Heat a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the butter. Heat until melted, and the fat solids begin to separate from the butter (15-20 minutes). Skim off the impurities that float to the top and then strain through a cheesecloth to remove the fat solids. The butter that is left is known as clarified butter or ghee. Return the butter to the saucepan a keep warm over very low heat.
Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the white wine vinegar, peppercorns, and bay leaf and simmer until the liquid has reduced to 1.5 tablespoons. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Remove the peppercorns and bay leaf.
Place the egg yolks in a blender. Add the reduced vinegar liquid and the lemon juice. Blend for approximately ten seconds to combine the ingredients.
With the motor running, slowly add the heated clarified butter in a steady stream until thick and smooth. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve immediately over eggs, fish, or vegetables.
Hollandaise sauce is the most feared sauce to make because of its tendency to break, to over thicken, or to curdle. If the sauce begins to break, add 1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream to the blender with the motor running. This should allow it to reconstitute. However, this is only a temporary fix. If the sauce breaks again, then you should discard and begin again.
If the sauce becomes too thick, then add 1-2 tablespoons of cool water. This should loosen and smooth the texture. Be careful not to add too much water, as the sauce will break and you will have to begin again.
If the clarified butter is too hot or if it is added to quickly, then the hollandaise sauce will curdle. This means that the egg yolks are, in effect, turning into scrambled eggs. At first sight of curdling, add a single ice cube to the sauce and stir until melted. This should lower the temperature and halt the curdling process. Alternatively, you can strain the finished sauce to remove any clumps.
Add 2 tablespoons chopped basil, oregano, or mint to a finished hollandaise sauce to create interesting flavour combinations that go well with white fish fillets.
Add 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika to create a slightly smoky flavor.
For an exotic flavor, add 1 teaspoon of wasabi powder (add more to taste if necessary). This takes an egg Benedict, to new heights.