Get your spoons ready! This stove top mac and cheese is a copycat recipe of Panera’s mac and cheese and it will knock. your. socks. off. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
Have you ever had Panera’s mac and cheese? It’s insanely amazing!
Velvety, creamy, cheesy, and worthy of only a spoon since it’s the closest utensil to a shovel. And here is the recipe for you! I got it from Panera’s website many years ago and have tweaked it to be my own after making it many, many times.
Stove Top Mac and Cheese
I know I lamented back in the fall about this being the very best mac and cheese recipe out there but until today, I’ve still yet to post a quick stove top mac and cheese recipe. I’ve tried a couple different stove top recipes in the past year but none of them really had the “wow” factor I was looking for.
But the Panera mac and cheese recipe? Oh this version is different.
Panera Mac and Cheese Ingredients
Obviously, I don’t know the actual ingredients that Panera uses for their mac and cheese recipe. And that’s fine because I’m always a little skeptical about ingredient labels on quick service food anyway.
So for me, homemade is usually the way to go. After all, where would this blog be without all the homemade recipes?
With that said, the ingredients for this mac and cheese recipe are a little different than you find in other stove top mac and cheese recipes. Also fine, because what I’ve felt about other versions not tasting like they were cooked enough is not an issue with this version.
And that’s because this recipe has some flavor boost going on! Here are the ingredients for this Panera Bread mac and cheese recipe (Keep scrolling down to the recipe card to view the full Ingredient list and Instructions!):
- unsalted butter
- all-purpose flour
- cheddar cheese
- American cheese
- Dijon mustard
- hot sauce (just a teeny bit!)
- small pasta shapes like pipettes or shells
All of the unique flavors blend so beautifully and result in an unforgettable white cheese sauce that nestles itself into the shells and wraps itself around your spoon.
Kyle and I both love the slight hint of Dijon that peaks out of the cheese sauce mostly because it reminds us of the mac and cheese recipes our moms made for us as kids.
BUT! You can always decrease the Dijon a little. Personally, I wouldn’t cut it completely though, because the sauce tastes like it’s missing “something” without it in there.
However, a bunch of reviewers (see Comments section below the recipe card) have said that they have omitted the Dijon and still loved the recipe.
So! It’s up to you!
Why Use American Cheese? Why Not Just Cheddar?
Let me tell you: American cheese melts AMAZINGLY. Don’t you remember the first time you made a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar cheese after making them with American cheese for your whole life?
It’s just not the same!
So adding American cheese to this recipe in addition to cheddar cheese helps keep the cheese sauce nice and smooth. Cheddar adds lots of flavor but when it melts, it can be greasy and even grainy.
Use both cheeses here and just trust me.
What Kind of Milk to Use for this Mac and Cheese Recipe
My Panera mac and cheese recipe has made it to our menu SO MANY times over the years since I first made it and I’ve used skim milk and whole milk – depending on what I have in the fridge – great success. Use whatever milk or cream you have on hand.
Heavy cream and half-and-half make for a much more indulgent mac and cheese meal and you can use either in place of the milk or to supplement it if you don’t have enough milk on hand.
Skim, whole, and 1%, 2% milk all work just great for this recipe too.
How to Make Panera’s Mac and Cheese at Home
This recipe is a super simple one to make! And it only takes 15 minutes to make!! Score! Here’s what you’ll do (Keep scrolling down to the recipe card to view the full Ingredient list and Instructions!):
STEP 1: Cook the pasta according to the package instructions.
STEP 2: While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Start by melting butter in a saucepan and then whisking in flour. Cook the butter-flour mixture and then whisk in the milk. Simmer until the mixture thickens
STEP 3: Stir the cheese into the milk mixture. After the cheese has melted, stir in the salt, Dijon, and hot sauce.
STEP 4: Drain the pasta and mix it into the cheese sauce.
STEP 5: Serve in bowls with big spoons for scooping up all that goodness!
So the big question for you is: Is this on your menu yet??
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Looking for more mac n’ cheese? Try these tried & true recipes!
fried pimento mac and cheese
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- 16 oz pipette pasta or other small pasta shapes
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ cups milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half
- 4 oz white or yellow American cheese, chopped or torn into pieces
- 8 oz extra sharp white Vermont cheddar, shredded
- 2 tsp - 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (adjust according to your tastes)
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp hot sauce (like Frank's) or sriracha sauce
- In a large stockpot, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well.
- While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a 4-quart sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and has started to bubble, whisk in the flour; cook for 1 ½ minutes whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk until no lumps remain. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook milk mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens and bubbles, about 8 minutes.
- Remove sauce pan from the heat and by the handful, stir in the cheeses allowing all of the cheese to melt into the sauce before adding more. Stir in the mustard, salt, and hot sauce. Return the sauce pan to the heat and stir in the pasta. Be sure to stir up the sauce from the bottom of the sauce pan and thoroughly coat all of the pasta with sauce. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes over medium-low heat until heated through. Serve hot in bowls with spoons.
After having made this recipe dozens of times since posting it, I have decreased the amount of flour and increased the time needed to cook the flour. Cooking the flour in the butter a little longer will reduce the "floury" taste and will help to thin out the sauce a little.
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