Making eggs Benedict -- especially for a group -- is a juggling act: perfectly poached eggs are balanced on thick, juicy slices of grilled sugar-cured Canadian bacon and crisp yet tender, toasted English muffins, then everything is laced with a glistening, tangy lemon hollandaise sauce. The pitfalls are everywhere: overcooked eggs, tough bacon, burned muffins and separated hollandaise can all or one at a time thwart the cook who turns his back for a minute.

In fact, many of us have experienced the results of those pitfalls at the typical Sunday brunch, often at chain restaurants with their cattle-herd buffets where eggs Benedict are made by the hundreds. Most likely the eggs were poached the night before and quickly plunged into ice water to stop the cooking process. English muffins, sliced, not fork-split, were toasted and brushed with butter well in advance. Canadian bacon was placed cold (not grilled, as it should be) on the toasted-ahead muffins with the pre-cooked eggs. Set up (sometimes the night before) in chafing dish pans, they could then be easily reheated in high-speed convection ovens as needed and topped with a mass-produced hollandaise designed more to withstand the heat of chafing dishes than for flavor.

Indeed, that well-known eggs Benedict stepchild, the Egg McMuffin, more often than not, seems like the better possibility.

Some sources say the dish was created in New York City in 1894 when Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street financier, after a night of heavy fraternizing, loaded up his plate while working his way through the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel's breakfast buffet: buttered toast, crisp bacon and poached eggs piled high and all smothered in a sea of hollandaise sauce.

Another scenario has yet another Wall Street financier, LeGrand Benedict, lunching with his wife at the famed Manhattan restaurant Delmonico's in 1895. Mrs. Benedict, it seems, could find nothing of interest nor anything new on the clubby menu and complained to the maitre d' (or was it the chef?). Together they created this masterpiece during the ensuing table-side brainstorming session.

Larousse Gastronomique (Clarkson Potter, 2001) says that the American dish "attributed to several hotels, but closely associated with Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans, may be loosely based on a benedictine [monks'] dish of poached egg on top of a pureed salt cod."

While these stories may have some merit, the idea was hardly original. Similar egg dishes, each based on the standard poached eggs-on-toast, had been around for years. Decades before European gastronomes such as Louis Veron, the composer Gioacchino Rossini, chef Adolphe Duglere and the writer Alexander Dumas would frequent bistros and restaurants of Paris, naming dish after dish in honor of each other, their friends, patrons, mentors, mistresses, writers, artists and actors of their day or from history.

Among the offerings they are said to have created or inspired are eggs Rossini (with foie gras, truffles and madeira sauce), eggs Rachel (on artichoke bottoms with beef marrow and bordelaise sauce), eggs Daumont (crayfish, mushrooms and the bernaise-like nantua sauce), eggs Careme (sweetbreads, mushrooms, truffles and madeira sauce) and eggs Bernis (chicken mousse, asparagus tips and a white wine sauce).

In addition to the classic eggs Benedict, America claims several other creations that remain standards today, including two specialties of Brennan's, the famous New Orleans restaurant: eggs Hussard (on Holland rusks with Canadian bacon and marchands de vin, a rich red wine sauce) and eggs Sardou (creamed spinach and artichoke bottoms).

Certainly, the original is hard to beat. Served with fresh fruit, asparagus spears and a bubbly mimosa, what you have is the perfect unmatched and unparalleled brunch.

Classic Eggs Benedict

(6 servings)

Traditionally a serving consists of 2 eggs, 1 on top of each muffin half. But these days many people want only 1 egg and 1 muffin half. With that in mind, this recipe serves 6 (along with a nice salad or steamed asparagus), but you can adjust it to suit the your appetite.

3 English muffins, split in half

Hollandaise sauce (recipe follows)

6 poached eggs (recipe follows)

Six 1/4-inch-thick slices of Canadian or Canadian-style bacon

About 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the baking dish

6 slices black truffle or olive (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Split the muffins; put them on the baking sheet and set aside.

Preheat the broiler.

Prepare hollandaise sauce (see following recipe) and set aside over simmering water as directed. Prepare poached eggs (see following recipe). While eggs are poaching, broil the muffins until lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes.

