Basic White Cream Sauce (Bechamel Sauce)

3-ingredient Basic White Cream Sauce (Bechamel sauce) is ready in 8-minutes! No more sauce paranoia!

This Basic White Cream Sauce is one of the five classic French “Mother Sauces”, and is the base for many other cream based sauces and gravies. 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 Bechamel that you’ll be proud of everytime!

This cream sauce base is also perfect for thickening soups and casseroles and the introduction to many cream-based sauces. The simplicity of it is what makes it ideal for many recipes.

Why this recipe works

  • 3-Ingredients – 8-minutes
  • Versatile: use this white cream sauce with milk recipe for the base of other sauces: Mornay sauce (cheese sauce), creamy herb sauces, homemade alfredo sauce and more!
  • This quick 8-minute white cream sauce recipe will be your “go-to” recipe for a million other sauces
  • Base for many other sauces: Mornay sauce (cheese sauce), creamy herb sauces, Alfredo, and more!
  • Makes a great cream sauce for vegetables
  • A great substitute for canned condensed soups! Just add chicken bouillon!

Here’s what you’ll need

There’s nothing fancy going on here with this easy sauce recipe. Simple ingredients:  

  • Butter – I use salted butter but you can make this creamy white sauce with unsalted butter if you prefer
  • All-purpose flour – if you want a gluten free white cream sauce, just substitute the AP flour with GF flour
  • Milk– use whole milk or 2% milk; not skim milk
  • Salt & pepper to taste

How to make basic white cream sauce with milk

This white cream sauce is relatively easy to make and takes about 8 minutes. This recipe yields 2 cups of sauce. Just follow these easy steps and check out the recipe notes in the recipe card below.

First, you make this simple sauce by making a roux, which is equal parts of fat (butter) and flour. 

In a medium saucepan, on medium-low heat, melt butter

Stick of butter melting in pan

Then sprinkle in flour and whisk

Flour and melted butter in pan
Whisk in saucepan

Add a splash of milk and continue to whisk until smooth; gradually add remaining milk, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon; season to taste with salt and pepper

Recipe tips for white cream sauce/Bechamel sauce

  • Use low heat and a wooden spoon if you have one
  • Use 2% or whole milk – no heavy cream required; just use regular milk
  • 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!
  • This sauce thickens the longer you cook 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!

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 (heavy whipping 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 cream sauce, just stick with plain white milk.

Cream sauce ingredient proportions 

Use this chart as a proportion guideline. Remember, the ratio of fat to flour is always 1:1. The texture (thickness) of the sauce is determined by the amount of fat and flour. You can thin a sauce by adding more liquid.

Infographic proportion guideline chart for basic white sauce ingredients.

If you use more fat and flour, the sauce will be thicker…conversely, you can thin a thick white cream sauce by adding more liquid.

Variations for basic white cream sauce

A really good white sauce serves as the basis for many other sauces and gravies, as well as a thickening agent for soups, stews and casseroles.

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 it. Other nice spices are: sweet and smoky paprika, ground cloves, allspice, mustard, coriander or cumin.

Cheese Sauce (Mornay 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.

Garlic Cream Sauce – add in a little finely minced garlic when you make the roux; the best way to avoid having clumps of garlic in your sauce is to strain it through a fine mesh strainer before serving

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 cream 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 sauce; season with celery salt and pepper
  • Cream of Chicken: add 1 T of “Better Than Bouillon” chicken flavor to the sauce before you add milk; whisk until smooth; season with salt, pepper, onion and/or garlic powder
  • Homemade Alfredo sauce: add in a little shredded parmesan cheese and a hint of lemon juice

Uses for white cream sauce

  • Incorporate into soups and stews to thicken, or to casseroles to 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 or casserole you choose!
  • Use in lieu of canned condensed soups, which are laden with sodium

Storage and reheating

You can make this basic white cream sauce in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

To reheat, simply pour sauce into saucepan and re-heat on medium low. You might need to add a little milk upon reheat, as it thickens when refrigerated.

This cream sauce base is perfect for thickening soups and casseroles and the introduction to many cream-based sauces. The simplicity of it is what makes it ideal for many rich and creamy casseroles.

White sauce being drizzled over red new potatoes

This easy, basic white cream sauce recipe can be a lifesaver for home cooks! Use it as a thickener in casseroles, as the base for cream gravy for chicken fried steak or as an alternative to canned condensed soups.

