I could actually write an entire post on the reasons why I love Panera Bread. No, I am not being compensated to write this post, just a really big fan! It is easily my favorite on-the-go stop for a quick meal and while there are many reasons for that, their creamy Mac & Cheese is definitely toward the top of the list. Mac & Cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods in my book and I have yet to find one I like better, so you can imagine how long it took me to try it out when I found the recipe from another blogger (Annies-Eats.com, via Panera Bread and Smells-Like-Home.com). The slightly modified recipe below doesn’t take long to make and is so flavorful.
Yield: 4-8 servings (4 servings as a meal, 8 servings as a side)
You will need:
1 lb. shaped pasta (I use Barilla’s Medium Shells)
8 oz. shredded white cheddar cheese (I use a sharp white cheddar)
4 oz. white American cheese chopped into small pieces
2 3/4 cups milk or half-n-half
5 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp hot sauce
dash of ground pepper
1.Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente (about 8-12 minutes). Drain the pasta, return pasta to the pot and keep off the heat.
2. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until completely blended and golden brown in color.
3. Slowly add in the milk or half-n-half and continue to whisk together until creamy and free of any lumps.
4. Add the salt, pepper, mustard, hot sauce and continue to stir until fully blended. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir until the sauce is thickened (about 4-6 minutes).
5. Once the sauce is thickened, add in half of the American cheese, stir with the whisk until fully melted and then repeat with the second half. After all of the American cheese is blended in, add half of the cheddar cheese, stir with the whisk until fully melted and then repeat with the second half.
6. When all of the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is creamy, turn the heat off and pour over the cooked pasta. Stir until all of the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce and serve.