How to Make the Creamiest Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese
This copycat Panera mac and cheese recipe comes pretty close to the real deal. Serve it in a bread bowl to get the full cafe experience!
Whenever my family and I got takeout growing up, I’d always assist my parents with unpacking the meals and distributing them to the right people. Admittedly, I offered to help not only to get dinner on the table more quickly—but also, so that I could sneak a bite of someone else’s order without them noticing. (Shh!)
One of my favorite dishes to “taste test” was Panera’s mac and cheese. While I couldn’t resist ordering the broccoli cheddar soup for myself, I couldn’t pass up a mouthful of those creamy, cheesy pasta shells, either.
Thanks to this copycat Panera mac and cheese recipe, there’s no need for me to steal (ahem, sample) from my brother’s usual order anymore—I can make a whole pot just for myself at home whenever I want, and still order the broccoli cheddar soup when I’m at Panera. We provide the details on how to make it at home, complete with step by step photos and all of our best mac and cheese tips.
Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe
- 3-1/2 cups uncooked pipetti pasta or medium pasta shells
- 1/4 cup butter, cubed
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 cups 2% milk
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
- 4 slices white American cheese, chopped
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Bread bowls, optional
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Cook the pipetti pasta according to the package directions. (Don’t forget to salt the pasta water—one of the most important tips for cooking pasta.)
When the noodles are al dente, drain and set them aside. Don’t worry about rinsing the noodles—leaving the starchy residue will help the creamy cheese sauce adhere to them later.
Step 2: Melt the butter
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Cut it into cubes beforehand to help it melt evenly.
Step 3: Make the roux
A roux—which is a combination of flour and fat that thickens sauces and soups—will do wonders for your copycat Panera mac and cheese. Whisk the flour into the melted butter until it’s smooth.
Here are more tips on how to make a roux.
Step 4: Whisk in the milk and thicken
After the flour and butter are combined, add in the milk and pepper. Bring it to a boil, and then cook and stir it continuously for 2 minutes or until it’s thickened.
Step 5: Melt the cheese
Next, add the shredded white cheddar, white American cheese and the Parmesan to the saucepan. Stir until the cheese is fully melted and has melded with the cream sauce.
Step 6: Stir in the pasta
Finally, stir the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce. Make sure that all of the noodles are coated.
Step 7: Serve!
If you want a full Panera experience, consider serving your mac and cheese in bread bowls, which you can also make at home. Otherwise, scoop your pasta into your bowl of choice and dig in!
Tips for Making Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese
Why won’t the cheese melt evenly?
While it might be easier to pick up a bag of shredded cheese from the store to save some time, the cellulose in prepackaged shredded cheese makes it less suitable for even and smooth melting. (The cellulose, along with other preservatives, keeps the cheese from clumping together.) You’ll have a much easier time melting down the cheese when you shred it yourself. Here are more reasons why you should shred your own cheese.
What else can you add to copycat Panera mac and cheese?
While we think this copycat Panera mac and cheese recipe is pretty great as is, there are plenty of ingredients you could add to make it your own. Add some spice to each bite by drizzling your favorite hot sauce or chili crisp on top. If you want to add protein, go for chopped bacon, chorizo or even mini pepperoni. Fresh herbs like green onions and basil will add not only color, but also freshness to your mac. Everything bagel seasoning would be a great topper, too.
How should you store leftovers of copycat Panera mac and cheese?
Leftovers of copycat Panera mac and cheese should last in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days. If you want it to last for longer than that, you could freeze your mac, too.
What’s the best way to reheat leftovers of copycat Panera mac and cheese?
You can reheat copycat Panera mac and cheese on the stovetop, or covered in the microwave. Adding in a splash of milk will help loosen up the sauce, and give the pasta back some creaminess that may have soaked up into the noodles.
If you liked this copycat Panera mac and cheese recipe, try your hand at other copycat mac and cheese recipes and see how they compare.