Layers of fork-tender potatoes, sweet caramelized onion, and rich cream sauce create the perfect side dish. Learn how easy this recipe is to make and prep it ahead of time for a no-fuss dish for a holiday meal.
- Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
- Au Gratin Potatoes Vs. Scalloped Potatoes
- Ingredient Notes
- Best Potatoes for Scalloped Potatoes
- How to Make Cheese Scalloped Potatoes
- Prefer to Watch Instead of Read?
- Slicing the Potatoes
- Expert Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Make-Ahead and Storage Instructions
- More Potato Recipes
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
I'd like to emphasize the word cheesy in this recipe because it is not lacking when it comes to cheese. We're using two different kinds of cheese and a cream base to create layers and layers of cheese. Potatoes soak up a lot of moisture, especially when they're cooking low and slow, so I made sure to add extra cheese throughout for the richest, cheesy sauce.
This recipe takes a long time to make (2 hour baking time) but isn't overly difficult when it comes to technique. We're covering the best potatoes to use, the best cheese to buy, and how to bake and make it ahead of time. We've also got step-by-step photos and a video in the recipe card to make these cheesy potatoes with me. We tested this recipe three separate times to get it just right, so I know you and your family will love everything about it. It's a classic side dish for Sunday dinner or a holiday dinner (Thanksgiving or Christmas!).
Au Gratin Potatoes Vs. Scalloped Potatoes
Often people use these two interchangeably because they generally use the same ingredients and have many similarities, however, there are a few key differences when it comes to the cooking method and topping.
Au Gratin Potatoes: To make au gratin potatoes, you sprinkle it with breadcrumbs then bake it until golden brown. Au gratin potatoes are coated in a creamy sauce (made from a roux), then topped with breadcrumbs and baked.
Scalloped Potatoes: There's no cheese in traditional scalloped potatoes. Starchy potatoes and an herb-infused cream create the creamy sauce. That's why I'm emphasizing (again) the cheese in the name of this recipe.
Here are the key ingredients for these easy cheesy scalloped potatoes and a few notes about why we're using them. Jump down to the recipe card for exact measurements.
- Potatoes: a starchy potato is mandatory for this recipe, so we recommend a russet potato (our favorite) or a Yukon gold. Skip to the next section to learn a few differences between the two.
- Butter: this is used to cook the onions, but olive oil is a good second option.
- White wine: this helps the onions to caramelize faster and I love the subtle flavor this adds to the dish. Omit this all together if you don't cook with wine or don't have it on hand. It may take longer for the onions to cook down.
- Herbs and seasoning: fresh thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. Nutmeg is our secret ingredient for just a touch of flavor to keep people guessing. Nutmeg, potatoes, and cheese just work well together.
- Onion: cook these down until they caramelize and wait to be wowed by how much depth of flavor it adds to this classic dish.
- Heavy cream and whole milk: for ultimate richness.
- Cheese: this recipe calls for 2 types of cheese for flavor and color. We used gruyere and sharp cheddar cheese, but you could also use a sharp white cheddar or add some parmesan cheese in there for a salty and sharp option.
Best Potatoes for Scalloped Potatoes
Starchy potatoes are twofold in this cheesy scalloped potatoes recipe. The starch seeps into the sauce to thicken it, while the potatoes absorb some of the sauce to add flavor. The two best potato varieties for scalloped potatoes are russet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes. We tested this recipe with both and our favorite was the russet. The creamy sauce was richer and the potatoes are larger and easier to work with.
A note on peeling: Yukon gold potatoes have softer, delicate skin, so leave them on, if you prefer, to cut down on prep time. Russet potatoes must be peeled before slicing them in this recipe.
How to Make Cheese Scalloped Potatoes
Here are the steps (with photos!) to make these easy scalloped potatoes. Jump down to the recipe card for the full recipe and a video to make them with me.
- Caramelize the onions: Melt butter in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat then add the thinly sliced 15-20 minutes, adding a splash of wine as needed to help soften them.
- Prep the potatoes: peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch - 1/8 inch slices using a mandolin slice while the onions cook down.
- Par boil: When the onions are done, remove them from the pot and add the milk and cream and use a spoon or spatula to scrape any extra brown bits off the bottom of the pan from the onions. Add the sliced potatoes with the salt, pepper, thyme, and nutmeg and bring them to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Layer 1: Add a bit of the cream to the bottom of the dish then layer 1/3 of the potatoes on top. Spoon 1/3 of the boiled milk over top then sprinkle with 3/4 cup of gruyere cheese and half of the caramelized onions.
- Layer 2: repeat layer one with potatoes, milk mixture, cheese, and caramelized onion.
- Layer 3: finish with the remaining potatoes and milk, saving the cheddar cheese for later.
- Bake: Cover with aluminum foil and bake for an hour and a half then sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese and bake for another 30 mins, until the cheese is golden and melty. Cool for at least 20 minutes (ideally more).
Prefer to Watch Instead of Read?
