How to Make a White Sauce for Baking

by Emily Weller

One of the five French mother sauces, you can use a white sauce, or bechamel sauce, in a number of baked dishes. The sauce serves as the base for baked macaroni and cheese, for example. The amount of liquid you add determines how thick the finished sauce is. A thicker version of white sauce acts as the base for souffles, too. You can dress up a basic white sauce by adding herbs, spices or aromatics to it or leave it plain.

Place the butter or olive oil in the saucepan on the stove, over medium heat. After the butter melts or the oil heats, you can add the shallot or onion if desired, to give the sauce some flavor. Let the aromatics cook for a few minutes.

Add an equal amount of flour to the pan and whisk to form a paste, called a roux. The longer you let the butter and flour mixture cook, the more complex the flavor becomes and the darker the sauce will be.

Pour the milk into the saucepan and whisk to combine. For a thick sauce, use a small amount of milk, such as 1 cup if you used 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour. Double the amount of milk for a thinner, pourable sauce.

Add seasoning to the sauce if desired, such as a bay leaf or dried thyme.

Let the sauce simmer until it is thickened. Remove any big pieces of dried herbs, such as the bay leaf, before using the sauce in a recipe.

Items you will need

  • Butter or olive oil
  • Minced shallot or onion (optional)
  • Flour
  • 2-quart saucepan
  • Whisk
  • Milk (any fat content)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried herbs, such as bay leaf, thyme or rosemary or spices such as nutmeg (optional)
  • Grated cheese (optional)


  • Adding grated cheese to a white sauce turns it into a mornay sauce, which you can use to make baked macaroni and cheese.
  • Whisk the sauce often as it simmers to keep it from burning.
  • You can use warm, hot or cold milk to prepare the sauce. Hot milk can cause the sauce to clump, according to Martha Rose Schulman of the "New York Times," so cold milk might be a better option if you are new to making the sauce.
  • Add more flavor to the sauce by steeping the milk with onions or a bay leaf for a few minutes. Strain the milk before proceeding.
  • You can use the white sauce as a topping for pizza, instead of the classic red sauce, or to make a gratin of your favorite vegetables.

About the Author

Based in Pennsylvania, Emily Weller has been writing professionally since 2007, when she began writing theater reviews Off-Off Broadway productions. Since then, she has written for TheNest, ModernMom and Rhode Island Home and Design magazine, among others. Weller attended CUNY/Brooklyn college and Temple University.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images