Thursday, February 7, 2013

Eggs Florentine or Eggs Benedict

Plate of Eggs Florentine with Orange Slices
Bright Winter Brunch or Supper

Recipe by Robin and the Boston Cooking School Cookbook

When I reported in our January menus post that January is National Egg Month, I should have “examined” my source more carefully. According to the American Egg Board, May is Egg Month. Nevertheless, I spent the month of January coming up with a recipe to honor the humble egg. The carrot soufflĂ© that sounded so good was an utter failure. Then I remembered the first fancy dish I ever made: Eggs Benedict. I’ve never been a ham fan, so I substitute spinach (officially called Eggs Florentine). I’ve included a ham option in my recipe. Key to a great Benedict (or Florentine) is perfect old school Hollandaise sauce. You’d never know that at certain restaurants, where they serve thin gray salty sauce, dyed-orange white sauce, or even melted Swiss cheese on Benedicts. That’s just wrong.

Closeup of Eggs Florentine
Hollandaise Sauce: Key to Success
Hollandaise is made with egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, and more than enough butter to make it a “special occasion only” treat. It isn’t hard to make, but it is a bit finicky to keep warm without overcooking, which is probably why it’s impractical for most restaurants to make it right. This Hollandaise sauce is from The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, originally written in 1896, the first cookbook to quantify ingredients rather than using a handful of this and a sprinkle of that. 

Bowl of Freshly made Hollandaise sauce
Perfect Hollandaise
The Boston Cooking School Cookbook suggests making the sauce in a heavy bowl (I use ceramic) in a pot of hot water. Add just enough water to the pot so it barely comes up to the halfway level on the bowl. This keeps water from splashing into the sauce. Heat the water to very warm, but significantly below simmering temperature. Some cooks use a double boiler – try it if you own one. Hollandaise can be overcooked and curdle. Been there, done that. Fix it by immediately whisking in boiling water a few drops at a time, as suggested in The Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Sounds like some bizarre urban legend, but it actually works.

Poached Egg Being Scooped onto Spinach and Muffin
Adding Poached Egg to Base Layers
Success with Eggs Benedict or Florentine is all about the timing. Cooking the spinach (and/or ham), poaching the eggs, toasting the English muffins, and making the Hollandaise so that they’re all cooked and warm at the same time is tricky. It’s easier with two people, but still workable solo. You can make more than two Benedicts at the same time, but I recommend poaching only 4 eggs at once and not doubling the Hollandaise recipe.

Closeup of Eggs Florentine
Getting it All Together
Eggs Benedict or Florentine
serves 2

2 cups lightly packed baby spinach
2 slices ham or Canadian bacon (optional)
Hollandaise sauce (recipe below)
1 tbsp. vinegar
4 large eggs
2 English muffins

Spinach and/or ham:
Remove spinach stems. Steam spinach for about 5 minutes, until wilted. Set aside to keep warm in steamer.

Pan-fry the ham for a few minutes until brown, and set pan aside, covering and keeping warm.

Hollandaise sauce:
Make Hollandaise according to directions below. Keep warm over hot water (see details below) while cooking eggs and English muffins.

Prepare plates:
Put two heat-proof plates into the oven and set oven temperature to warm (about 125 degrees).

Toasted muffins:
Toast English muffins in toaster oven. When done, slide two halves onto each plate in the oven.

Poached eggs:
Finessing the Timing: While muffins are toasting, poach the eggs. It’s best if you can remove the poached eggs from the pan and put them directly onto English muffins. This is easiest to coordinate if a helper tops the muffins with spinach and/or ham while you’re poaching the eggs. If need be though, you can remove the eggs from the water into individual ramekins while you assemble the dish.

To poach: Add about 2” (or a bit less) of water to a wide, shallow pan. Stir in vinegar. Bring to a slow and gentle simmer. One at a time, break eggs into small bowl, then make a “whirlpool” in the simmering water with a teaspoon. Slip egg into whirlpool. Repeat until all 4 eggs are in the pot. Simmer for about 4 minutes, until whites are set and yolks look defined, but are still slightly yielding. Remove eggs one at a time with a slotted spoon, blotting excess water from bottom of spoon with a paper towel.

Assemble Florentines/Benedicts:
Remove warmed plates with English muffins from oven. Top muffins with spinach and/or ham slice. Carefully layer a poached egg onto each muffin. Top with Hollandaise sauce, and serve with extra sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce

½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 egg yolks
¼ tsp. salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Use a double boiler or heavy ceramic bowl in a pot of hot water to cook the Hollandaise. If using a bowl, keep the level of water low, and the temperature at simmering or below. If using a double boiler, keep the water level in lower pot substantially below the upper pot.

Heat water that Hollandaise will cook over to just below simmering, but don’t put bowl or second layer of double boiler on yet.

Divide butter into 3 pieces and place in microwave for about 10 seconds, until softened. Mix together salt, cayenne, and lemon juice. Put egg yolks into bowl or top of double boiler. Whisk in lemon mixture thoroughly.

Keep the pot of water just below simmering by placing over low heat.

Add one piece of butter to yolk mixture and place mixture over hot water. Whisk constantly until butter is melted and incorporated. Immediately whisk in second piece of butter. When melted, whisk in last piece of butter, and continue whisking until moderately thick, about 5 – 6 minutes. Don’t overcook.

If mixture overcooks (curdles), you can save it by whisking in boiling water a drop or two at a time.

To keep warm, remove pot and bowl from heat, but keep bowl in warm water. Or remove double boiler from heat. Whisk Hollandaise every few minutes to prevent possible curdling.

eggs florentine
Feast for the Eyes, and the Tastebuds!

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