Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

published Feb 7, 2022
Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe

This irresistible stovetop mac and cheese is made with all white cheese.

Serves4 to 6

Prep5 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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Copycat panera bread mac and cheese in a blue bowl.
Credit: Laura Rege

Copying and getting a tried-and-true dish right requires a little tinkering in the kitchen, but once you get it perfect, it’s so rewarding to make it at home. For this copycat Panera mac and cheese, our goal was to achieve a stovetop mac and cheese that had a real rich creaminess to it, yet was made with all white cheese. Here are the key elements that make this one just so irresistible. 

The Shape

Panera uses a shape that is similar to Pipette Rigate, a shape sold by Barilla. The cheese sauce clings so well to this shape, with its small size and ridged outside. If you can’t find it, opt for a medium shell or another small shape with ridges. 

How to Make Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Creamy

Some white cheddars are creamier than others. A block cheddar like Cracker Barrel’s white cheddar has a nice richness and tang to it, while classic American cheese (use white not orange here) is much creamier. Combined the two bring a depth of flavor and creaminess that can’t be achieved alone. 

While you can go all milk in the cheese sauce, heavy cream adds the extra richness that is signature to Panera’s mac and cheese, so we swapped out 1/2 cup of milk for heavy cream. If the creamiest vibe is what you are going for, you can swap out up to another full cup of milk for heavy cream.  

Additional Flavors

A touch of ground yellow mustard and hot sauce (such as tabasco) aren’t ingredients in Panera’s ingredient list, however we find that they help accentuate the cheese and bring us closer in flavor to Panera’s flavor.

Credit: Laura Rege

What Cheese Is Best for Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese?

Panera doesn’t reveal exactly what cheese goes into their mac, but for the most authentic flavor we found that a combination of a white cheddar and white American is the best.

How to Store Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe

This irresistible stovetop mac and cheese is made with all white cheese.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt

  • 12 ounces

    dried pipette rigate or medium shells pasta

  • 8 ounces

    white cheddar cheese

  • 8 slices

    white American cheese (4 1/2 ounces)

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground dry mustard

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    hot sauce

  • 3 cups

    whole milk

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add 12 ounces pipette rigate or medium shells pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions. Meanwhile, grate 8 ounces white cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups). Tear or chop 8 slices white American cheese into small pieces (1 cup).

  2. When the pasta is ready, drain.

  3. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground dry mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, and stir to combine. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in 3 cups whole milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Bring to a boil, about 5 minutes. Boil, stirring frequently, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 4 to 6 minutes.

  4. Reduce the heat to low. Add the white cheddar cheese and American cheese one handful at a time, stirring until each handful is melted before adding the next. Add the pasta and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.