Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

This easy Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese is a ultra creamy macaroni and cheese recipe. Ready in just 20 minutes and made with two kinds of cheese it’s great as a side dish or an indulgent lunch!

This velvety smooth mac and cheese pairs perfectly with just about any main dish from Baked Chicken Breasts to the perfect Steak.

An overhead shot of a pot of macaroni and cheese with a spoon

Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe

If you love Panera’s Mac and Cheese, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve made a few copycat recipes over the years and they’ve all turned out well, but this one is honestly a dead ringer for the Panera version. Super creamy and so cheesy, this easy macaroni and cheese is a must make!

Why we love it

  • It’s better than baked and takes half the time! If we are being completely honest, I have to tell you that I prefer baked macaroni and cheese over a stove top version, but this version is much quicker. While my pasta boils, I make the cheese sauce and then mix all together.
  • It’s customizable. In true Panera form, you can add toppings like they do in the restaurant. You can add bacon, tomatoes and avocado, or even bbq pork or bbq chicken on top! We eat ours as a side dish, but you could definitely make this into a main course with a few additions.
  • It’s so quick and easy. The best part of this recipe is that it cooks in minutes. I love fast side dishes that I can make to quickly round out a meal. Roast some broccoli on the side and you have a well rounded dinner!

A side view of a pot of macaroni and cheese

How to make copycat Panera mac and cheese

The secret is in the cheeses. You must use white American cheese slices and extra sharp Vermont cheddar. Any other cheese will change the flavor and not taste like Panera’s. The other secret ingredients are dijon mustard and hot sauce. The mustard adds a sharp tang while the hot sauce adds flavor. Don’t omit it or you won’t achieve the desired results. I promise it won’t make the dish spicy!

  1. Grab a pot and cook pasta shells according to the package directions. I used shells because that’s what my family likes but you can use regular macaroni too just like Panera does.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce. Melt some butter and add flour to make a roux. Once that’s cooked and golden add milk and simmer it until the sauce is thickened.
  3. Add some dijon mustard and hot sauce for flavor. Then turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses. It’s important to move the pan off the heat at this point to keep the cheese from getting too hot and separating or “breaking” your sauce.
  4. Once the cheeses are melted you’re ready to serve!

shells in cheese sauce with a silicone spo0n

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A close up of macaroni and cheese

Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Super creamy and cheesy, this easy macaroni and cheese recipe is a dead ringer for the Panera classic!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American Classic
Servings 4 people
Calories 768kcal

Equipment

  • Sauce Pan

Ingredients
  

  • 12 ounces pasta shells or macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 8 slices white American cheese cut into pieces
  • 4 ounces Vermont extra sharp cheddar cut from a block and shredded yourself
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Boil water in a large saucepan and add pasta. Cook to al dente according to package instructions.
  • While pasta cooks, make the cheese sauce. Melt butter in a saucepan. Once melted, add flour. Whisk until combined and golden and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in milk and bring to a low boil. Simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in dijon and hot sauce.
  • Turn off the heat. Add cheese and stir until cheeses are completely melted. Add cooked pasta and stir to coat completely. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes

Serve as a side dish to compliment your favorite protein, or as a main dish topped with bacon, chicken or anything else you love.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 768kcalCarbohydrates: 79gProtein: 32gFat: 36gSaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 1094mgPotassium: 512mgFiber: 3gSugar: 11gVitamin A: 1348IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 851mgIron: 2mg
Keyword Stove top macaroni and cheese

 

Amanda

Amanda blogs at Old House to New Home where she shares easy ways to eat, create, and decorate, all while raising two young girls! Amanda is a Spanish teacher, wife to a great husband, and mommy to the two most beautiful little girls! Amanda loves food, traveling, and transforming their 115 year old house into their home.

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Comments

  1. Yummy. I used 6 oz cheddar, the sliced white American, 3 cups milk, 8 oz capatavi. Baked with buttered seasoned breadcrumbs. I apologize for changing it up a bit. I hate when people do that but I wanted to bake with crusty top but I wanted to use the American cheese. Had to start more soupy cause gets dryer when baked!

    1. Hi Sandy, I appreciate your feedback! I am a huge supporter of making a recipe work for you – I love when you share your own spin on my recipes.

    1. Any kind you like – tabasco, sriracha, cholula or even buffalo sauce. Just something to cut the creaminess a little bit.

  2. When you say white American cheese, do you mean the kind like Kraft that comes in a package?
    Or are you talking deli cheese?

    Thank you!! Looks excellent!!

    1. Either one – Kraft makes a white American cheese you can buy in singles like the orange one. It’s linked in the post. You could also check with your deli to see if they have it.