How to make Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce) – My simple step-by-step instructions for making Béchamel from scratch at home.
Béchamel (white) sauce is a really versatile little sauce. I use this white sauce for lasagne, pasta bakes, cauliflower cheese, fish pie, there are so many possibilities.
It’s really simple to make at home with everyday ingredients. I use a roux base (butter and flour) and then add milk, cloves, bay leaves and a pinch of salt and pepper. Some recipes also add onion (which is removed before serving). However, I find it a little overpowering as the sauce has a delicate savoury flavour so I prefer not to.
There are also quite a few recipes that recommended leaving the cloves and bay leaves in the milk to infuse for a while before making the sauce. I don’t bother with this step. I find that the time spent cooking the sauce is sufficient for the flavour to infuse and skipping this step means the sauce is ready much quicker.
What’s the difference between Béchamel Sauce and White Sauce?
If you’ve read some of my previous recipes you’ll know that I’m a bit of a worrier when it comes to naming my dishes. I’m paranoid that I’ll claim a dish is one thing only to find out that I’m wrong and I’ve made something completely different (the jury’s still out on my Chicken Chow Mein. I think it depends on which part of the world you live in!).
Before writing up a “classic” recipe I always do a bit of research to see if what I think I’ve made is actually what I’ve made.
My worry with this recipe is that I really wasn’t sure whether it’s a white sauce or a béchamel sauce. It turns out they’re the same thing (well at least Wikipedia says they are).
I’m a little reluctant to believe Wikipedia on this as it claims that Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie are the same.
To double check I looked up both terms in an online dictionary. Both came back with “a sauce made with butter, flour and milk”. So rather than choosing between them I’ve stuck them both in the title 🙂
From now on I’m just going to call it white sauce as it’s shorter to type, and it means I don’t have to keep finding the little é!
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Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)
- 25 g Butter
- 25 g Plain Flour
- 250 ml Milk - I use skimmed milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- Salt and Pepper
- Add the butter (25g) and plain flour (25g) and cook on a low heat until the butter has melted. Stir together until fully incorporated - most recipes suggest melting the butter and then adding the flour. I prefer to add them both at the start as this helps to ensure that the flour doesn't have a raw taste in the finished sauce.
- Once the butter has melted and the butter and flour are mixed together, gradually add the milk (250ml). Stir to ensure that each addition of milk is fully incorporated before adding more.
- Once all of the milk has been added to the pan add the bay leaves (2 leaves) and cloves (4 cloves).
- Stir/whisk continuously until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency (I like to dip in a spoon and check if the sauce leaves a coating on the back when removed.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove the bay leaves and cloves.
- Serve. If you're making the sauce in advance to use later then put the sauce into a bowl and cover with cling film, ensuring that the cling film is in contact with a top of the sauce to prevent a skin forming.
Any nutritional information provided is the estimated nutritional information per serving. Please refer to my guide to Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen nutritional information if you would like to learn more about how this is calculated.
Free From/Suitable For…
The ingredients I used to make this recipe are all free from the following allergens. However, please check any labels carefully for allergens you need to avoid as brands can vary and product recipes can change over time.
- Suitable for Vegetarians
- Tree Nut-Free
- Sulphur Dioxide & Sulphite-Free
Dougal Robson says
Made this last night with my own lasagne recipe, absolutely beautiful!
I have never used bay leaves or cloves in Bechamel. The classic recipe calls for fresh grated nutmeg. I certainly will try the bay leaves. I think it will add a nice earthy edge to my moussaka.
Charlotte Oates says
Isn’t it strange how recipes change over time, I’ve never tried it with nutmeg before (and so now I’ll need to just to see what it’s like!). I always associate nutmeg with sweeter dishes whereas the cloves and bay give it a really lovely savoury flavour. I hope you enjoy it in your moussaka.
100% correct! Cottage pie is with beef. Shepherd’s pie is with lamb. Anyone who says otherwise is a heretic. In fact my mother used to add grated cheese on top of a cottage pie and grill it at the end. She called this a thatched cottage pie.
Charlotte Oates says
Glad you agree, I top my cottage pie with cheese so perhaps I need to change the name 🙂
I just made the béchamel according your excellant recipe. The tip of putting the butter and flour together before heating butteris a good tip. The cloves and bay leave give it that “what is different about this white sauce?” It puts it up a notch. AND no heavy cream. I plan to use it for creamed pearl onions. Will be doing a test for reheating it. Any tips for that?
I always used equal parts of butter and flour but when I convert to US measurement it doesn’t come out equal. Volume wize 25 grams of butter is not 25 flour.
I used the weight measurements. It is a better system.
Charlotte Oates says
In terms of reheating…
Make sure you cover it with cling film touching the surface to stop it forming a skin.
Don’t thicken it as much as you would if you were using it right away as it will thicken further when you reheat it. If it seems too thick you can always mix in a little extra milk to thin it out slightly.
I always prefer to use weight measurements with butter because I find it tricky to measure accurately.
I love béchamel! As you said, it is versatile + I love its creaminess. The shortcut for é is Ctrl-Alt-e
Charlotte Oates says
Thanks for the tip. Hopefully using the keyboard shortcut will also mean that it doesn’t go strangely bold as using the one from the wordpress special characterisers section does.