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Cream Sauces

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Post your questions here -->> Q&A

Cream Sauces - Béchamel and Hollandaise

Author: Jack Lang (jackal10)


Marquis Louis de Bechameil (1603–1703), was a 17th century financier who held the honorary post of chief steward of King Louis XIV's (1643-1715) household. He is reputed to have invented Béchamel Sauce when trying to come up with a way of eating dried cod. The Duke of Escars, is reputed to have said:

"That fellow Béchameil has all the luck! I was serving breast of chicken á la crème more than 20 years before he was born, but I have never had the chance of giving my name to even the most modest sauce."

There are, however, no historical records to verify that Marquis Béchameil was either a gourmet, a cook, or the inventor of Bechamel Sauce The more likely origin is Chef Francois Pierre de La Varenne (1615-1678). He was a court chef during King Louis XIV's reign, during the same time that Bechameil was there. La Varenne wrote "Le Cuisinier Francois," which included "Béchamel Sauce." He may have dedicated it to Béchameil as a compliment

However others dispute the origin, variously crediting it to the 14th century Italian chefs of Catherine de Medici, or to Duke Philippe De Mornay (1549-1623). Duke DeMornay is also credited with being the creator of Mornay Sauce., Sauce Chasseur, Sauce Lyonnaise, and Sauce Porto.

Béchamel is a white cream- or milk-based sauce, thickened with a starch. It is the basic white sauce of classical cuisine, and one of the “mother” sauces. It is the white equivalent of veloute (covered in the brown sauces section), being made with milk rather than stock.

For 1 pint/600ml milk, you need 4oz/100g white roux which we made in the brown sauces lesson.

Escoffier advises flavourings of half an onion and thyme, together with salt (a good pinch) and pepper. Strictly, a Béchamel sauce always has these flavourings. Without them you get an English white sauce. Some prefer the flavour components of an onion stuck with cloves, others add a bay leaf.


If you don't have a ready made roux available, take 2oz/50g of unsalted butter and 2 oz/50g of flour and put them in a saucepan.


This recipe is scaled for ordinary white (wheat) flour as the source of starch. There is some debate as to which white flour is best for béchamel. Strong bread flour is advised by some, as it has greater thickening powers, but for the non-commercial cook the small differences are undetectable, Food manufacturers use starches from a number of sources (corn, potato, tapioca etc) that have differing proportions of amylose (straight chain) to amyl pectin (branched chain) starches to achieve different mouth feels. Other properties of starches are important to food manufacturers including the ability to freeze the finished sauce without fear of it separating. Conventional béchamel does not freeze well, but tends to thin and separate if frozen.

Even Escoffier remarked …starch being the only one from the different constituents of flour which really affects the coherence of sauces, there would be a considerable advantage in preparing roux from a pure form of it, or from substances with kindred properties such as fecula [potato starch], arrowroot etc. It is only habit that causes flour to be used as the cohering element of roux, and indeed, the hour is not far distant when the advantages of the changes I propose will be better understood – changes which have already been recommended by Favre in his dictionary.

(Joseph Favre founded The Academie Culinaire de France in 1883. He was the author of “The Universal Dictionary of Cooking and Food Hygiene”)

Stir over moderate heat until the flour is well coated with the melted butter, and you can’t see any flecks of flour. You are trying to get each and every grain of flour coated in the hot butter without cooking it so long that it browns.


Infuse the flavouring (if used) in the milk and heat until just below boiling:


There is much debate as to whether you should add the cold roux to the hot milk, or the cold milk to the hot roux, or have both hot. Traditionally you add the cold roux to the strained hot milk, but I find it often most convenient if both are hot , This is because the milk is hot from being infused, and the roux is hot from just being made. It is important to add the milk all at once and this is best accomplished by it pouring through a strainer into the pan containing the roux. This way, the infused flavourings will be strained out at the same time. Stir well and return to the heat. Keep stirring. The lumps will even out.

Now something magic happens. As the mixture reaches boiling point, the flour grains explode, releasing their starch into the mixture, which thickens quite suddenly. If it is not well mixed, you will get lumps. If you try and add the milk bit by bit, stirring in each time, as if you were making an emulsified sauce like hollandaise, you will get lumps. Dump it in, and stir until it is all smooth.

Let it simmer very gently for a while (Escoffier advises an hour but ten minutes will be enough) to even out and to cook out the raw taste of the flour.

Strain again as insurance against lumps and to ensure the smoothest possible sauce.


Check the texture. If it is too stiff add a little more milk. It should be a nice sauce consistency with an almost neutral taste.


To prevent a skin forming, melt a knob (1oz/25g) of butter over the top. When it is time to server the sauce, stir in the melted butter. This sauce can be reheated but does not freeze well.

What can go wrong?

Lumpy sauce: Roux not incorporated, Not mixed enough – add all the milk at once, not in stages; Sieve the lumps out.

Tasting of raw flour, or gluey: Not cooked enough. Simmer for longer. Add more milk or cream if getting too thick.

