Béchamel Sauce

A pot of bechamel sauce

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 1 3/4 to 2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
95 Calories
6g Fat
7g Carbs
3g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 95
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 8%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 17mg 6%
Sodium 73mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 88mg 7%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 111mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Béchamel is a basic white sauce and one of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine. That means it's the starting point for making other sauces, like the cheddar cheese sauce, the mornay sauce, cheesy sauce, and several other variations. You can also season it and serve it as is. Or try making it with bacon or sausage fat for an amazing white gravy.

The reason for using a fresh bay leaf as opposed to dried is that it allows you to attach the bay leaf to the onion using the cloves like thumbtacks. A dried bay leaf will tend to crack and crumble if you try this. This is not the end of the world, since you'll be straining the sauce anyway. But since a clove can crack a tooth, it's nice to confirm that the same number come out as went in.

It's traditional to use white pepper to season béchamel because some chefs prefer not to see specks of black pepper in a white sauce. But if you can't find white pepper and/or don't mind specks of pepper in your béchamel, you can use black.

Finally, while clarified butter is ideal for making béchamel, béchamel is not nearly as fussy as hollandaise, so you can make it with ordinary unsalted butter. Just make sure you use a little bit more, because whole butter contains water, while clarified butter doesn't.


Click Play to See This Traditional Béchamel Sauce Recipe Come Together

"After cooking for about 18 minutes, I had about 1 3/4 cups of thickened sauce, so it reduced a little more than 20 percent. I thinned it slightly, seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and white pepper, and it was perfectly creamy and delicious. I plan to use it in pasta with extra Parmesan cheese." —Diana Rattray

Béchamel Sauce Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk

  • 30 grams clarified butter (around 2 tablespoons, or 35 grams unsalted butter)

  • 30 grams all-purpose flour (around 1/4 cup)

  • 1 fresh bay leaf

  • 1/4 medium onion, peeled

  • 2 to 3 whole cloves

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Ground white pepper, to taste

  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make bechamel sauce

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You just want it to be warm (around 110 F), not hot, and certainly not boiling.

    A pot of milk

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Meanwhile, in a separate heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.

    A skillet of melting butter

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  4. With a wooden spoon, stir the flour into the melted butter a little bit at a time, until it is fully incorporated into the butter, giving you a pale yellow-colored paste called a roux. Heat the roux for another minute or so to cook off the taste of raw flour. As with the milk, you don't want the roux to be too hot. It should be moderately warm but not cold, either.

    A spoon stirring a roux of melted butter and flour

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Using a wire whisk, very slowly add the warm milk to the roux, whisking vigorously to make sure it's free of lumps.

    Pouring the pot of warm milk into the roux while whisking

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Attach the bay leaf to the onion using the cloves and add them to the sauce.

    An onion studded with cloves and a bay leaf in the pot of milk-roux mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Simmer between 180 and 205 F for about 20 minutes or until the total volume has reduced by about 20 percent, stirring frequently to make sure the sauce doesn't scorch at the bottom of the pan. The resulting sauce should be smooth and velvety. If it's too thick, whisk in a bit more milk until it's just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

    A spoon stirring the simmering pot of sauce

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  8. Remove the sauce from the heat. You can retrieve the clove-stuck onion and bay leaf and discard them now. Carefully pour the sauce through a wire mesh strainer. For an extra smooth consistency, line the strainer with a piece of cheesecloth.

    Bechamel sauce poured into a strainer lined with cheesecloth

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  9. Season the sauce very lightly with salt and white pepper. Add a pinch of nutmeg. Be particularly careful with the white pepper and the nutmeg—a little bit goes a long way.

    A bowl of bechamel sauce seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  10. Keep the béchamel covered until you're ready to use it.

    A bowl of bechamel sauce covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

How to Use

In addition to forming to base of other sauces, béchamel can be used in a variety of dishes:

Can béchamel sauce be made ahead of time?

Béchamel sauce may be made up to one day in advance. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the sauce to keep a "skin" from forming and refrigerate until it's time to reheat. Whisk the sauce as it is reheated and thin with extra milk, as necessary. If it is slightly lumpy after reheating, pour it through a wire mesh sieve.

Can I freeze béchamel sauce?

Yes, béchamel may be frozen, though there is a chance it will separate when reheated. Freeze it in well-sealed airtight containers for up to three months. Reheat the sauce over low heat and whisk vigorously.