Macaroni and Cheese – Panera Style

February 28th, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese   Panera Style

A while back I posted about how I love Panera’s macaroni and cheese. At that time, I had Googled around, read some forums and generally snooped for a recipe for making this creamy comfort food at home. I did find a few suggestions and even one recipe, but nothing really worked out the way I expected (one recipe said to put bread crumbs on it and bake it… what the heck?)

We’ve all had mac n’ cheese, but there does seem to be something especially appealing about Panera’s version.  A quick look around the web shows that many people are interested in making it.  After a few attempts, I think I’ve got it- or at least something very close. And it doesn’t have all of the chemical garbage that Panera probably uses.  Here is my way to make Panera-style Macaroni and Cheese.

And no, I would not have thought the microwave to be the ideal tool for making sauces, but for this recipe it’s an ideal tool. Besides, we are making chain-restaurant guk here (tasty, yummy guk without the chemicals, but yeah). However, it’s also perfectly acceptable to use a sauce pot over low heat, if you prefer. I do that sometimes.

Macaroni and Cheese   Panera Style

Panera-Style Macaroni and Cheese

Notes:
Taste the cheddar to see how sharp it is. Adjust amount of American cheese accordingly. If your cheddar is milder, you may want more cheddar and less American. If it’s very sharp, use equal amounts of each as in this recipe.
Ingredients
  • 11 oz medium pasta shells
  • 5 TB butter
  • 4 TB flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4oz grated sharp Vermont white cheddar cheese (use more cheddar and less American if it’s mild cheddar)
  • 4oz white American cheese, crumbled
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
Equipment
  • Pyrex or microwave safe cups
  • Microwave
  • Whisk
  • Dish for serving
Directions
  1. Boil pasta shells until just cooked and tender. Drain.
  2. In a microwave safe cup or bowl, microwave on high 5 TB butter with 4 TB flour for 2 minutes, stopping halfway to whisk. Whisk again when the roux is done after the second minute.
  3. Mix 1 cup milk and 1 cup heavy cream together. Pour mixture into the roux very slowly, whisking all the time.
  4. Microwave mixture 1 minute at a time, stirring between minutes until the sauce becomes thick and creamy. (should take between 4 and 6 minutes)
  5. While sauce is hot, add grated cheddar and American cheese in small handfuls while stirring to melt all cheese into the sauce. If all of the cheese does not melt completely, you can heat the whole mixture up a little bit and keep stirring.
  6. The sauce should be liquid-y (is that a word?) and creamy, and have a taste that is not too sharp. You want to taste the cheddar but not have it be overpowering.
  7. Season sauce with a pinch of white pepper and a pinch of salt. Mix pasta shells and sauce together in serving dish.

Macaroni and Cheese   Panera Style

Making the cheese sauce.

Macaroni and Cheese   Panera Style

The sauce should end up like this – thick enough to coat a spoon well.

* To reheat this after storing in the fridge, add a little milk to the mixture and stir.  It helps maintain the creamy texture.

Looking for more good side dishes and snacks?

Macaroni and Cheese   Panera Style
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“You`ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”
~ Julia Child