Burnt or brown flecks: Cooked too hot, especially when the milk is infused – Milk burns easily.

Too thick: Dilute with cold milk. Sieve

Too thin: Not cooked enough, or not enough flour. Make some more roux, and stir in the sauce.

Uses and derivatives

Although starch-thickened sauces have gone somewhat out of fashion, béchamel is fantastically useful and versatile. It has the great advantage that it can be heated without separating, unlike egg-based sauces such as Hollandaise. It can be served hot or cold, and can be reheated, unlike beurre blanc. This makes it convenient for restaurants or dinner parties, as the preparation can be done mostly beforehand. The starch is stable, even when boiled or grilled, and so béchamel forms the base of many fish, dairy and vegetable dishes needing a creamy sauce.

Some derivative sauces:

Cream Sauce Add ¼ pt (150 ml) heavy cream per pint (600 ml) of béchamel. Strain.

Egg Sauce Add chopped hardboiled eggs to the béchamel. 3 eggs per pint (600 ml).

Cheese Sauce Stir in 2oz/50g or more of a well-flavoured grated cheese, such as Cheddar, to a pint/500ml of the hot Béchamel. Stir until the cheese is melted and incorporated. You can add a little mustard or Worcestershire sauce as well. Use for everything from Welsh Rabbit (pour over toast or and English muffin (crumpet) and brown under the grill; (A Buck Rabbit is a Welsh Rabbit with a poached egg) to Cauliflower Cheese (cooked, drained cauliflower, and hard boiled egg halves, covered in cheese sauce and browned in the oven) and Cheesy Leeks (same as cauliflower cheese, but with cooked leeks).


Cauliflower Cheese

Mornay Sauce is the classical cuisine version: Make the cheese sauce with half gruyere and half parmesan Enrich with an egg yolk and spoonful of cream per pint. Great soufflé base. Good with oysters, browned under the grill.

Sauce Soubise or White Onion Sauce; Add 2oz /50gof chopped onion, first softened by simmering in water or in butter without colouring to 1pt/500ml béchamel. Finish with a spoon or two of cream. Adjust seasoning – may need a little sugar. For Sauce Soubise sieve out the bits of onion. A modern way to make Sauce Soubise is to omit the Béchamel and simply make an onion puree with cream.

Mustard Sauce Stir in 3 tablespoons of ??made mustard per pint/500ml. Grainy mustard is particularly good.

Cardinal Add fish stock, truffle essence (oil), lobster butter, cayenne See note on butters.

Lobster Sauce Anchovy essence, dice of lobster, cayenne. Add chopped truffles for Sauce Victoria.

Huitres (Oyster) Add oysters the their juice. A little lemon and cayenne.

Nantua Sauce Finish with 3oz/75g crayfish butter per pint/500ml and 2 Tsp small cooked prawns Try with white fish or fishcakes or fish quenelles. See note on butters.

Parsley sauce Stir in 1oz/25g of chopped parsley to béchamel or cream sauce. In the English tradition this is served with gammon, or as the basis for a fish or root vegetable pie.

Note on Compound Butters for grills and for completion of sauces

Escoffier again:

With the exception of those of the shell-fish order, the butters, whose formulae I am about to give, are not greatly used in kitchens. Never the less, in some cases, as for instance in accentuating the savour of a sauce they answer a real and useful purpose, and I therefore recommend them , since they enable one to give a flavour to the derivatives of the veloute and béchamel sauces which these could not acquire by any other means.

All the butter is unsalted. These butters keep well if in a sealed container in a fridge, and freeze well.

Shell fish butters (lobster, shrimp, crayfish etc)

Cook 4oz/100g of Mirepoix (cubes of carrot and onion) in 4oz /100g ( ½ stick) butter.

Flame with brandy, if feeling spectacular. Add shelfish remains ( the heads, shells, coral etc after extracting the meaty parts) and pound in a mortar, or process in a food processor if it is strong enough. Add the same weight of melted butter as the puree and stir. Strain off the melted butter, and filter twice through cheesecloth or fine chinois to remove any fine particles of shell.

Maitre d’Hotel butter

Blend together 8oz/250g/1 stick of butter, 2 Tbs chopped parsley, a little salt and pepper, a few drops lemon juice. Use this for grills. You can use other soft herbs (e.g. Tarragon, Mint, dill, chives, lemon balm, fresh ginger etc) for their respective butters

Garlic (or other members of the onion family) Butter

1 head of garlic (etc) to 8 oz /250g(1 stick) butter. Peel the garlic, crush, blend with the butter.

Can add 1 tsp chopped parsley and quite a lot ( ½ tsp) black pepper.

Spread on a loaf of good bread sliced, reassemble the loaf, wrap in foil, warm in low oven for garlic bread ; use it to garnish grills, fish etc. Saute shrimps in it for instant garlic shrimps., Freeze it and stuff chicken breasts with it, egg and breadcrumb then deep fry for Chicken Kiev


Hollandaise is one of the classical mother sauces, from which many others are derived. In a classical kitchen this would be a stock sauce, made by the gallon. Hollandaise is a lovely sauce on its own, mayonnaise for hot dishes. Fantastic with asparagus, or salmon, or indeed any fish.

