★★★★★

Copycat Panera Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Creamy white cheddar macaroni and cheese just like Panera. Give this copycat version a try. Oh and it’s quick and easy on the stove top too!!

For more traditiona mac and cheese try my favorite Baked Macaroni and Cheese recipe or my Gouda Bacon Mac and Cheese.

Bowl with homemade macaroni and cheese. Copycat recipe from panera.

Copycat Panera Recipe

My kids are so predictable sometimes when it comes to ordering from restaurants. I like to order something different every time I go out, it’s fun to try new things.

But at Panera, we all seem to be creatures of habit. We all get the same soup, sandwich or salad..EVERY TIME. 

Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Orange Scones, and a big bowl of Mac and Cheese.

It’s creamy. Wait…I should say it’s THICK and CREAMY. Capital letters help emphasize, right?

I thought it would be fun to try to recreate this recipe at home. I’m good at making the main dish for dinner, but it’s the side dishes that always get forgotten. And peanut butter fudge is the perfect ending to any meal, right?

We usually end up having applesauce and a roasted broccoli because I can’t seem to wrap my head around making side dishes.

Overhead shot of mac and cheese with black pepper.

Step by Step Instructions

STEP 1: Cook pasta according to package directions while making the sauce. Drain and set aside until ready to use.

PRO TIP: Use your favorite noodle. Cavatappi is a great choice, or shells or elbows work great too!

STEP 2: In a large saucepan on medium high heat, add butter until melted. Whisk in the flour and cook for about one minute. Reduce heat to medium and add milk, heavy cream, salt, dry mustard and pepper.

Continue whisking until it begins to bubble. Reduce to low and add white cheddar. Stir until melted.

STEP 3: Add cooked pasta, stirring until combined. Remove from heat and allow to sit about 5 minutes to thicken. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. ENJOY.

Recipe FAQs

What kind of cheese is best for mac and cheese?

I prefer a white cheddar, like Cabot’s. Don’t use the packaged shredded cheese, as it usually has thickeners on it. Buy a block and shred it yourself for the creamiest results.

What can I use instead of dry mustard?

1/2-1 tsp of dijon mustard would work well with today’s mac and cheese recipe. It doesn’t make the recipe taste like mustard, but instead enhances the cheese flavor!

Can I add hot sauce to mac and cheese?

Absolutely! Start with about 1/4 teaspoon. This will give the pasta great flavor without making it spicy. Add more if you want spice!

Tips and Tricks

  • While your noodles are cooking, you can whip up the roux (flour and butter mixture). Then add remaining ingredients. By the time your noodles are done, your sauce should be ready. Easy!
  • When ready to reheat your leftovers, you may need to add about 1/2 cup milk. Warm it up on low on the stovetop. This recipe is about two meals for us as a side dish, for our family of 4.
  • Use the video tutorial below to follow along!
Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese in a green soup bowl.

What to serve with Mac and Cheese:

PS. If you try this recipe, please leave a STAR rating in the recipe card below. I love your feedback! Connect with me on social media by following me on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.

Yield: serves 8

Copycat Panera Macaroni and Cheese

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Creamy white cheddar macaroni and cheese just like Panera. Give this copycat version a try. Oh and it’s quick and easy on the stove top too!!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cup shredded white cheddar (I used Cabot seriously sharp cheddar)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1lb, pasta, cooked (cavatapppi, shells, or elbow)

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions while making the sauce. Drain and set aside until ready to use.
  2. In a large pot on medium high heat, add butter until melted. Whisk in the flour and cook for about one minute. Reduce heat to medium and add milk, heavy cream, salt, dry mustard and pepper. Continue whisking until it begins to bubble. Reduce to low and add white cheddar. Stir until melted.
  3. Add cooked pasta, stirring until combined. Remove from heat and allow to sit about 5 minutes to thicken. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. ENJOY.

Notes

  • Use a good quality cheese for best flavor.
  • Shred your own cheese!

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 519Total Fat: 39gSaturated Fat: 24gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 115mgSodium: 379mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 14g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

Copycat Panera White Cheddar Mac and Cheese recipe is perfect for an easy weeknight side dish!

About Aimee

Aimee is a dessert lover (specifically rice krispie treats), workout enthusiast, self-taught foodie, and recipe creator.

Learn more about Aimee.

Affiliate Disclosure:**There may be affiliate links in this post! By clicking on them, or purchasing recommended items I may receive a small compensation. However, I only recommend products I love! Thank you for supporting Shugary Sweets! See my disclosure policy for more info**

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Posted on September 25, 2020

Comments & Reviews

  1. I made it as per the recipe. I did make one addition….a healthy sprinkling of cayenne pepper. It’s that little zip that finishes all cheese and/or cream sauce recipes. It is a good “save” recipe.

