I‘m not sure what your approach to a brunch buffet is, but I never, ever go with the Eggs Benedict. Give me the omelet bar. Or the carving station. Or the fruit plate. Bulk-prepared Eggs Benedict is usually one of the worst ways you can go for brunch, with hard little pucks of under-toasted English muffin, made soggy from the hard-yolked poached egg on top, covered with a slice of Canadian bacon whose only defining characteristic is its thick casing, and topped with blobs of congealing, gummy, made-from-a-powder Hollandaise sauce. It can be a depressing display of a classic dish gone bad, when what you really want from a satisfying brunch is mimosas and zing and zip and shazaam and “YAY it’s Sunday.”
For our signature version of this society staple, we wanted to start from the ground up:
The English Muffin:
The foundation of any great Benedict, we knew that store-bought Thomas muffins weren’t going to do the trick. The Internet has dozens of recipes for making them yourself, but most of them produce results that are more like crumpets, or like some kind of skillet-cake. We finally settled upon a recipe by Michael Ruhlman. It uses a wet batter that is almost like a pancake batter, but with tons of yeast and, just prior to cooking, a swirl of baking powder dissolved in water to create even more nooks and crannies. Perfectionists can buy special ring forms for making English muffins, or you can use any can from the pantry with the ends cut out. I even like the results that come from not using a mold at all; they may not be perfectly round, but they are easier to flip and control on the hot griddle. Whether you use a mold or not, you may find that your muffins are lopsided after flipping; don’t be afraid to correct this by pressing down lightly with a spatula. Don’t forget to sprinkle some cornmeal on the cooking surface, as this extra texture is important for proper English muffins. Finally, be careful about burning. If the surface of the muffin starts to get too brown, you can always finish baking them in the oven. You can split them with a fork (for even more increased cranny-action,) and use them warm from the griddle, or toast them to coax out a little more flavor and texture.
The Interstitial Layer:
This is really the only element of a Benedict where there is any room for creativity, and we wanted to do something special. Canadian bacon is pretty soul-less stuff, adding salt and texture and little else. We considered using spinach, as in Eggs Florentine. We considered corned beef hash, as in a so-called “Irish” Benedict. Being a Maine-centric site, we considered lobster. Because we often feature a fair amount of Mexican cuisine, we considered fresh chorizo and refried beans. We considered braised pork belly, but that’s been done to death, hasn’t it? Pancetta? Nah. A duckfat-fried breaded portobello mushroom cap? Nope. Anything too exotic would take away from the flavor of the perfectly poached eggs and the Hollandaise, which we believe should really be the stars of the dish. Besides, this should be a classic Benedict, not some stoned teenager’s idea of culinary creativity. We settled on some nice, thickly-cut uncured ham, which we flashed in a hot pan for a few minutes to add some color.
The Poached Egg:
We’ve tested nearly every method for poaching eggs that you can imagine. It’s not as hard as people tend to make it. You don’t need special equipment, a microwave, or for goodness’ sake, one of those $80 egg-poaching pans from Williams-Sonoma. We’ll go into more detail in the recipe, but all you need is this: A pan of water that’s just about to simmer, a splash of white vinegar, a small dish, a slotted spoon, and four minutes of your morning. That’s it. No technique, and perfect eggs every time.
The Hollandaise Sauce:
Hollandaise seems difficult on the surface, what with the whole “cooking (but not scrambling) egg yolks, while not poisoning yourself with the result” -thing. It doesn’t have to be, if you take your time, and are able to come to terms with the idea that, if all goes according to plan, you will be pouring melted butter and more eggs on top of eggs. A double-boiler is key, as well as adding the melted butter in a slow, steady stream. Made correctly, it won’t show any separation, and once you’ve successfully achieved your emulsion, the sauce will stand up to a fair amount of abuse, including refrigeration and freezing, or being kept warm over low heat, or even in a thermos or insulated coffee cup.
Signature Series: Eggs Benedict
For the English Muffins (Adapted from a recipe by Michael Ruhlman):
- 1 stick butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 8 ounces milk
- 1/2 package active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 8 ounces all-purpose flour (about two fluffed cups)
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder dissolved in 1 1/2 teaspoons of water
- Cornmeal, for dusting
For the Hollandaise Sauce:
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted
- Salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper, to taste
Putting it Together:
- 4 large eggs
- Splash of white vinegar
- 4 slices thick-sliced uncured ham
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
For the English Muffins:
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine butter and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Add the milk, stir it until just barely warm, about 20-30 seconds. Remove from heat, and stir in yeast and egg.
- In a mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. Add the milk mixture, and stir until well combined. Cover with a dishtowel and set aside for 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat a griddle over low heat. Butter muffin rings, if you are using them. Stir the dissolved baking powder into the batter, and sprinkly the skillet with corn meal. Scoop 1/4 cup portions onto the griddle, either free-form or in rings. Cook for about seven minutes, being careful not to burn. Flip them, and press lightly to flatten muffin. Continue cooking until done, about 7-10 more minutes. If muffins begin to burn without cooking through, finish in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven.
- Allow muffins to rest for at least 10 minutes.
For the Hollandaise Sauce:
- Fill a small saucepan with 2 inches of water, and place over medium heat. When water simmers, reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer, and place a small metal or heat-safe glass on top of the pan, as a double-boiler. Add egg yolks, mustard, and lemon juice, and whisk until combined.
- In a slow, steady stream, pour melted butter into egg yolks, whisking constantly. Using a candy thermometer, make sure egg yolks reach 140 degrees, then remove from heat. Keep whisking until sauce thickens, about three minutes more. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Finished sauce can be kept warm in a thermos, insulated coffee cup, or over very low heat, until ready to assemble.
Putting it Together:
- For each plate, split each English Muffin with a fork and toast until lightly browned. Place both muffin halves on each plate.
- Add ham to skillet over medium-high heat, and warm until slightly browned. Remove each slice and place on an English muffin half.
- Crack an egg into small dish, and set aside. Fill a small saucepan halfway with water, and add a splash of white vinegar. Heat water over medium heat until millions of bubbles appear; the point just before the water starts to simmer. Reduce heat to low and, holding the edge of the small bowl with the egg as closely as possible to the nearly-simmering water, slip the egg into the water. Adjust heat as needed to keep water from boiling or simmering vigorously. Cook until yolks are just set, about four minutes, and remove with slotted spoon. Place egg on top of ham, on top of one half of the English muffin.
- For each plate, ladle 1-2 tablespoons of the Hollandaise sauce over the assembled Benedict. Top with freshly cracked pepper, a sprinkle of chives, and serve with the other half of the English muffin.