The Milkweed Diaries

Friday, July 29, 2011

Making Mayonnaise

The source of all mayonnaise

Our household consumes a huge quantity of mayonnaise. This is mostly because of Christopher, who believes that mayonnaise makes everything better, and often serves himself such a large portion of mayo that it appears more like a side dish than a condiment. Naturally, with plenty of fresh eggs from the chickens and a great local source of cheap organic extra virgin olive oil, I decided it was time we start making our own mayonnaise.

Years ago, I made some aioli to serve with fresh asparagus and it was a triumphant kitchen moment. I had a vague memory that it involved whipping for a long time, and pouring in the oil very, very slowly. My friend Kathryn makes mayonnaise sometimes, and I remembered her saying she used a blender. I did a little googling and found this excellent recipe for "Homemade Mayonnaise Without Tears" which recommended using a mixer with whisk attachments.

I don't have whisk attachments, but I figured that couldn't be that big of a deal, so I grabbed some eggs and got started.

A couple of hours and four appliances later...I had achieved mayonnaise. But it was not easy, let me tell you. I share this story in the hopes that it may spare some future mayonnaise maker from the frustrations of mayonnaise failure.

I started out with my grandmother's Sunbeam Mixmaster. It seemed like a reasonable choice given the "No Tears" recipe, plus it is glamourous and I always like getting it out for kitchen projects.

I do not recommend a mixer like this for mayonnaise-making. The beaters only hit the center of the bowl, leaving the edges unwhipped/unblended, and the whole Sunbeam operation was a colossal failure. I ended up with an oily, un-emulsified, very un-mayonnaise-looking mixture. It looked like raw egg yolks and oil blended together. Which is what it was.

Next I switched to the hand blender (aka immersion blender). This is a tool that I love and that a number of people in the googleverse recommend for mayonnaise making. I almost burned up the motor, and created a foamy yellow oily substance. I kept whipping, waiting waiting for that magic moment of emulsification, but it never happened.

At this point, fortunately I found several references saying that failed mayonnaise could be substituted for oil to make a new batch, so I saved the failed batch and moved on to appliance number three, the hand mixer. This seemed like it would solve the problem of not reaching the edges that I had encountered with the Sunbeam, and incorporate much more air than the hand blender/immersion blender.

Wrong. No magic mayonnaise moment.

Finally I switched to the trusty Osterizer.

Why did I not use the blender to start with?

I followed the directions in this recipe precisely (with one small exception, see #2 below) including beating the eggs for one full minute in the blender before beginning to add the oil (in my case oil/egg failure mixture) and adding it at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Finally. Mayonnaise success. The magic moment of emulsification.

Here are a few tips for my fellow novice mayonnaise makers to spare yourself time and struggle:

  1. Use a blender. Don't bother experimenting with mixers of any sort. They don't work.
  2. Use the whites of the eggs too. Most of the recipes I looked at called for separating the eggs and using only the yolks. In the end I used whole eggs, including whites. Correlation is not causation, so it's possible that using whites too had nothing to do with my success, but when I used the whole eggs, it worked. I think keeping the whites made the mayonnaise a more familiar and thereby more appetizing color, too.
  3. Whip the eggs on high for at least one full minute before adding any oil.
  4. Add the oil with excruciating, ponderous, agonizing slowness. Drips to very slow, thin drizzles only.
In closing, I would like to say: how did people EVER do this before electricity?!? At some point in between appliances, in my search for ways to salvage the failed mayonnaise, I found this lovely post about how French vendors just whip up little batches of mayonnaise by hand using only a whisk and a bowl, just right there on the spot on the street to accompany orders of french fries. It was totally demoralizing to read this as I struggled with my four appliances and runny yellow oil and egg substance.

The ridiculous number of appliances employed, dirty dishes produced, and electricity expended probably don't justify just over a pint of mayonnaise. I can report, however, that it was immensely satisfying to finally see that creamy, thick, delicious substance appear like magic out of nothing but eggs, salt, and oil.

All the dishes, appliances, electricity - that's tuition, as my dad would say. Now I know, and there will be no stopping me in the pursuit of mayonnaise.

Ridiculous number of dirty dishes produced in The Mayonnaise Lesson.

9 comments: said...

I'm going to borrow your dad's line!

I use a cold bowl and a whisk. Works every time (I usually make it w/ 2 eggs to give you an idea about how much I make) but the cold bowl is the trick. Less dishes too :)

Milkweed said...

You are a kitchen badass, El. But how long does it take? You know I would rather do it low-tech and human-powered, but I guess I feared it would be a very lengthy process. No?

silver said...

i've resisted the blender because it seems easier to extract finished product from a bowl and...i'd rather clean a bowl...which i think i just need to get over.

although, i do have a fancy family hand me down kitchen aid mixer with all sorts of attachments, i'm sure it includes a whisk....which is perhaps an exception to your 'no mixer' rule?

cold bowl! makes me wonder if you could hand whisk for a little bit in a bowl and then transfer to a cold mason jar and shake it (sharing the shaking) like whip cream except...mayo!

i've been buying and hoarding organic mayo pints from trader joes.

viva mayonnaise!

Milkweed said...

Maybe, Silver (regarding whisk attachments) but a blender works really well. I mean REALLY well. It's something like a 10 minute project with the blender if you skip all of my steps of trying other implements. I will try a cold bowl and a whisk a-la French street vendors and El one day, but I'm drunk with blender success right now and so will probably stick with the Osterizer for a while.

silver said...

when it works it works!

another machine i don't like to use because it's messy is a food processor. but...the 'pusher' in the cuisinart has a little hole in it, one reason is so you can dribble oil into things like mayonnaise!

here's a little more on that...if and when you might be interested!

Milkweed said...

Yes, I had read a number of things by proponents of the food processor method. Love the Hunger Artist blog though, and the discussion of "Mother Sauces." And I had always wondered about those little holes in the "pusher" for the food processor. said...

Well, yeah, it *does* take a while. And perhaps I am a little overpatient! I have one flat whisk called a roux whisk that really does well in the bowl I use (it's a spoon-shaped, 3-wire whisk). But I do have one decided advantage: a 7 year old who loves mayonnaise. If I tire, she's there. We tend to work in tandem as I make mayo when I make dressing, about once a week.

But sticking the bowl into another icewater filled bowl does speed things along. A little bit, anyway...

highlandstreet said...

mayonaisse IS miraculous!!! as is the greeks' yogurt.
your blog is on fire!

intlxpatr said...

The French mayonnaise has less body than the American mayonnaise, so when they whip it up by hand, it is looser. The bender makes a mayonnaise that pours creamy, and then sets up firm in the refrigerator.

Since you have control over all the ingredients, you know it is healthy, and you can make wonderful additions - garlic or wasabi or roasted red peppers or capers - each gives a very different flavor. Hard to resist eating it right off the spoon, LOL!