Bechamel sauce (white sauce)
Béchamel or a white sauce has been unfashionable for many years as people worried about the health consequences of combining butter and flour, which is funny, but we don’t seem so worried about this in baking.
To be able to make a silky béchamel, is considered part a good cook’s skill set. If lumps of flour do form, the trick is to pass or sieve the hot, cooked sauce to remove them.
Béchamel is one of those sauces that is easier to extend and make bigger or smaller quantities. In this recipe we have 100g of butter and flour with 1 litre of milk; to make a smaller quantity, halve those; to make bigger, you can double the recipe.
This recipe will make about 600g.
- Place the milk, onion, mace, parsley stalks, bay leaf and peppercorns in a pan, and slowly bring to simmering point.
- Remove from the heat and leave for the flavour to infuse for 8-10 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and stir in the flour to make a roux. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Strain the infused milk and gradually stir into the roux. Bring to the boil stirring continuously. This will take 5-10 minutes.
- Simmer, stirring well for 10 minutes. During this time keep stirring to make sure that it does not catch on the base of the pot. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Pour into a bowl to cool. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the top. If lumps have formed, pass the mixture through a sieve when pouring it into the bowl to cool.
I like to use béchamel as a base for pies because it is soft and creamy and holds the flavour of whatever you mix with it. In this sense, you have a good foundation with which to play around and devise your own combination of ingredients.
When using Béchamel in pies it is best made the day before so that it can set in the fridge overnight. This way it will not be too runny for the pastry case – and ooze out.
Celia’s bechamel-based pie recipes: