 I was able to heat the butter sauce to 180°F before I saw any separation. Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier that work well under many tough conditions. It is resistant to heat, dilution, and works well with high fat concentrations. Polysorbate 80 doesn’t this the liquid either so the sauce will be the correct texture everytime without a slick mouthfeel you get from xanthan gum. I suggest making a beurre blanc or beurre monte with 0.25 – 0.5% of the total weight of the liquid. 

Ready to get Cooking?

Give our Fuggadaboutit Hollandaise recipe a try! In a traditional hollandaise, egg yolks are thickened to custard by beating over simmering water in a double boiler to prevent curdling. Too much heat, and the egg proteins freak out and clump together. Too little heat, and nothing happens at all. For our modern hollandaise, we use a revolutionary gadget called The Control Freak which lets you make hollandaise without the headaches. Your proteins and fats mingle at the perfect temperature, coming together in a marvelously sheened, saffron-tinted glory. No constant whisking, no double boiling, no mistakes.