According to Larousse Gastronomique the sauce was first made in the 1830's by Collinet in restaurant named Pavillon Henri IV, located in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye. Given Henri IV was born in province of Béarnie, it is presumed that is how the sauce got its name.
The sauce continues to be served in restaurants to this day. Most steak houses in the U.S. will offer a Bearnaise as an accompaniment to a prime cut of meat.
Egg yolks have the ability to be combined with various liquids to form an emulsion. When egg yolks are beaten with oil, stock or butter, the liquid become suspended in the yolk and become bound together.
The tricky business with this type of sauce is the careful control of temperature of all the ingredients. Make sure everything is at room temperature before you start. Use a gentle heat when cooking the sauce, enough to thicken the ingredients but not so hot the sauce will break (separate).
Use a small, thick ceramic bowl set in a heavy-bottomed pan, or a heavyweight double boiler. Off the heat, put the egg yolks and cream in the bowl or upper section of the double boiler and stir with a wire whisk until well-blended — the mixture should never be beaten but stirred, evenly, vigorously and continually. Place the container over hot water (if you are setting the bowl in water, there should be about 1 1/2 inches of water in the pan; in a double boiler, the water should not touch the top section). Stirring eggs continuously, bring the water slowly to a simmer. Do not let it boil.
Stir, incorporating the entire mixture so there is no film at the bottom. When the eggs have thickened to consistancy of very heavy cream, begin to add the cooled melted butter with one hand, stirring vigorously with the other. Pour extremely slowly so that each addition is blended into the egg mixture before more is added. When all the butter has been added, add the lemon juice or vinegar a drop at a time and immediately remove from heat. Add salt and a mere dash of cayenne.
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This hollandaise sauce can be served at room temperature or heated on the stove or in your microwave. Unopened it can be stored for a year on your pantry shelf or once opened it will remain fresh for 20 days refrigerated.
This ready made hollandaise was developed for restaurant use but we make it available to home chefs. If you'd like to give it a try (and we suggest you keep on hand in your pantry) it is available at Amazon.com