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Argh, I hate you potatoes au gratin

Yet another hopeful attempt at potatoes au gratin. Another dismal failure and waste of potatoes, gruyere, cream, and butter.

I can make so many things but the things I cannot make I CANNOT MAKE.


Would any one like to share their foolproof recipe? I'd prefer one that doesn't require pre-cooking the potatoes and uses a moderate amount of fat.

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  1. What is going wrong? I don't make this dish a lot, but my most recent one was from a fantastic recipe from Suzanne Goin. It includes bacon, though, and does not use a moderate amount of fat. From that perspective, you might be better off making the version that uses chicken broth instead of cream, though the name is currently escaping me!

    Edit: I looked it up - Gratin Savoyard.

    1. I make gratins all the time. The trick for me is to use a mandolin so the slices are thin and cook quickly and evenly.

      2 Replies
      1. re: lergnom

        I don't have a mandoline (yet) and so slice the potatoes by hand, and, so far, haven't had a problem. But, I can see that if there were a lot of inconsistencies in the slices, the dish might not turn out right.

        1. re: MMRuth

          Absolutely, i have had many gratins fail specifically because of inconsistency of potato size and the uneven cooking times that result

      2. A never- fail for me is the one from SF Chronicle cookbook, using dried porcini -- fabulous every time. Will post if it sounds good and you don't have the cookbook or can't find it online.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Sarah

          Please post this. I'd love to try it.

          1. re: Nyleve

            Couldn't find it online, so I'm paraphrasing:

            Potato and Wild Mushroom Gratin
            Place 3 lb peeled and thinly sliced potatoes (I used Yukons) in large container and pour in cold water to cover. Let sit for 30 mins. Drain and pat dry.
            Preheat oven to 350.
            3-4 Tb butter, cut into bits
            1/4 oz dried cepes or porcini, broken into tiny pieces
            10 shallots, chopped
            3 clove garlic, chopped
            1 c whipping cream
            Butter a gratin dish, layer in 1/2 the potatoes, dried mushrooms, shallots, garlic, s&p, and butter; repeat, ending w/ the last bits of butter on top. Pour cream over.
            Place gratin in oven and bake for about an hour, or until golden brown on top and tender when pierced w/sharp knife. Serves 4.
            Sooo good, enjoy!

            ed. to make sense

          2. re: Sarah

            What's the name of the Chron cookbook please?

            1. re: c oliver

              it's "The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook" ;)


              there's a Volume II as well.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                Thanks. Is it a compilation of columns? I have the Secrets of Success book which I've enjoyed alot.

                1. re: c oliver

                  no idea - i stumbled across the Amazon listing when i was trying to Google the gratin recipe. unfortunately it's on one of the pages that's NOT part of the free Google Books preview :)

          3. Scalloped potatoes don't have to be difficult (what did go wrong with yours?). Slice 1/4 in and lay slightly overlapped in a baking dish. Sprinkle any cheese and add another layer of potatoes. Continue until you've made enough (that's scientific cooking term) and finish with cheese on top. Add milk (I've even used low fat) or cream until just over half way up the potatoes. Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned and the potatoes are tender.

            You can add all kinds of other things to this including raw or carmelized onions, leeks, peas edename, tomatoes or other vegetables, meats, and fish.

            1 Reply
            1. re: alwayscooking

              That pretty much is the only way I make mine. I love some onions, leeks are great. I love to layer potatoes, criminis and potatoes, gruyere is great and I use what cream, heavy or not to regular milk. The start in the potatoes usually thickens it just fine. One note ... if I do use tomatoes because of some extra moisture, I do not use as much milk or use a bit of cornstarch just to thicken a slight amount. One hint ... don't add cold milk, I love to add mine slightly heated or just room temp. I sometimes just put it in the micro on medium for 30 seconds.

              And I do change cheese, parm, fontina, some great herbs as listed below. Depends what I am having with it.

            2. i love this NY Times recipe. it's always a hit, it's easy, and it's relatively low in fat...


              a couple of notes:
              - you can sub Swiss, Emmentaler, or a combo of Fontina & Parm for the Gruyère
              - if you don't like cumin, substitute a teaspoon of minced fresh thyme or rosemary and some freshly grated nutmeg.

              1. Not to point and laugh here, but I've always counted this as one of those foolproof things. Precooking can make things easier, but as long as the potatoes are sliced thin enough, sufficient moisture in place and the oven not too hot you ARE going to wind up with soft potatoes. My mom made perfectly nice palatable scalloped potatoes with hand-cut russets, plain milk, dots of butter, thin-sliced onion and cracker crumbs, plus S&P. Her only variation was an interlayer of sliced ham, a version that her dad requested whenever he came to visit.

                I do not use boiling potatoes for most of these, unless I slice them paper thin, and I like to use evaporated milk for a plain gratin and not much butter. Then there's WildSwede's recipe for Jansson's Frestelse, incorporating a whole lot of cream, onions and anchovies, but we're trying to be economical and non-fattening here, aren't we?