While the muffins are toasting, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 30 seconds per side. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Remove muffins from the broiler and spread the cut side of each half with 1 tablespoon softened butter.

Remove eggs from water with a slotted spoon and place in a buttered baking dish. To assemble, place 1 slice of bacon on top of each toasted, buttered muffin. Using the slotted spoon, carefully place 1 egg (may need to gently pat it dry with a paper towel) on top of each slice of bacon. Using a spatula, transfer the muffin stack from the baking sheet to a serving platter or warm plates. Spoon about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the hollandaise sauce over the top of each stack. If desired, garnish with truffle or olive. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Per serving (with hollandaise): 506 calories, 16 gm protein, 15 gm carbohydrates, 42 gm fat, 421 mg cholesterol, 23 gm saturated fat, 660 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Blender Hollandaise Sauce

(About 1 cup, sufficient for 6 servings)

Two things are of paramount importance to a perfect hollandaise sauce. First, it should be made before anything else in the eggs Benedict recipe. Second, it must be kept warm or the butter will separate from the rest of the sauce.

Once you try this simple blender variation there's really no going back to the classic method (which demands several pots and a strong whisking arm).

12 tablespoons butter

3 egg yolks

2 tablespoons white wine or water

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Salt to taste

Cayenne pepper to taste

Worcestershire sauce to taste (optional)

Have ready a double boiler or a small bowl that fits snugly atop a saucepan of simmering water.

In a small saucepan over low heat or in a microwaveable dish on low power, heat the butter until it is completely melted and bubbling. Carefully remove from the heat. Using a spoon, remove and discard the foam from the surface of the butter. Set the butter aside to cool to almost room temperature.

Place the egg yolks in a blender. In a saucepan over high heat, bring the wine or water and lemon juice to a boil. Remove from the heat and immediately add to the eggs in the blender. Process on medium speed until combined. Reheat the butter until it begins to boil. With the blender running, slowly add the butter in a steady stream and process until completely incorporated. Season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste and a few drops Worcestershire sauce, if desired. Pour sauce into the small bowl atop the saucepan of simmering water or into the top of the double boiler over simmering water until ready to serve.

Per serving: 249 calories, 2 gm protein, trace carbohydrates, 27 gm fat, 172 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 65 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Poached Eggs

Have ready a buttered baking dish large enough to hold the cooked eggs. In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the number of eggs you are using, pour enough water to reach a depth that will just cover an egg, 1/2 to 1 inch. Heat the water just to the point where bubbles appear at the edge of the pan. Crack each egg into a small custard or espresso cup. Reduce the heat to low and carefully slide 1 egg from the cup into the water. Working quickly, use a slotted spoon to gently push the egg white back toward the yolk to ensure a circular shape. Working quickly, repeat with the remaining eggs. The eggs should not touch one another. As the eggs begin to firm, use the slotted spoon to gently lift each egg from the bottom of the pan to ensure that it is not sticking. Poach until the eggs are firm, about 3 minutes.* Beginning with the first egg added to the pan, use the slotted spoon to carefully transfer each egg to the buttered dish. Set aside until remaining ingredients are ready.

* Note: Uncooked or undercooked eggs may be contaminated with salmonella and should be avoided by young children, the elderly and anyone with immune system deficiencies.

Poached Eggs

on Grilled Vegetables With Tomato Provencale

(4 servings)

This take on eggs Benedict is untraditional to be sure, but smashing in both flavor and appearance.

Tomato Provencale Sauce (recipe follows)

1 small or medium eggplant, unpeeled

1 large sweet onion

1 large zucchini

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Olive oil for brushing the grate

4 poached eggs (see preceding recipe)

About 4 tablespoons goat cheese or fresh mozzarella (optional)

Prepare the Tomato Provencale Sauce; set aside.

Cut the eggplant crosswise into four 1-inch-thick slices; reserve the remaining eggplant for another use. Sprinkle the eggplant on both sides with salt, transfer to a colander placed on a plate and set aside for 30 minutes to drain.

Cut the onion crosswise into four 1/4-inch-thick slices; reserve the remaining onion for another use. Set aside. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into four 1/2-inch-thick slices. Set aside.

