Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

copycat panera Mac and cheese

The Spruce

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 5 servings
Yields: 4 cups
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
711 Calories
50g Fat
41g Carbs
24g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 5
Amount per serving
Calories 711
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 50g 65%
Saturated Fat 30g 151%
Cholesterol 152mg 51%
Sodium 740mg 32%
Total Carbohydrate 41g 15%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 10g
Protein 24g
Vitamin C 2mg 9%
Calcium 610mg 47%
Iron 2mg 9%
Potassium 367mg 8%
*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.)

Panera mac and cheese is a dish beloved by many, and now you can replicate it at home, in just half an hour. Creamy, cheesy, with the perfect tang, and with just a few ingredients, this easy recipe is perfect for a family meal and the leftovers reheat nicely, even after it's been frozen. Serve this dish with a simple salad and garlic bread, or steamed vegetables and rolls. Equally delicious as the bowl you'd be served at the restaurant, there's no need to leave the house to enjoy it, plus it's budget-friendly and a breeze to make.

We used white cheddar and pipette pasta to stay with the look of the original dish, but if youi don't mind some yellow hue on your plate, go for a different type of cheddar. We added cheddar powder into the sauce, which enhances the cheesy flavor—find it online and choose one made out of real cheese.

The only thing to keep in mind, no matter the cheese you choose, is to shred the cheese yourself from a block, as pre-bagged shredded cheese has anti-caking agents that prevent it from melting and incorporating properly into creamy sauces like the one required for this recipe. If you'd like to experiment with stronger flavors go for Gouda or Gruyere, or keep it mild with full-fat mozzarella.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pipette pasta (or other short pasta)

  • 1/4 cup salted butter

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1 cup white cheddar cheese spread

  • 2 tablespoons white cheddar cheese powder

  • 1 cup freshly shredded white cheddar

  • Salt (to taste)

  • Pepper (to taste)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    ingredients for panera mac and cheese

    The Spruce

  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water to barely al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes under the recommended time. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and reserve.

    cooked pasta for copycat panera mac and cheese

    The Spruce

  3. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter over medium heat, stirring to melt. Add the flour and stir to incorporate into the butter to make the roux. Cook for 1 minute, or until golden brown, to cook off the flour taste.

    butter and flour in a pot for copycat panera mac and cheese

    The Spruce

  4. Whisk in the evaporated milk and the heavy cream. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat or until the mixture has warmed through. Add the cheddar cheese spread and cheese powder to the milk. Slowly, add the shredded cheddar cheese, continuously whisking. Stir until you have a homogeneous sauce. Do not let the sauce boil.

    cheese sauce in a pot for copycat panera mac and cheese

    The Spruce

  5. Add the cooked pasta into the sauce and mix well. If the sauce is too thick, add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

    panera mac and cheese

    The Spruce

  6. Enjoy!

Why Is Evaporated Milk Great for Sauces?

Evaporated milk is much less likely to curdle when heated with the cheese. It creates a creamier sauce that will stay creamy even when it cools down. Thus, this tasty dish will reheat nicely thanks to that simple ingredient—just add a few tablespoons of milk before heating it up. Use evaporated milk in your favorite soups and sauces for a silky texture.

Freezing and Reheating Mac and Cheese

For best results when freezing leftover mac and cheese, simply follow a few easy steps:

  • Allow the mac and cheese to cool off completely.
  • Portion it into plastic food storage bags. Flatten the bags and freeze the bags horizontally on a baking sheet. Once frozen you can place them upright to save space in your freezer.

To reheat:

  • Heat a pan on medium-high heat and add 1/4 cup of water.
  • Peel the freezer bag off away from the frozen mac and cheese and add the brick to the pan of warm water. Cover and heat for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and cook uncovered until the mac and cheese is heated through and creamy. Add more water if needed.

Add a Little Spice

Adding some spices to give the mac and cheese a little kick is a great idea. Although not included in the Panera flavor profile, here are a few flavorful suggestions:

  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne to give the dish some heat. Alternatively add 1 teaspoon of hot sauce when finishing up the sauce.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg to give the sauce a nutty tone.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard when finishing up the sauce to add some tang and balance out the richness of the sauce.