Make at Home: Panera Bread's Signature Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese will forever be one of the greatest comfort foods. It doesn't matter if you're five years old or 50 years old, you can always enjoy this creamy, cheesy and comforting dish.

After browsing through Pinterest for a recipe to make for dinner, I continually came across the recipe for Panera Bread's Signature Macaroni & Cheese. After the fourth or fifth time seeing this pin, I decided I had to make it. Now, I could have just as easily driven to Panera Bread, ordered a cup of mac and cheese and called it a day, but where's the fun in that?

It's thick, creamy and overly cheesy (not a bad thing), and you'll definitely have leftovers to enjoy over and over.

Panera Bread actually offers its recipe for macaroni and cheese on its website, so I decided to follow the original recipe. There are two types of cheese and a few extra ingredients that give it that signature taste.

Before you start making the pasta, I recommend grating the cheese first. As I began to grate eight ounces of extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar cheese, I realized that this was going to take forever. But my mom came to the rescue and suggested I use the Cuisinart food processor. What would have taken nearly 15 minutes took five seconds in the food processor. Talk about a time saver.

The second cheese, white American, only needs to be chopped, so that was easy to prepare. Getting everything ready for the sauce makes things more efficient and less stressful. Macaroni and cheese is a comfort food, after all.

Now you can boil water in a large pot to cook the pasta while you prepare the other ingredients to make the cheese sauce. The recipe calls for rigati pasta, but apparently my Kroger does not carry that type of pasta, so I opted for the shell-shaped pasta, conchiglie. However, you can use any shape you prefer.

The opening in the shell pasta captures more cheese so that each bite is full of cheesy goodness.

As the pasta cooks, begin to make the roux for your cream sauce. Melt one quarter cup of butter in a sauce pot over low heat, then, once the butter completely melts, whisk in half a cup of flour for about one minute. This creates the roux for your sauce.

Next, pour two-and-a-half cups of two percent reduced-fat milk or if you want a creamier sauce (I don't blame you), use heavy cream instead. Whisk the milk over medium heat until it thickens. Take the pot off the heat, add both cheeses, one tablespoon of Dijon mustard, one teaspoon of Kosher salt and one quarter teaspoon of hot sauce.

Now comes the best part ... mixing the pasta shells into the sauce. As you fold the pasta into the sauce, you will see how creamy and delicious this dish will be. The sharp Vermont cheddar and white American blend wonderfully together and the extra addition of Dijon mustard and hot sauce adds a little zip to each bite.

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Molly Dunn
Contact: Molly Dunn