Cauliflower cheese is a classic British dish that is not only easy to prepare but also makes a delicious side dish when served with a roast. It’s made from cooked cauliflower florets which are covered in a thick cheesy sauce and then baked in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden.
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Easy cauliflower cheese
Plain steamed cauliflower is tasty enough in its own right, but smother it in a tangy cheese sauce and bake it until the cheese is golden and bubbly and you have a delicious dish of cauliflower cheese that can either be served as a side dish with a roast, or simply be eaten as an easy vegetarian meal.
Cauliflower cheese is a quick and easy dish that takes only minutes to prepare. I like to prepare it while my roast is in the oven, and then pop the prepared dish into the oven to bake while the roast is resting.
For the cheese sauce you will need some mature cheddar cheese. US readers may refer to mature cheese as sharp or strong. It doesn’t have to be cheddar, you can use any cheese that melts easily. And if you like ‘stringy’ or ‘stretchy’ cheese, you could also add some grated Mozzarella.
I also top my cauliflower with grated cheese before baking. If you would like to make a crispier topping you can mix this cheese with breadcrumbs before sprinkling it over the cauliflower.
A small amount of grated nutmeg added to the cheese sauce provides even more flavour. And if you prefer a sharper taste you may like to add a dollop of Dijon mustard to the sauce as well.
Here’s how to make it!
What you will need
For cooking the cauliflower you will need either an electric steamer or a saucepan with a steamer basket. If you don’t have either of these you could simply boil the cauliflower in a saucepan of water, but be careful not to overcook it or your cauliflower cheese will be soggy. The cauliflower should be boiled until it is just al dente.
You will also need a saucepan for making the sauce.
For baking the cauliflower cheese in the oven you will need a baking dish large enough to hold both the cauliflower and all the sauce.
This recipe will make sufficient for 4 people as a side, or 2 people as a vegetarian main.
**You can get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions for making this easy cauliflower cheese on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
Cauliflower – choose a cauliflower that is well-formed with a dense white head. The cauliflower should be separated into florets.
Cheddar cheese – cheddar cheese melts well, and is my choice of cheese when making a cheesy sauce. Avoid processed cheese as this can be quite oily when it melts.
Mozzarella cheese – for a more ‘stringy’ or ‘stretchy’ texture, add mozzarella. If you can get a block of mozzarella, you can grate it yourself. I find it more convenient to buy pre-grated mozzarella.
Butter – this forms the base of the sauce. Use unsalted butter if you have it and add salt to your own taste. If you use salted butter you may want to omit the extra salt.
Flour – this is used to thicken the sauce. I use plain all-purpose flour.
Milk – for an even richer sauce you could use half milk and half cream.
Nutmeg – a quarter of a teaspoon of ground nutmeg is all you will need. If you don’t have nutmeg you can leave it out.
Optional (not pictured)- for a sharper taste you could add one or two teaspoons of Dijon mustard.
Salt – this is optional and to your own taste.
Note – I haven’t pictured it here, but you may also like to add dried breadcrumbs to the cheese before you sprinkle it over the cauliflower. This will give a crispier topping.
What to do
Start off by cutting the cauliflower into florets.
Steam the cauliflower until it is almost cooked. There should still be a slight resistance when you pierce the cauliflower with a fork. The cauliflower will continue to cook when you bake the assembled cauliflower cheese in the oven.
If you don’t have a steamer, you can boil the cauliflower until it is almost cooked. Ensure you drain the boiled cauliflower very well so that there is no liquid left that may cause the sauce to become watery.
Arrange the cooked cauliflower in a baking dish and set aside.
To make the sauce, start off by melting the butter in a saucepan.
Stir in the salt and flour and stir over a low heat for one minute until there are no lumps.
Pour in the milk and stir over a low heat until the sauce starts to thicken. It will thicken further when you add the cheese.
Add the cheese, nutmeg and optionally the Dijon mustard, and continue to stir over a low heat until the sauce has thickened.
Mix the thickened sauce into the cauliflower in the baking dish.
Sprinkle with a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Mix the cheese with breadcrumbs first if you are using breadcrumbs in the topping.
Bake in a preheated oven (200C / 400F) for approximately 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and is starting to turn brown.
Serve hot as a side dish with a roast, or serve as a vegetarian main meal (perhaps with a fresh green salad) with lots of crusty bread to mop up the delicious cheesy sauce.
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Cauliflower cheese FAQ
The first reference to cauliflower cheese can be found in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management which was published in 1861.
Technically, this dish can be frozen. Practically I wouldn’t advise it. The texture of the cauliflower will change as the dish defrosts, making the cauliflower softer and slightly mushy. The cauliflower will also release liquid into the sauce making it thinner and unappealing.
Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and can be safely stored for up to 3 days. Reheat either in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove until piping hot.
Save for later
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If you enjoyed this recipe you may like to try some of my other vegetable side dishes too:
- Honey-roasted carrots and parsnips – sweet carrots and tender parsnips oven-baked in a honey glaze.
- Cheesy gem squash – steamed gem squash combined with cheddar cheese, adds a new twist to this humble vegetable.
- Middle Eastern style runner beans – succulent runner beans cooked with spices, tomatoes and onions.
- Green bean casserole – fresh green beans baked with mushrooms in a creamy sauce ,covered with cheese and crispy fried onions.
- Creamy leek and brussels sprouts bake – nutty brussels sprouts and tender leeks cooked with cream and butter and covered with cheesy breadcrumbs.
Easy cauliflower cheese
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- 1 medium cauliflower about 600 grams or 1¼ pounds
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 ounces / 60 grams unsalted butter
- 3½ tablespoons / 30 grams plain flour
- 2 cups / 480 ml milk or use 1 cup each milk and cream
- ½ teaspoon salt optional
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 – 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (optional)
- ¾ cup / 90 grams grated cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup / 30 grams grated mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup / 30 grams grated cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup / 30 grams grated mozzarella cheese
- ⅓ cup / 40 grams dried breadcrumbs (optional)
- Cut the cauliflower into florets then place it in a steamer and optionally sprinkle with salt.1 medium cauliflower, ½ teaspoon salt
- Steam the cauliflower for 5 to 7 minutes until the cauliflower is almost cooked. Don't overcook the cauliflower – it will continue to cook in the sauce in the oven. There should be a slight resistance when you pierce the cauliflower with a fork.
- Transfer the steamed cauliflower to a baking dish and set aside while you make the sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F
- Melt the butter in a saucepan.2 ounces / 60 grams unsalted butter
- Stir in the salt and flour and stir over a low heat for one minute to remove any lumps.3½ tablespoons / 30 grams plain flour, ½ teaspoon salt
- Pour in the milk (or milk and cream) and stir over a low heat until the sauce starts to thicken. It will thicken further when you add the cheese.2 cups / 480 ml milk
- Add the cheese, nutmeg and optionally the Dijon mustard, and continue to stir over a low heat until the cheese has melted and the sauce has thickened. The sauce should be a thick dropping consistency.¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ¾ cup / 90 grams grated cheddar cheese, ¼ cup / 30 grams grated mozzarella cheese, 1 – 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (optional)
- Mix the thickened sauce into the cauliflower in the baking dish.
- Combine the ingredients for the topping and sprinkle it on top of the cauliflower and cheese sauce.¼ cup / 30 grams grated cheddar cheese, ¼ cup / 30 grams grated mozzarella cheese, ⅓ cup / 40 grams dried breadcrumbs (optional)
- Place the dish into the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the cheese has melted and is starting to brown.
- Serve hot as a side dish with a roast, or serve as a vegetarian main with a side salad and crusty bread to mop up the cheese sauce.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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