Copycat Panera Mac & Cheese
With the cooler weather, I’ve become sort of obsessed with Panera’s mac & cheese. It’s warm and cheesy comfort food at its best. I’ve also moved around a lot and I’ve lived hours from the nearest Panera so I know what it’s like to desperately crave the creamy goodness that is Panera mac & cheese but not be able to get it despite the fact you’re willing to do practically anything. Ahem. No good.
Not only that, but it’s expensive AND not super practical from a financial standpoint to eat at Panera every single day (although tbh I would if I could). Plus, despite their claims of being healthy and having all “real” food, their nutrition list still has a bunch of stuff I can’t pronounce in it, so making this side (or meal…) from scratch rocketed to the top of my to-do.
When I was testing the recipe for this, I decided to use an extra sharp white cheddar cheese and it came out a little …sharp… for my taste, and it wasn’t identical to Panera’s mac & cheese. If you like super sharp cheese, by all means, step the sharpness level up a few notches. But, if you’re like me and like things a bit more mild, I’d recommend just plain ‘ol sharp white cheddar for this recipe.
Alrighty, now that we’re both drooling, let’s get makin’:
Pop a pot of water on to boil and salt it. Then dump in your pasta. Once that’s boiling (according to package directions, of course), grate your cheese. Don’t use pre-grated because they coat it in that cornstarch stuff and it’s just not the same.
You’re also going to want to grab a box of potato starch flour if you can find it. If you can’t, you can use Wondra, or even regular old AP flour in a pinch.
Once your cheese is grated, melt butter in a large skillet with high sides over medium heat. Once butter is melted, stir in the potato starch flour (or whichever flour you’re using). Add milk and stir to combine. It can be tough to get those little chunks of butter and flour to combine into the milk but stick with it.
Once the milk-flour-butter mixture is smooth (or mostly smooth), mix the grated cheese in. Finish off with salt and pepper to taste and voila!
Copycat Panera Mac & Cheese
The creamy, cheesy sauce and conchiglie noodles make this mac and cheese a perfect replica of Panera's mac and cheese.
Makes: 8 servings
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp potato starch flour (or Wondra, or AP flour)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 c whole milk
- 4 c Sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 16 oz conchiglie pasta (or shells or elbow)
- Boil pasta in salted water following instructions on package.
- Grate cheese. Do not use pre-grated cheese.
- In a deep skillet, melt butter. Sprinkle in flour and mix to combine fully. Add salt. Cook one minute.
- Add milk and stir to thoroughly combine.
- Pour cheese into milk and flour mixture and stir until melted. Add pasta and toss in cheese sauce. Remove from heat and serve immediately.