Cooking gold.

Kitchen. Laboratory. Alchemy. And how the path to delicious Eggs Benedict (and more) was paved with gold.


Hollandaise sauce for eggs benedict are cooked in a bain marie (or water bath)

1-Minute NomNom

Eggs Benedict is one of my favorite brunch foods (yums). An important part to making delicious Eggs Benedict is the creamy, light golden yellow Hollandaise sauce. Made from egg yolks, butter, water and lemon juice (among other ingredients), the sauce gives the eggs a savory kick that leaves us wanting more.

Hollandaise sauce with black pepper and the ingredients (butter, egg, lemon) of the sauce in the back (Selective Focus, Focus in the middle of the bowl)

Making Hollandaise sauce requires a skilled hand. It is, after all, one of the five “building block” mother sauces in French cuisine, where all other sauces are “extended relatives of these five”.

To get it right, it needs to be a good emulsion, where it is a stable mixture of the normally immiscible water and the oil from the butter (this is like making mayonnaise — see the 1-Minute NomNom “Feeling negative? 
Mayo control your emulsions“).

Hollandaise sauce cooked in a bain marie or water bath

Another trick is to make Hollandaise sauce with a bain marie, also known as a water bath. Look closely at the photo above and you’ll see the pot containing the sauce sitting in a larger pot of water that is being heated. This ensures gradual and even heating. There is not only low risk of over-cooking or burning, but the sauce can also be served at the right warm temperature.

baking cheesecake and melting chocolate both use a bain marie or water bath

The bain marie is used for many other recipes. From melting chocolate, to baking cheesecake, to double-boiled Chinese soups, the bain marie ensures food is cooked right and to the right degree (see more at the 1-Minute NomNom “Bath time!”).

The kitchen is not the only place where the bain marie has found a home. It is also used in the laboratory and in the pharmaceutical industry. Just like in the kitchen, scientists and manufacturers use a bain marie when they want to:

– keep chemicals at an even temperature;
– prevent chemicals from breaking (e.g. from excessive heat);
– let a reaction’s temperature rise slowly.

water bath lab and industry science (jpg) Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 9.09.52 am

According to Wikipedia, the bain marie “was originally developed for use… when alchemists needed a way to heat materials slowly and gently.” Its “name comes from the medieval-Latin term balneum (or balineum) Mariae — literally, Mary’s bath — from which the French bain de Marie, or bain-marie, is derived.” (But who is Mary? :P)

Water bath and Alchemist laboratory old illustration. By unidentified author, published on L'Illustration, Journal Universel, Paris, 1858

Alchemy has often been associated with alchemists who wanted to turn lead into gold. Partly because of that, they “have often been dismissed as pseudoscientific charlatans”. But their techniques also “paved the way for modern chemistry and medicine”.

We should add food and cooking to that. Thanks to the alchemists, their quest for gold paved the way for us to enjoy melted chocolate, smooth cheesecake, double-boiled Chinese soups, and creamy golden yellow Hollandaise sauce.


Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 6.02.39 pm

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photos: in order – depositphotos/raptorcaptorildi_pappkoss13arskajuhaniinyrdreams; aiwendylmarzolino

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