  2. this recipe is okay, it’s not the exact same as panera’s. tastes like something is missing. definitely a little bland. i eat panera mac n cheese regularly and this does not taste like it lol

    1. To make real copycat Panera mac & cheese, you MUST cook the noodles IN milk, instead of boiling them in water. That’s the secret. You add milk, a tablespoon of butter, salt, mustard, and then slowly cook (stirring often- yes, I know it’s a pain, but so worth it), and when the noodles are done, you take it off the heat and stir in shredded cheese. Important to note that you have to shred the cheese yourself; pre-shredded cheese in a bag has anti-clumping agents and it doesn’t melt nearly as nicely as it does if you’ve shredded a block of cheese yourself.

  3. Can’t wait to try this recipe.
    I make macaroni and cheese a lot, no matter what version i use,
    I add 1 Tbsp prepared yellow mustard , my family request it , requires it lol
    Have family members including myself that don’t like Dijon mustard,
    So i never have any on hand. I also add a pinch of nutmeg.
    Thank you for sharing your recipes.
    They are delicious.

  4. I made this exactly how the recipe was written with hand shredded extra sharp white cheddar & it was delicious! I also added breaded crumbs and baked it for 15 minutes.
    I have tried at least 10 mac & cheese recipe and this one was by far the best! Perfect ratio’s of cheese, milk, butter etc.
    Thanks for delicious recipe!

  5. There’s something seriously off about this recipe. I do a lot of cooking and I followed the recipe exactly but it was just not good at all. Bland, gritty, and the cheese sauce was very liquid with a weird after taste. Not creamy and thick at all. I used Cabot so maybe that was the culprit. All ingredients were fresh. Maybe this is good Mac and cheese to some people and I’m just used to making it different. My whole family hated it and we ended up throwing it all out and ate sandwiches for dinner.

  6. Omg, so easy and so yummy!! I made this for my son and couldn’t stop eating it once I tasted it. So cheesy and creamy and soooo addictive.

  7. Can any of your macaroni and cheese recipes be frozen? My family loves the panera copy cat recipe and we want to take on our lake trip. I was going to make, freeze, then bake – what are your thoughts or recommendations? Thanks for any advice – love this recipe

  8. I am on a keto diet and have been doing a low carb lifestyle for quite a while, but I really missed my Panera mac and cheese.
    I modified this recipe as follows:
    I substituted Xanthan Gun instead of the flour I used about 3/4 teaspoon, adding it by rubbing it between my fingers while whisking with the other hand after adding the wet ingredients but before the cheese. It takes time to work and will thicken more over time. Do not add more.
    I used Fiber Gourmet’s Light Elbows with 17g net carbs per serving (it’s actually a lot once cooked). * Note: This pasta is made with digestive resistant starch and doesn’t seem to throw me out of ketosis, but in the interest full disclosure, I’m listing what’s on the label.
    I used actual spicy brown mustard instead of the dry, but only 1/2 teaspoon.
    I used salted butter, then cut the salt down to just under 1/2 teaspoon of salt and tasted it as I went to make sure I didn’t over salt, and I added the salt at the end after the cheese was melted.

    The sauce as prepared above has only 13g carbs from the milk. About 2-3g per serving. When added to the pasta, it’s about 20g total.
    Since I like a lot of sauce, it’s about 20g total when I eat it, but I don’t have any weight gain the next day after eating this pasta. I hope this helps anyone trying to support a low carb lifestyle.

    Thank you SOOO much for this amazing recipe. I couldn’t tell the difference at all from Panera. Sorry, Panera!! You’ve been replaced.

  9. I made this for the first time yesterday. I couldn’t find the Cracker Barrel white cheddar so I used almost 2 cups of Tillamook white cheddar instead and added 1/2 cup of Extra Sharp normal cheddar. It was absolutely delicious and my whole family loved it! I will definitely keep this recipe in our family favourites 😁 Thank you!

  10. This has simple instructions and is easy to make however we found it sort of bland. We would add a couple different cheese’s next time for additional flavor.

    1. We love this Mac & Cheese recipe! I make it with Asiago cheese and add an extra tsp. of dry mustard. I usually make it as an oven version though: make as directed, then put in casserole dish, put a layer of shredded extra sharp cheddar and top with buttered Panko bread crumbs. Heat in 350 Degree oven untIl brown in top.
      Delish! Making it now!

  11. This is THE BEST mac n cheese recipe! I’ve been making it for years now. I don’t make any changes (I might add a little extra pepper… I’m always generous when I add pepper to things). Sometimes I add things to it. Tonight I added chicken and broccoli. Sometimes I add steak and broccoli. No matter how you serve it it’s delicious! And SO quick and easy 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    1. If I don’t have heavy cream can I just add more milk? I know the heavy cream helps with the creaminess, but any way I can make it without?

      1. I make this regularly as a side dish for sloppy Joe’s, burgers and chicken. It is SO good. We use whatever pasta we have on hand and add a little more salt or pepper to taste depending on our moods. I’ve put the sauce over lobster ravioli and it was TO DIE FOR.

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