You Have to Whisk

Bèchamel sauce is one of the first things I remember my mom teaching me to make when I was a kid. I was probably twelve years old.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea I was learning to make a classic French white sauce or even that it was called bèchamel (a word I have to spell check every time I write it). I certainly didn’t know what roux meant.

Roux ingredients

Beginning of a roux

I just thought it was the start of my mom’s cheese sauce. Her homemade macaroni and cheese was something we positively begged for as little girls.

Bite of mac and cheese

She’d also pour the sauce over steamed cauliflower, which we loved equally. Even my dad would make it for us, although his version was decidedly more yellow than my mom’s. Clearly, he had a heavier hand with the grated cheddar.

 While my mom was generally laid back and relaxed in the kitchen, rotating through our favorite dishes, there are two things that will positively make her panic.

The first is the potential for food to get cold. When dinner is on the table, she’s shouting that it’s ready, covering everything with foil until the very last minute when every last person is sitting at the table. If it isn’t scalding hot, it’s a miserable plate of food in Susie’s eyes.

Whisking the roux

And two, a lumpy white sauce. I remember standing at the stove with my mom while she told me to whisk like crazy once the milk was added to the roux.

Bechamel comes together

“It will be lumpy! You have to whisk! Faster! You can’t let it get lumpy!”

Cheese Sauce

Every single time I start a roux and add the milk, I laugh and think of her. I mean, you don’t have to whisk that intensely for a bèchamel to be smooth and creamy. And food isn’t totally terrible if it doesn’t burn your mouth.

But I’m convinced that fond memory is part of the reason I believe I could eat macaroni and cheese every day for the rest of my life and not get sick of it.

Macaroni and Cheese

This is the version I love to make these days.

Dried Cavatappi noodles


I swap my mom’s classic elbows for cavatappi pasta. I love it’s elegant curl and how the ridges hold the sauce.


Melting cheese

Instead of using straight yellow cheddar like my parents used to, I’m loving a combination of mild monterey jack, sharp white cheddar and cream cheese. Because cream cheese is pretty much amazing with anything.

Bowl of Mac and Cheese

There you have it. And you want to know why that sauce is so darn smooth?

Elizabeth and Susie

Because I listen to my mother.


Macaroni and Cheese

Mac and Cheese

Makes 4 moderate servings

Use this:

4 cups dried cavatappi noodles

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 ounces monterey jack cheese, grated

1 1/2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

1 1/2 ounces cream cheese

salt and freshly ground pepper

Do this:

Bring a large pot or dutch oven of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt to the water and add the pasta. Cook pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt butter and sprinkle in flour, whisking quickly to combine. Cook roux for about two minutes, whisking constantly. Pour milk into the skillet, continuing to whisk to create a smooth consistency. Cook the bèchamel sauce, stirring constantly until thickened, 5-8 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the cheeses to the sauce, stirring as they melt. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Combine pasta and sauce and stir to coat. Serve. Piping hot.


8 thoughts on “You Have to Whisk

  1. In my early cooking experience, my mom would take the spoon out of my hand and declare I wasn’t stirring fast enough! lol

  2. Hello Elizabeth!
    So fun to come across your blog! It is lovely! I love it when I find another Twin Cities Blogger!

    This post is a ton of fun! I love the recipe and your memories of cooking with your Mom. I am looking forward to following your blog and seeing what magic you create next! 🙂

    Best Wishes,
    -Amy Kathleen

  3. Elisabeth, any chance you can/would/will post Susie’s biscuit recipe? We talked about it a couple years ago at Cooks or Crocus Hill and I never got it from you.

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