We wanted to know everything we could about making scalloped and au gratin potato casseroles. We read what we could in our textbooks and began studying recipes. Then we stopped by our local potato warehouse for a 50-pound box of Russet potatoes. (Yes, in Eastern Idaho, we have potato warehouses scattered about like convenience stores.  Most will sell to consumers. We paid $12 for a box of premium, extra-large bakers.)

 

As we reviewed our recipes, we found that many of them called for partially cooking the potato slices before baking. We used that as a starting point.  We made several casseroles by boiling the potato slices until they were crisp tender and assembling them in baking dishes. We were disappointed. The casseroles turned out with over-cooked, mushy potatoes. They tasted bland and the casseroles were watery. We concluded that the boiling bleached out much of the potato flavor and the water diluted the casseroles. We found that if we sliced the potatoes thinly — about 1/8-inch or a little thicker–they would cook evenly without par cooking.  

 potatoes

It’s important that you slice the potatoes uniformly. If you don’t, your casserole won’t cook evenly: the thin slices will be mushy while the thick slices will be hard.  The only way to cut the slices evenly is with a mechanical slicer. Our slicer of choice is a mandoline.


As we continued to course through the recipes in our cook books and text books, we found that potato casseroles can be categorized by their structure: 1) those that are made with eggs, 2) those made with a white sauce and flour, and 3) those that rely on the starch from the potatoes for structure. Now that we knew how to cook the potatoes, we started experimenting with these three types. All three were successful.

 

The egg-based casseroles cooked into a firm casserole but moist. From those casseroles, we could cut neat, formal-looking wedges or squares. This would be our choice for a formal party. 

 

Both the white sauce and cream based casseroles worked well too. We expected the cream based ones to be overly runny but they weren’t. The advantage to the white sauce type is that you don’t need to be as careful in the cooking; the white sauce is less likely to curdle than cooked milk or cream.

 

You can use any of these recipes types. We have given you optional ingredients to add like ham or onions or garlic. We recommend:

 

  • Using a mandoline or other cutting device to assure that the slices are of uniform thickness.
  • Cutting the slices not thicker than 3/16 inch.
  • Do not boil your potatoes before making the casserole.
  •  

Baking Tip! About Baking Dishes

 

We baked these casseroles in three different types of dishes: Dark metal, clear glass, and opaque decorative glass. The type of baking dishes affects baking times. A dark metal dish bakes fastest.  A clear glass or off-colored baking dish is next. A light colored, opaque glass dish is the slowest. 

 

Baking times seemed to vary about ten minutes from one type of pan to the next.

 

As important as baking dishes are, the thickness of the casserole has even more impact.  A shallow casserole bakes much faster than one that fills the whole pan.

 

Three Ways to Make Au Gratin Potatoes


Method #1 Cream Only

This recipe relies on the starch in the potatoes to thicken the cream to a sauce. This makes a creamy casserole with a thin white sauce-type filling. It is important that you use starchy, Russet-type potatoes.  It is also important that you bring the milk to a simmer only, not boiling, to avoid curdling.

This can be made without the cheese for scalloped potatoes. 

This is a basic recipe. Other ingredients may be added as desired though this is a good dish in its basic form. You may add any of the following ingredients:


  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
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  • 1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes

 

Basic recipe

7 to 8 cups of sliced potatoes, 1/8-inch thick
about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
about 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch of nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cups milk
2 cup cream 
1/2 cup grated cheese

 

Directions

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.


  1. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick. Use a mandoline or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness. 
  2. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan. Season with salt and pepper and a very small amount of nutmeg. Sprinkle with a portion of the grated cheese. Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and this portion of the cheese is used.
  3. Place the milk and cream in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Pour the milk and cream mixture over the layered potatoes. 
  4. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork. 

 

Method # 2 With Eggs

This recipe relies on the eggs to set the filling. The egg and milk and cream mixture sets up as a custard does. The casserole cuts neatly into squares or wedges for serving.

Again, it is important that you use starchy, Russet-type potatoes. This can be made without the cheese for scalloped potatoes. 

This is a basic recipe. Other ingredients may be added as desired though this is a good dish in its basic form. You may add any of the following ingredients:


  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes

 

Basic recipe

7 to 8 cups of sliced potatoes, 1/8-inch thick
about 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
1 cup cream 
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated cheese

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.


  1. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick. Use a mandoline or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness.  
  2. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan. Season with salt and pepper and a very small amount of nutmeg. Sprinkle with a portion of the grated cheese. Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and this portion of the cheese is used.
  3. Place the milk in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. 
  4. Whisk the egg yolks and cream together. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk while stirring with a whisk.
  5. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the layered potatoes. 
  6. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  7. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork.

 

Method # 3 White Sauce

For this recipe, you make a white sauce for the filling from the flour and cream. Once the white sauce is made, add the cheese to make a cheese sauce. This makes a creamy casserole. 

This can be made without the cheese for scalloped potatoes. 

potatoes 03This is a basic recipe. Other ingredients may be added as desired though this is a good dish in its basic form. You may add any of the following ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  •  1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes

 

Basic recipe

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 cup cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
7 to 8 cups of sliced russet potatoes, 1/8-inch thick
1/2 cup grated cheese

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.


  1. Make a white sauce with the milk and flour: Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Place the flour in a cup. Add just enough milk to make a paste. Gradually add more milk, stirring to thin the paste into a sauce-like consistency. Stir the flour and milk mixture into the milk with a whisk. Add the cream and heat, stirring with a whisk, until the sauce is thickened and starts to bubble. 
  2. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cheese while still hot and stir in. The cheese should melt and form a medium-thick cheese sauce. Keep the sauce hot while you prepare the potatoes. 
  3. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick. Use a mandolin or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness. 
  4. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan. Pour a portion of the hot cheese sauce over the potato layer.  Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and cheese sauce is used.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  6. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork. 

 

Related Digital Cookbook:

Easy Weeknight Dinners! Get a copy of this book at The Prepared Pantry

          Trying to make a decent meal after a long day at work or a tiring day with the kids can be hard sometimes. That’s why we have created this digital book. You’ll learn about tips and recipes to make those weeknight meals easier and quicker, but with the same quality as meals that take hours to prepare.

      

Author Biography

 

Dennis Weaver has burnt food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking available free in an e-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon for $10. 

 

He loves to help people bake and is giving away Free Digital Cookbooks and Magazines. There is no cost or obligation. To sign up for the FREE subscription of “Country Home Kitchen” and other great E-books and giveaways, click here.

 

Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children.

To learn more about The Prepared Pantry, visit our website at www.preparedpantry.com.

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