This Basic White Cream Sauce is one of the five classic French "Mother Sauces", and also known as Bechamel sauce. It is the base for many other sauces and gravies, and once you master this easy white cream sauce, the sauce world is your oyster! Here, you'll learn exactly how to make a smooth, flavorful cream sauce that you'll be proud of everytime!
No more sauce intimidation. This quick 8-minute white sauce recipe will be your "go-to" recipe for a million different things: we're talking the base for Mornay sauce (a basic white sauce with cheese), creamy herb sauces, Alfredo-type sauce (white sauce for pasta) and even a substitute for canned condensed soups!
There's nothing fancy going on here: Butter, Flour, Milk, salt & pepper...that's it! This recipe calls for salted butter but you can use unsalted if you prefer. I've found a stick of salted butter is enough salt for me in this sauce, but you might like a bit more!
You can use ground black or white pepper; just add it to taste but keep in mind that ground white pepper is stronger than black pepper so use white judiciously.
You can use whole or 2% milk, half-n-half- or heavy cream in this basic sauce; note, heavy cream has a bit of a sweet taste to it, so if you don't want a sweet flavor profile in your white sauce, just stick with milk.
How to make basic cream sauce
White sauce is relatively easy to make and takes about 8 minutes. This recipe yields 2 cups of sauce. First, you start by making a roux, which is equal parts of fat (butter) and flour.
- In a medium saucepan on medium heat, add stick of butter
- Once butter has melted, sprinkle in flour and whisk; cook for 1 minute (now, you have a roux!)
- Lift saucepan off heat
- Add lukewarm milk; whisk, whisk, whisk
- Place saucepan back on burner and allow sauce to thicken a bit; taste for salt and pepper; add some if you want
- Serve sauce
Secrets for making the best cream sauce
- Use room temperature milk: set the milk out of the fridge about 20 minutes before starting the sauce or, heat the milk in the microwave on low. The objective here is to not add cold milk to the hot roux; this often results in lumps in the sauce
- Do not overcook the roux: a quick 1-minute cook on medium heat should do it. (You want a white roux for the base of the sauce--not a blonde roux; white cooks in about 1 minute; blonde cooks in about 3 minutes.)
- Add milk with the pan off-heat: once the flour and butter are combined, lift the saucepan off the heat; add the milk, then return pan to heat.
- Taste before adding salt: If you use salted butter, don't add more salt until the sauce is finished--you may not need more salt!
Derivatives of white (Bechamel) sauce
A really good cream sauce serves as the basis for many other sauces and gravies, as well as a thickening agent for soups and stews.
- Herb-infused Cream Sauce: Add herbs to a basic cream sauce and you've got a completely different flavor profile! Recall that dried herbs are three-times stronger than fresh. Add dried herbs to the sauce right after you add the milk. Add fresh herbs at the very end of the cooking time. Some favorites are dill, sage, tarragon and rosemary.
- Garlic-infused Cream Sauce: cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side around the perimeter and bottom of the saucepan. This gives a faint, but not overwhelming hint of garlic flavor to the Bechamel sauce.
- Spice-infused Cream Sauce: using a microplane, grate a little cinnamon or nutmeg over a white sauce. Other nice spices are: sweet and smoky paprika, ground cloves, allspice, mustard, coriander or cumin.
- Cheese Sauce: add any shredded cheese to the sauce after you've combined the milk with the roux. Cheddar for macaroni and cheese, Parmesan for Alfredo sauce for pasta, or pureed tomatoes for spaghetti and lasagne.
Finish the Cream Sauce with an Acid: Add an acid to your finished sauce to even further develop the flavor! Acids always go in the sauce last and use them sparingly. Try a little lemon, lime, orange or a little vinegar - other acids include wine, alcohol (liqueurs), tomatoes and buttermilk.
Condensed soup substitute
If you're trying to stay away from processed foods, a white cream sauce is going to be your best friend! This sauce can easily be incorporated into recipes that call for condensed "cream of" soups. All you have to do is add the desired flavor to the sauce.
Cream of Mushroom: saute onions and mushrooms in 1 T of oil; puree in food processor; add to white sauce; season with salt, pepper and onion and/or garlic powder if desired
Cream of Celery: saute onions and celery in 1 T of oil; puree in food processor; add to white sauce; season with celery salt and pepper
Cream of Chicken: add 1 T of "Better Than Bouillon" to white sauce before you add milk; whisk until smooth; season with salt, pepper, onion and/or garlic powder
Uses for white sauce
Incorporate a white sauce into soups and stews to thicken, or make them creamy. Drizzle sauce over vegetables like peas, asparagus, new potatoes or broccoli or, add some to your favorite casserole! The addition of a basic white sauce adds a creamy texture to whatever dish you choose!
You can make this basic white sauce in advance and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. To reheat, simply pour sauce into saucepan and re-heat on medium low.
Basic White Cream Sauce
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 stick butter salted or unsalted (See Recipe Notes)
- 2 cups milk 2% or whole (See Recipe Notes)
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- In a medium saucepan on medium heat, melt butter
- Sprinkle in flour and whisk until smooth
- Remove pan from heat and add milk; continue to whisk
- Place saucepan back onto stove burner and increase heat to medium-high; continue to whisk until sauce is smooth
- Taste for salt and pepper; adjust according to your palate; Add fresh or dried herbs now; blend well; serve