Slicing the Potatoes
Getting the slice right is another pro tip for the best cheesy scalloped potatoes. I highly recommend using a mandoline to get thin, even slices. This helps the potatoes cook evenly. You must slice the potatoes smaller than 1/4 of an inch to make sure the potatoes cook until they're tender. T
he potato slices in scalloped potatoes can be larger compared to au gratin potatoes, but they should still be somewhere between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch. If you have a steady eye and hand, you can use a very sharp knife, but a mandoline is recommended.
Pro tip: the thinner the potato slices, the shorter the cooking time. The total cooking time for this recipe is 2 full hours, so cut them thinner to speed up the cooking process a bit.
- Use a block of cheese and shred it yourself (can be done in advance). Pre-shredded cheese contains cellulose, which prevents the cheese from melting as well. Blocks of cheese are usually higher quality and tend to be more flavorful. This is the most important ingredient, after all, so don't go skimp on the cheese.
- Slice the potatoes correctly (see notes above) so they cook evenly and all the way through.
- Give yourself plenty of time. This recipe can't be rushed when it comes to cooking and cooling. You need a full 3 hours from start to finish. Don't get in a hurry and try to turn the oven temp up to cook it faster or your cheese sauce will curdle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Curdling is a process in cheesy and creamy sauces that happens when the sauce separates the milk fats rather than creating a creamy emulsion. This almost always is due to cooking your milk at too high of heat. Follow the instructions to gently simmer the potatoes and cook them at a lower temp for longer to avoid curdling.
Potatoes take a long time to cook, so covering them with foil helps keep the heat in and also helps them cook through before the top gets too brown. Cover them for 3/4 of the cooking time then remove them and add more cheese until it's melted and browned.
The potatoes will turn a brown and pink color when exposed to oxygen, which isn't very appetizing. I don't recommend peeling or slicing them in advance if you can avoid it. However, if you're in a pinch, peel and slice them in advance then submerge them in water overnight. Be sure to dry them well before cooking. Here's a great post on how to prep potatoes in advance. If you want to save yourself prep time, make the recipe through step 7 then refrigerate overnight (more on that below).
Make-Ahead and Storage Instructions
Make ahead: follow the instructions through step 7 then cover them tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Allow them to sit at room temperature for 45 minutes then follow the instructions to bake them.
Storage: allow the potatoes to cool completely then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. I don't recommend freezing this dish because the cheese doesn't freeze well.
More Potato Recipes
- Healthier scalloped sweet potatoes
- Hasselback sweet potatoes
- Dairy-free mashed potatoes
- Sweet potato bites
- Healthy sweet potato casserole
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
- 1 large yellow onion thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (we used Pinot Grigio)
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme plus more for serving
- 4 pounds Russet potatoes or Yukon Gold* (about 8 medium Yukon or 6 russet)
- 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 3-quart casserole dish
- Stock Pot or Dutch Oven
- Preheat the oven to 325°F and position the rack to the center. Spray a 3 quart (9x13 inch) casserole dish with cooking spray or softened butter and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat then add the thinly sliced onion and cook for 10 minutes to soften. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the wine and cook for another 5 more, stirring frequently, until the onions are caramelized and dark amber color. Add more wine as needed as they cook down. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute, until fragrant, then remove the caramelized onions to a clean plate or cutting board.
- While the onions are cooking, prep the potatoes to save time. Peel the potatoes first if you’re using russet potatoes. You can leave the skin on Yukon gold potatoes for a more rustic look if you prefer. Slice the potatoes thinly, into 1/4 inch - 1/8 inch slices using a mandolin slicer. You can use a sharp knife instead if you don’t have a mandoline, just be sure to get them very thin and similar size.
- When the onions are done and you’ve removed them from the pot, add the milk and cream over medium heat and use a spoon or spatula to scrape any extra brown bits off the bottom of the pan from the onions. Add the sliced raw potatoes with the salt, pepper, thyme, and nutmeg and turn the heat up to medium-high to bring them to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove them from the heat and let them cool slightly so they’re easier to handle. Boiling the milk and potatoes slightly helps the starches to release from the potatoes for a creamier sauce and it also partially cooks the potatoes so they’re more tender in less amount of time.
- Layer 1: Pour a bit of the milk mixture into the bottom of the greased dish then layer in one-third of the potatoes. Spoon a third of the boiled milk over top then sprinkle with 3/4 cup of gruyere cheese and half of the caramelized onions.
- Layer 2: repeat layer one with another third of the potatoes and milk mixture then another 3/4 cup of gruyere cheese and caramelized onion.
- Layer 3: finish with the remaining potatoes and milk, saving the cheddar cheese for later.
- Cover with foil and bake for an hour and a half then remove foil and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese and the remaining gruyere cheese and bake for another 30 mins, until the cheese is golden and melted. When it’s done, the potatoes should be tender, not mushy and liquid should be mostly absorbed. Allow the potatoes to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.