Cream sauce in pan with wooden spoon butter and flour in background

If you make this recipe, please scroll down and leave a rating and comment! I love to hear from you!

Basic White Cream Sauce (Bechamel Sauce)

Easy white cream sauce is perfect for thickening soups, stews, or add to casseroles or vegetables.
4.79 from 23 votes
Print Text Recipe Rate
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: French
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 8 minutes
Yield: 2 cups
Author: Anecia Hero

Ingredients 

  • ½ cup flour , all-purpose
  • 1 stick butter ,salted or unsalted (See Recipe Notes)
  • 2 cups milk 2% or whole (See Recipe Notes)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions 

  • In a medium saucepan on low heat, melt butter
    1 stick butter
  • Sprinkle in flour and whisk until smooth
    ½ cup flour
  • Remove pan from heat and add milk; continue to whisk off heat (see recipe notes)
    2 cups milk
  • Place saucepan back onto stove burner and continue to whisk until sauce is smooth
  • Taste for salt and pepper; adjust according to your palate; serve
    salt and pepper (to taste)

Notes

Butter:
Use salted or unsalted butter in this recipe; taste for salt after sauce is complete.
Milk:
  • Use 2% or whole milk for cream sauce. You can substitute with half-and-half or heavy cream, but keep in mind the heavy cream will produce a slightly sweeter taste than milk.
  • For best results, let milk stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes. Cold milk will cause the sauce to clump
  • Add milk in 3-4 increments; do not pour it in all at once
Texture:
Initially, his recipe makes a relatively thin sauce, but will thicken the longer you cook it. Also, if you cook it at a high heat, you will get a thicker sauce, but if you cook it on too high of a heat, the sauce will break down.
 

Nutrition Estimate

Serving: 1cupCalories: 668kcalCarbohydrates: 36gProtein: 11gFat: 54gSaturated Fat: 34gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 2gCholesterol: 146mgSodium: 509mgPotassium: 369mgFiber: 1gSugar: 12gVitamin A: 1807IUCalcium: 294mgIron: 2mg
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18 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    DELICIOUS! I did 1/4 cup each of butter and flour and about 2 cups of milk and seasoned to suit my dish, it was fantastic! My family loved it!

  2. 4 stars
    I added a lg bag of cauliflower florets and parmesan cheese to make a cauliflower parmesan soup. I blended 1/4 of the bag to give it a cauliflower taste, then added the remaining 3/4 bag to have cauliflower pieces in the soup.

  3. 5 stars
    I loved this. Super easy and love how thick the sauce comes out. Saving this recipe for sure.

  4. 1 star
    I made this according to the recipe and ended up with a sauce that is way too thick for my taste. Next time I will try 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup flour and 2 cups of milk.

    1. Yes, sauces can be tricky…it’s all about time and temperature. In the case of a basic white sauce, the thickness is determined by the amount of roux (equal parts fat and flour) and liquid. If you you prefer a thinner sauce, by all means reduce the roux. Also note that this sauce thickens the longer you cook it and it thickens on higher heat, that’s why the recipe notes say to cook the sauce on low. The proportions are correct; it’s just a matter of learning how to adjust the sauce to fit your needs. As for flavoring, a white sauce is simply seasoned with salt and pepper; if you want to add seasonings, then by all means, do!

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe I wanted a white sauce to go with my spaghetti and oh my goodness it is absolutely delicious. Although I did use light cream and it was absolutely yummy. Thank you

    1. Thank you for sharing this! A basic white cream sauce can evolve into pretty much whatever you want! Just add seasonings, herbs and/or spices! I’m glad you tried it!

  6. 5 stars
    I made this today and it was delicious. I added some chopped garlic while butter was melting, I used heavy cream and unsalted butter. Thank you. This was so EASY and DELICIOUS!

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! This basic white cream sauce is the basis for many others…you can also add it to soups to thicken them!

  7. 5 stars
    I had some heavy cream I needed to use up and leftover taco meat and Mexican corn. I made this sauce on a whim. I added a tbsp of homemade taco seasoning and cotija cheese. AMAZING!!! Thanks for this super handy recipe!

    1. Oh Good, Stacy!!! Your spin on this sauce sounds really good! I hope you’ll refer to this Basic White Sauce time after time…it’s a basic staple formula (recipe:) that you can “dress up” anyway you want! Thank you for letting me know:) I appreciate you!