5 Ingredients or Fewer

Easy Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)

January 20, 2010
1 Ratings
Photo by Studio Food52
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Makes 1 liter of béchamel
Author Notes

This is the traditional French béchamel sauce used for gratins, soufflés, with eggs, etc. This will give you a creamy medium thick béchamel. —Babette's Feast

Test Kitchen Notes

Here's a simple step-by-step recipe for a classic béchamel sauce, aka "white sauce." According to What's Cooking America, it was said to have been invented by Duke Philippe De Mornay in the 17th century. There are also competing origin stories that the sauce was created in Italy in the early 14th century and later brought over to France, or, alternatively, that the Marquis Louis de Bechamel, a 17th century financier and right-hand man of King Louis XIV, invented it when attempting to devise a new way of serving dried cod.

Regardless of its origin story, béchamel is indisputably delicious. It starts with a roux (a cooked mixture of fat and flour—often butter— which come together to get all roasty-toasty in a pan) and then dairy and seasonings (like salt, pepper, and nutmeg) join the party. It's one of the French mother sauces, used as the base for many other sauces, like mornay (béchamel + cheese, but more on this later).

Béchamel is luxuriously thick and silky, thanks to the slow addition of milk to the roux. You can use less milk and introduce a longer cooking time for a thicker béchamel, or use more milk and stick with a shorter cooking time for a smoother, thinner one (perfect for lasagna—we love it dearly).

Any way you make it, you can use plain béchamel in about a million different dishes. Think: baked eggs, pasta dishes, creamy spinach, potato gratin, mac and cheese, melty croque monsieurs galore. And there are a million more ways to gussy it up. Here are some of our favorites:

For a cheesy cheddar sauce: Whisk a few ounces of grated cheddar into the béchamel until it's smooth and melty.

For mornay sauce: Whisk a few ounces of grated Gruyère into the béchamel until it's smooth and melty.

For aurora sauce: Whisk a couple tablespoons of tomato purée into the béchamel.

For soubise sauce: Sauté some chopped white or yellow onions, then purée them and whisk that purée together with béchamel.

For a mustard sauce: Stir in a few tablespoons of good Dijon mustard into the béchamel. You can strain it through a chinois if you'd like a super-smooth sauce. —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Easy Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2.5 ounces butter cut in small cubes
  • 2.5 ounces all purpose flour
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • nutmeg
  1. Warm the milk.
  2. Sift the flour twice to lighten it.
  3. In a pan, melt the cut up butter until it starts to sizzle. When it stops sizzling, add the flour all at once and whisk continuously over low heat until well blended and almost dry.
  4. Slowly whisk in the warm milk, stirring constantly. When it's creamy, whisking over low heat to cook the flour for 12 minutes, or until your desired consistency is reached.
  5. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  6. Other ingredients you can add to change the taste: curry or all spice for a vegetable gratin, or Emmenthal cheese for a potato gratin.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jeri Stuster Hoyle
    Jeri Stuster Hoyle
  • Joseph Goodguy Greg
    Joseph Goodguy Greg
  • Maria Teresa Jorge
    Maria Teresa Jorge
  • TheWimpyVegetarian

4 Reviews

Jeri S. July 12, 2022
As a culinary instructor I enjoyed your easy manner and explanation of this recipe. I particularly appreciated the head to head comparison of heated and cold milk. I was specifically looking for that to share with my students. Great info on adapting the mother sauce to many uses. I have one issue, you have gotta stop banging the whisk on the pot, your wrecking them! :)
Joseph G. February 14, 2020
Really confused about this. The written recipe says to warm the milk, while the video below it clearly states that cold milk is better. Well, which is it? Should be better organized.
Maria T. January 22, 2010
Thank you for your comment. This béchamel comes out really well, on the thin side. It depends on what you want to do, but I find it lighter and easier to use then the dende one.
TheWimpyVegetarian January 20, 2010
Love your recipes! I'm looking forward to trying your crepe dish as one of the next things I'm cooking. We're being inundated with rain here, making it great weather for cooking comfort food.