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White Sauce Question


Porthos
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I learned to make a basic white sauce using a roux and milk over 40 years ago. I make a medium white sauce as the base for a cheese sauce for pearl onions each Thanksgiving. My wife asked me about using half-and-half in place of milk this year. Is there anything that I should know before trying this?

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I'm sure you're aware of this, but, because of the thickness of the cream, you'll need less flour.

More importantly, though, I think it's worth mentioning that bechamel isn't necessarily improved with the addition of cream. There's a pretty good reason why, historically, it's almost always made with milk. Cream coats taste buds and impairs flavor. Starch is also a known flavor impairer (hence the modern trend away from starch thickeners), but starch is less of a culprit than cream.

If your wife wants half and half, make it that way, but, if you have time, you might want to try a test run half and half bechamel today to see if you like it.

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My mother always made the sauce for her creamed onions with equal parts chicken broth and half-and-half, and that combination works well. You get the richness and flavor of the cream, but the stock keeps it from being too cloying.

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If I am out of milk, I'll use half half&half and half water. It seems to work just fine. No one has complained so far. :wink:

White/bechamel sauce always brings back memories of Grade 7 in Intermediate School and the Home Ec teacher, Miss Hutchinson. Won't tell you what we called her behind her back. Not a nice lady, but then who would want to teach classes of 11 and 12 year old girls over and over. White sauce was the FIRST thing we learned and woe betide the girl whose sauce had lumps in it. No electric mixers either.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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I was in high school and found the recipe in a cook book of my mother's. Made it in a skillet and didn't even have a whisk - just used a spoon. Didn't even know whisks existed yet.

About 4 years ago I was making a brown roux for my turkey gravy and got a little excited stirring the pan and ended up splashing hot butter onto my hand. Those were probably the worst blisters I ever got from a kitchen accident.

My older daughter cooked dinner for us when she was in high school. She (at the time) couldn't get the hang of making gravy. I would have to rescue it when I got home. She was convinced that all I had to do was touch the pan and all was made right. Not exactly what it really took.

To those who celebrate Thanksgiving, have a great Thanksgiving day.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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Spinning off this topic, I never make gravy with remembering one of my first holiday dinners.

I made gravy, removing some fat from the roasting pan, then adding flour, blending well before adding liquid. My M-I-L stood next to me and asked where I ever learned to make gravy that way, adding that she always added a slurry to the drippings. I told her my mother taught me.

I gleefully told this story to my mother, who looked at me askance, and replied that she had never made gravy this way.

What can I tell either of them? Messages from outer space? :laugh:

eGullet member #80.

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Well, I wrote about the White Sauce question here:My link and the ingredients for a bechamel have been open to question for a coupla hundred years. I say, go with the half and half and thin, if necessary with milk or stock. May I add that onions in cheese cream sauce sounds swoon worthy?

Margaret McArthur

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Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

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I used just the half-and-half to make the white sauce. After the addition of the cheese I really couldn't detect a difference. Back to milk in the future.

However...

Both last year and this year other people enjoyed the pearl onions in cheese sauce but I was slightly disappointed in the cheese sauce itself. I made the white sauce, the added the grated sharp cheddar in handfulls with low heat still under the pan, whisking each addition until incorporated. Last year and again this year the texture was a little grainy. Either time is playing with my memory or something has changed. I remember it as being a smoother cheese sauce. Any clues or suggestions for the future or is my memory failing me.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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If you use an aged cheddar, that might cause the graininess. When I make macaroni and cheese, I like the flavor of aged cheddar but not the texture by itself. To counteract the graininess, I add a small amount of cream cheese -- the gums and stabilizers seem to do the trick.

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To counteract the graininess, I add a small amount of cream cheese -- the gums and stabilizers seem to do the trick.

That sounds both helpful and like it will add some extra "yum!"

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I add a small amount of cream cheese -- the gums and stabilizers seem to do the trick.

The gums and stabilizers do a wonderful job of keeping cold cream cheese stable, but they were never intended for heating. If you've got a cheese sauce on the verge of curdling (and, these days, curdle prone recipes are abundant), then cream cheese will put it past the edge. I guess, maybe, if one were to add cream cheese after the sauce has cooled a bit, that would be okay, but I would never heat that sauce again. That would pretty much preclude any possibility for baked mac & cheese.