Preheat the grill or broiler.

Pat the eggplant dry and season with pepper to taste. Lightly season the onion and zucchini with salt and pepper to taste. Lightly brush the grate with oil and grill (or broil) the vegetables directly over high heat, turning once, for 10 to 12 minutes for the eggplant, 6 to 8 minutes for the onion and the zucchini. Transfer to a baking sheet; set aside.

Prepare the poached eggs.

To assemble, create 4 stacks of slices, beginning each stack from the bottom with eggplant, onion and zucchini and cheese. Using the slotted spoon, carefully place 1 egg (may need to gently pat it dry with a paper towel) on top of the stack. Using a spatula, transfer the stack from the baking sheet to a serving platter or warm plates. Spoon about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Tomato Provencale Sauce over the top of each stack.

Per serving: 222 calories, 9 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 213 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 270 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

Tomato Provencale Sauce

(4 servings)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 cup diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons dry white wine

2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley or basil (may substitute 1 teaspoon dried parsley or basil)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and simmer, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced to a sauce, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the parsley or basil and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat; cover to keep warm.

Per serving: 80 calories, trace protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, trace cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 125 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Poached Eggs on Potato Cakes With Ham and Jack Cheese

(6 servings) A hearty rendition of the classic perhaps best served at supper.

For the potato cakes:

1 1/2 pounds red potatoes

1 small onion

1 egg, lightly beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

For the assembled dish:

Butter for the dish

Poached eggs (see recipe above)

6 slices smoked or cured ham

6 slices Monterey Jack cheese (may use other relatively mild melting cheese, such as white cheddar)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups Black Bean Salsa, Citrus Salsa (recipes follow) or Tomato Provencale Sauce (see preceding recipe)

1/2 cup sour cream (optional)

1/4 cup minced chives or scallion greens (optional)

For the potato cakes: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the potatoes just until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool slightly. Peel the potatoes, cover and refrigerate until chilled through, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Grate or shred the potatoes and the onion. Transfer to a large bowl, add the egg and salt and pepper to taste. Mix just until combined. Form the mixture into six 3-inch round cakes.

Have ready a plate lined with paper towels and a baking sheet. Over high heat in a skillet, heat enough oil to reach a depth of 1/4 inch. Add the cakes and cook until dark golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the fried cakes first to the paper towels to blot the excess oil, then to the sheet.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a baking dish large enough to accommodate 6 eggs; set aside. Prepare the poached eggs.

To assemble: Place a slice of ham on top of each potato cake on the baking sheet, then top with a slice of cheese. Transfer to the preheated oven just until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes. Using the slotted spoon, carefully place 1 egg (may need to gently pat it dry with a paper towel) on top of the stack. Using a spatula, transfer the stack from the baking sheet to a serving platter or warm plates. Spoon about 2 to 3 tablespoons of Black Bean Salsa or Citrus Salsa or Tomato Provencale Sauce over the top of each stack. If desired, top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives or scallions

Per serving (without salsa): 408 calories, 27 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 296 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 903 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Black Bean Salsa

(6 servings)

This colorful salsa has the tang of lime and a mere trace of cumin. It also goes well with chips, chicken or fish.

16-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup diced yellow bell pepper

1/4 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup diced tomatoes

1/4 cup finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)

1 jalapeno chili pepper, seeded and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to meld.

Per serving (based on 6): 70 calories, 3 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 364 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Citrus Salsa

(6 servings)

Light and sweet-tart, this salsa could also perk up a simple weeknight entree of grilled chicken or fish.

2 oranges, peeled, sectioned and chopped

1 red grapefruit, peeled, sectioned and chopped

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 jalapeno chili pepper, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

Kosher or sea salt to taste

In a large bowl, combine the oranges, grapefruit, onion, jalapeno and scallions. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice and honey. Drizzle the lime-honey mixture over the fruit, toss gently to combine and season with salt to taste. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to meld.

Per serving (based on 6): 53 calories, 1 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 48 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Russell Cronkhite last wrote for Food on turkey pot pie.