Hollandaise is essentially a hot version of mayonnaise, made with butter instead of oil. The same principle of making an emulsion applies, but it is a little easier since the butter starts as an emulsion. As with mayonnaise, you want to get the fat portion to dissolve and expand the fat globules in the egg yolk, rather than sit and pool together, making the sauce split. The other danger is that you get it too hot and cook the egg, then you end up with buttery scrambled eggs. If you can make an egg custard (such as Anglaise), then Hollandaise is easy.

To start take 1 Tbs white wine vinegar (or lemon juice, or even water if preferred), some salt and pepper, and boil together until the vinegar is reduced by 1/2. This makes it less sharp. Cool slightly, and add 2tsp cold water, and an egg yolk. Have 4 oz of cold unsalted butter cut into roughly 8 cubes standing by. If all you’ve got is salty butter, use that, but don’t add the salt to the vinegar. Reduce the heat - you want to proceed over a gentle heat to prevent the egg cooking. The pan should be slightly warmer than is required for butter to melt.

You are making a savoury custard at this point. Stir together vigorously over a very gentle heat until it begins to thicken. Remove from the heat immediately, or you will get scrambled egg. Add a single knob of butter and stir like crazy until it has melted and incorporated. The cold butter will cool the mixture a bit and stop the egg cooking. Do NOT add any more butter until the first knob is incorporated, and the sauce again looks shiny.


Keep stirring and adding the cubes of butter one at a time until they are all incorporated. Be sure to let one merge in before adding the next. You should get a nice sauce texture, coating the back of a spoon.


Check the seasoning. You can dilute it a bit if too thick, or add more butter if too thin.

Sieve it at this point through a fine sieve to get rid of any overcooked bits of egg.

If it all goes wrong and turns into a grainy mess, don’t panic. Probably it got too hot and cooked the egg, or you added too much butter at one time. To rescue it we need a new supply of emulsifier from a fresh egg yolk, and can beat in the butter strained from the split from the previous attempt, but this time do it more slowly, and over gentler heat – use a double boiler or put it in a basin over a pan of boiling water if you are in doubt.

The procedure is the following:

a) Sieve the mess gently, while still warm and the butter is still melted to separate out the solid bits. Those are the cooked bits of egg. Thro them or eat them on toast later, as cooks perks, maybe with a little smoked salmon.

b) Take a clean basin and put it over a pan of boiling water, or very gentle heat. Add a new raw egg yolk, and a tsp of vinegar. A little mustard can help as well. Stir them together until smooth. Add the buttery liquid from the first attempt, a teaspoon at a time. Beat each teaspoonful in well, until it is fully merged, and the sauce looks shiny before adding the next.

You now have Hollandaise.

You can attempt to make hollandaise in a food processor, but I think it is a much more difficult technique. Melt the butter, whizz the egg and the vinegar, then pour the hot melted butter into the runnning food processor in a thin stream. It is important not to add the butter too quickly. If it seems as though it is not incorporating into the mixture, pause before adding more and make sure that it is drizzled into the processor in a thin stream. The butter should be cooled down to the point where you can just tolerate keeping your finger in it. You need the butter to be hot enough to cook the egg, but not too hot so it burns or overcooks. I personally prefer to do it on the stovetop, stirring, as you can more easily control the temperature and also produces a creamier hollandaise.

Hollandaise is a mother sauce. Derived sauces include:

Bernaise Tarragon Hollandaise. With the vinegar add 1 tsp chopped shallot (or the white part of spring onions if you don’t have shallots), and the cut up stalks of 2oz of tarragon. They will get strained out with the bits of egg. When the hollandaise is finished add the chopped tarragon leaves, and 1 tsp of chervil or parsley. Delicious with steak, or grilled chicken.

Choron Tomato Hollandaise. Stir in 2tbs of tomato puree to the finished hollandaise.

Divine Mousseline with a glass of sherry added to the finished hollandaise (reduce the sherry by half to concentrate the flavour).

Foyot or Valois Bernaise with 3tbs meat glaze added to the finished hollandaise

Maltaise Orange hollandaise. Traditionally made with red (blood) orange juice. Add the juice of two ranges and ½ tsp grated orange rind to the finished sauce. Try it with broccoli.

Mousseline Add half the quantity of whipped cream.

Noisette Stir in 2oz hazel-nut butter (butter heated in a frying pan until it goes light brown) when the hollandaise is finished. Serve with salmon, or boiled fish.

Paloise Mint Hollandaise. Follow Bernaise but substitute mint for the tarragon. Perfect with lamb, and makes boiled potatoes a luxury.

Quenelles make elegant dishes on their own. We made Chicken Quenelle in the Consomme section. Here they are shown with sauce Mousseline. Serve warm, as a starter or light lunch.


et voila, Quenelle de volaille, Sauce Mousseline.

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