Copycat Panera Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

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

For more traditional 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. Don’t forget the kitchen sink cookies!

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.

  • Made on stove top in minutes!
  • Creamy and cheesy!
  • Kid and adult approved.

Ingredient Notes

Ingredients needed to make panera mac and cheese.

With just a handful of ingredients, you can make this stove top mac and cheese at home.

  • Pasta- use what you love. Cavatappi is a great choice, but shells or elbows work great too.
  • Cheese- good quality cheese is a must. And shredding it yourself is key to the creamiest mac and cheese. Bag of shredded cheese won’t give you the same results, you’ll find it more grainy. Use white cheddar to mimic Panera.
  • Ground Mustard- or dry mustard. This does not give your mac and cheese a mustard flavor, but instead ENHANCES the cheese flavor. Don’t skip it!
  • Milk & Cream- for the thickest mac and cheese, use heavy whipping cream and whole milk.
  • Salt and Pepper- season as directed, adding more after serving if necessary.

Step by Step Instructions

Step by step photos showing how to make panera mac and cheese.
  1. Cook pasta- according to package directions while making the sauce. Drain and set aside until ready to use.
  2. Make the roux- 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.
  3. Add cheese- Continue whisking until it begins to bubble. Reduce to low and add white cheddar. Stir until melted.
  4. Add pasta- 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.
Panera mac and cheese made at home in a large pot.

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!
Panera mac and cheese served in a green bowl.

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Copycat Panera Macaroni and Cheese

4.70 from 789 votes
By: Aimee
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!!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients 

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 pound pasta cooked (cavatapppi, shells, or elbow)
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Instructions 

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

Notes

  • Use a good quality cheese for best flavor. We choose Cabot white cheddar for best results.
  • Shred your own cheese!

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 519kcal, Carbohydrates: 29g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 39g, Saturated Fat: 24g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 12g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 115mg, Sodium: 379mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Did you make this recipe?Mention @shugarysweets or tag #shugarysweets!

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

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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 February 21, 2022

Comments & Reviews

  1. Made this for Thanksgiving. Used the Cabot white sharp cheddar cheese shredded in my food processor and it was so creamy and flavorful. I made it 2 hours before dinner and kept it in a crockpot on low until dinner. It did not dry out and was a huge hit! It is Super easy and a quick recipe. I have been asked to bring it again to Christmas.

  2. 5 stars
    Holy cow, this is AHHHHMAAAAAZING. Per my kids, this tastes exactly like Panera’s version (and Panera is too expensive to go all the time so they’re thrilled to have this hack). Make it as is – don’t change a thing (except I only had skim milk and it was fine). Any pasta will pair perfectly. I need to make a double batch next time for our four teenagers who devoured this in about 5 minutes. Wow.

  3. This recipe has become a staple in our house! It’s so good and amazing as leftovers too I always have to make a double batch so everyone can eat and have leftovers! Thank you so much for this!!

  4. Tried this exactly as written and it was amazing. My husband said that if there was a way to box this recipe and post for resale, you would never be able to keep up with inventory, you would always be sold out. I guess that means it was good! Thank you.

  5. We love this recipe and have made it multiple times!
    Any suggestions for how to transport it to a get together so that it doesn’t dry out? Crockpot? Or any other suggestions? We’d love to bring it to family but won’t be eating right away. Thanks!

    1. I loved the Mac n cheese, never had Panera’s! This recipe was flavorful & creamy👍
      I saw the other comments & just wondered if they cooked the butter & flour According to directions!

  6. 5 stars
    I’ve never had Paneras version, but I hear it’s very good. This is easy and delicious. Definitely will make again. Great way to use up that free cheese I get from work.

  7. This was so yummy! I think the dry mustard was a little overpowering and made it taste different than Panera’s recipe, but we all still loved it! Might tweak in the future with less mustard but will definitely make again!

  8. 4 stars
    Turned out amazing the second time. I used Vernont sharp white and use a little american white. With a teaspoon of Frank’s red. Turned out almost exactly like the Panera mac

  9. 5 stars
    I made this and loved it! I added Cayenne pepper hot sauce and it gave it such a good extra taste. Will make this again for sure! (I also cut up the cheese into small bits instead of shredding it because I don’t own a shredder and it still cooked perfectly and was less work!)

  10. 5 stars
    I’ve made this several times and I’ve used Cabot sharp cheddar and Cracker Barrel Vermont sharp. Whichever is on sale lol. For the people saying this is bland, are you salting your pasta water? That’s essential to any pasta recipe. Are you leaving out the dry mustard or something? The only thing I have done differently is adding about 1/2 tsp smoked paprika but not every time. I’m a southerner who likes flavor but what do you really need in macaroni and cheese? Hot peppers or something?

    Anyway, my family loves this mac n cheese. I used 1 tsp sea salt or himalayan pink salt, 1 tsp course ground pepper, 1 tsp dry mustard as the recipe calls for, after boiling my noodles in SALTED water and it’s delicious. Doesn’t need any more salt either, IMO.

  11. This Mac and cheese is delightful, not sure what the grumpy comments are about! I used aged extra sharp cheddar mixed with normal white cheddar and there was no gritty texture and the flavor came through perfectly!

  12. Omg! I thought it was perfect. I have to be gluten free so I used cassava flour with a teaspoon of corn starch. I used tillamook sharp white….perfect recipe. Thanks!!
    Obviously I used a gf noodle. Absolutely love the Banza brand of chickpea noodle for any fellow GF’s out there. Thanks for a great super quick recipe!

    1. I agree. I wonder if they aren’t salting their pasta water or if they’re leaving out the dry mustard, salt and pepper. I’ve used Cabot (seriously sharp, I think) and Cracker Barrel Vermont sharp and it has been great with both. I shred it myself. Shredded cheese in the bags can make it gritty. I have had no problems with this.

    2. Thank you, Patty, for your gluten free alternatives! One of my daughters was recently diagnosed with Celiac‘s disease and I’m still trying to figure out all the different substitution options! Very helpful❤️

  13. I made exactly as recipe written. Mine was bland also but I think I used bland cheap cheese! Never again! But when all was said and done I loved the recipe and will make again with Cabot cheese.

    I added kielbasa just to give it a little more taste.

    Thanks so much this is a keeper!

  14. it is very bland, i even added paprika, extra salt and pepper. still bland. if you make this I recommend adding more of a sharp cheddar with a stronger cheese flavor, and mixing in some other seasonings

  15. This recipe is quick, easy and delicious. My son loves Panera’s Mac n cheese ever since he had it in Canada. This is a fav of his now..

    1. I tried this recipe with Tillamook white cheddar cheese and thought it tasted slightly gritty. But my husband and I liked it well enough to make it again, but this time I used Cracker Barrel Vermont Sharp White (Kroger carries it).The sauce was very smooth-not gritty at all. I liked this recipe because it was quick and easy and the sauce was very creamy.

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