Try microwaving cream cheese until it's close to a boil and you'll quickly see what I'm talking about.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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I see the basic choice (not considering the cream cheese option) in the future will be 1) more intense flavor but possibly a bit grainy using a sharp cheddar; or 2) having a less intense but smoother sauce using mild cheddar. I will most likely stick with the sharp cheddar since cheese is a passion for my DW and I'm the only one noticing the texture. I'll most likely try the cream cheese addition once the pan is off of the flame. But making it again won't be happening any time soon.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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  • 2 weeks later...

I see the basic choice (not considering the cream cheese option) in the future will be 1) more intense flavor but possibly a bit grainy using a sharp cheddar; or 2) having a less intense but smoother sauce using mild cheddar. I will most likely stick with the sharp cheddar since cheese is a passion for my DW and I'm the only one noticing the texture. I'll most likely try the cream cheese addition once the pan is off of the flame. But making it again won't be happening any time soon.

Modernist Cuisine and Heston Blumenthal's At Home use Sodium Citrate (sour salt) to get a creamy texture with nicer cheeses.

I got some off Amazon and made the MC mac and cheese with gouda and extra sharp cheddar. It was out of this world good and it had the texture of Velveeta...

The iota carrageenan isn't required unless you want to refrigerate the sauce into a block and shred it.

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I add a small amount of cream cheese -- the gums and stabilizers seem to do the trick.

The gums and stabilizers do a wonderful job of keeping cold cream cheese stable, but they were never intended for heating. If you've got a cheese sauce on the verge of curdling (and, these days, curdle prone recipes are abundant), then cream cheese will put it past the edge. I guess, maybe, if one were to add cream cheese after the sauce has cooled a bit, that would be okay, but I would never heat that sauce again. That would pretty much preclude any possibility for baked mac & cheese.

Try microwaving cream cheese until it's close to a boil and you'll quickly see what I'm talking about.

I'm not sure how you make white sauce, but mine never comes anywhere near a boil. When I make my sauce for macaroni and cheese, I cook the white sauce until thick, then stir in a small amount of cream cheese just until it melts, then add the rest of the cheese off heat and stir until it melts, then add to the macaroni. Ordinarily I don't bake it for long -- just long enough to brown the topping, but even when I do, the sauce stays smooth. It's never curdled or separated.

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  • 9 years later...

No one speaking up, I can report it possible to make excellent bechamel in a blender.  Of course Rachel has a Vitamix and I had to make do with my Blendtec (joke).

 

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Cooking is cool.  And kitchen gear is even cooler.  -- Chad Ward

 

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@JoNorvelleWalker 

 

interesting .

 

ignoring Heat ( which some newer blenders have incorporated )

 

and acknowledging that blenders differ 

 

in their ability to do ' smooth '

 

it makes a lot of sense that blenders can

 

' blend ' many things one makes w a whisk.

 

after all , what's that whisk really up to ?

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Interesting.   For me, a pan is much easier to clean than a blender.   i have no problem making emulsified sauces using a coiled wire whisk.  

 

Funny story.   D-I-L dropped by with their new Italian au pair.    The young woman told me how she loved to cook but was having trouble in the US finding the jarred bechemel sauce she used in Italy.    Boggled, I told her how easy it was to make.   She was dubious, so we made a batch in just a few minutes.   She was ecstatic!

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eGullet member #80.

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44 minutes ago, Margaret Pilgrim said:

Interesting.   For me, a pan is much easier to clean than a blender.   i have no problem making emulsified sauces using a coiled wire whisk.  

 

Funny story.   D-I-L dropped by with their new Italian au pair.    The young woman told me how she loved to cook but was having trouble in the US finding the jarred bechemel sauce she used in Italy.    Boggled, I told her how easy it was to make.   She was dubious, so we made a batch in just a few minutes.   She was ecstatic!

 

Yes, but you still have to clean the whisk.

 

And I wouldn't call bechamel an emulsified sauce.  I make Hollandaise in a heavy Falk copper pan.  With the blender you don't have to worry about a skin on the bechamel.

 

 

Edit:  plus I expect the blender would be great for desserts such as cornstarch pudding.

 

 

 

Edited by JoNorvelleWalker (log)
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Cooking is cool.  And kitchen gear is even cooler.  -- Chad Ward

 

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