                1. I just made these the other day. I had the same problem either not cooking or curdled milk.
                  I sliced the potatoes thin, layered with thinly sliced onion- salt and pepper each layer generously.
                  made a white sauce with about 4 T flour with butter, make a paste, then add the milk and heat add salt and white pepper. fresh nutmeg if you want. Stir, and bring to a bubble, if its too thick thin it with more milk, and adjust the salt and pepper.Use black peper if you want. The stir in one cup of cheese of your choice.
                  Pour over the potatoes and let it rest, if you have extra pour just don't come up to close to the top or it might bubble over. Add more cheese to the top, whatever you like.
                  Then cover securely with foil and bake at 350 for about 1 hour and 15
                  Remove and let it rest so the cheese sets, just like a lasagne, and then you can scoop it our nicely. I never uncovered them the cheese was darker but not burned or brown, I loved the way it looked and tasted. For me these were perfect au gratin potatoes.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: chef chicklet


                    Here is the photo and recipe that inspried me, I didn't use her exact instructions or recipe but did take some of it. Like before, I've always cooked the potatoes first, then they curdled, or I would cover with foil then remove towards the end of the cooking time.
                    Anyway, I loved the way hers looked and the color, that was what I was hoping to achieve, that and no curdling! I think it was the foil on the them beginning to end.

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      I don't even make the white sauce, I just add milk, depending on what else is in the dish I may add a little corn starch just to thicken the milk, but most times not. But sauce does work, not against it, just more work is all. But I am sure equally as tasty.

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        I used to not make the veloute sauce either, but since the milk started to curdle on me the last few times... I didn't trust myself. I really just stopped making them, and I really LOVE THEM!
                        What is the trick to that? Do you put the Au Gratin in a hot or a cold oven? Cream or whole milk?

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          More to the point, what temperature are you using? I've never had a curdling problem at 350º or less, which is where almost all of my potato and pasta oven dishes are cooked. If you use evaporated milk you can go higher, but I'm not a big fan of blackened edges on my potato dishes. Light brown will do me fine, thanks.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            350 degrees, thanks I will! Ditto with the color.

                          2. re: chef chicklet

                            I heat my milk (I prefer a mixture of milk and cream) however, I've used all milk and all cream at times, depends what I have on hand. I do like to heat the milk and/or cream just slightly before adding them to the potatoes and I add just a touch of flour. Just a little 1 teaspoon or so is all. I too as Will Owen put it usually cooks between 350 and 375 and never had a problem other than once. And I think my milk was a bit old is all. I usually put the dish in with the oven heated. On a few occasions I cook at 350 or 375 or 30 or so depending on how deep your casserole is and then turn to 425 for the last 10 minutes to brown the top. I too like Will Owen don't like the evaporated much.

                            1. re: kchurchill5

                              Sorry, I *DO* like evaporated. It's black edges from too-hot cooking I don't like.

                              I made a ridiculously scrumptious quick scallop one night with a bag of Reser's diced potatoes, a chopped onion, a chopped Poblano pepper and evaporated milk, because something else had failed and this is what I had. Consumed by all, with little chirps of joy and requests for a recipe.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                I just don't, but all recipes vary, I just get not a good flavor but everyone has their tastes. The edges burn more and just don't like the texture, but each has their favorites. I just don't like using it, but if it works, use it by all means.

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  me too, I don't like burnt cheese taste on anything. I think my mom used evaporated milk, that is why hers never curdled. And hers were the same color as the one I posted, light creamy with cheese, not too yellow or dark.

                        2. JudiAU -- What went wrong with your potatoes au gratin? Were the potatoes not cooked through? Did the cream curdle or separate? Was the dish not seasoned properly or to your taste? Texture off in some way? If you're more specific about what you were unsatisfied with, the hounds will be able to tailor their replies to your dilemma that much better. Also, I'm just curious! I hope your next batch turns out fabulously.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: operagirl

                            I've had everything go wrong.

                            Some times swimming in grease, some times curdled, some times undercooked, most times bland, many times all three. More often than night several of things.

                            The last time I baked it for 1 15 minutes and it was beautiful. But when I served it I realized it was really undercooked. It was a light meal and we needed those potatoes! It took twenty minutes in the microwave to even make it palatable. Wouldn't that translate into more than two hours of baking.

                            Again, it was bland and boring even when cooked even though I had seasoned well with s, p, and nutmeg. Most of the recipes I've used have been Patricia Wells and I normall have good luck with her recipes.

                            *Sigh* I appreciate all the comments. Made I need to go back to basics.

                            1. re: JudiAU

                              i always use jeffrey steingarten's recipe. apparenlty he cooks a potato gratin every week so i assume he knows what he's doing

                              1. re: JudiAU

                                If a casserole is very undercooked after 1 hour 15 min, what temperature were you using? Have you checked that the oven gauge is accurate? Mine sure isn't, I trust the $5 thermometer I stuck in there, not the dial.

                                1. re: JudiAU

                                  If it was that underdone after over an hour in the oven, it was probably too deep. Try a larger dish, so it's not more than an inch thick. To correct the blandness, more - or stronger - cheese, and a heavier hand with the salt&pepper.

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    Thanks. It was 350 and accurate. I'll try again with a much larger dish and all of the many suggestions above!

                                  2. re: JudiAU


                                    Maybe the problem is in our name? We are both Judi's and we both spell Judi with an "I". Maybe that's whey we can't make a gratin! *wink*

                                2. I make these using a mandolin to slice the potatoes, Layer the slices in a greased casserole. Make a white sauce, add the cheeses and pour over the potatoes. Top with breadcrumbs, dot with butter and bake with whatever meat I'm roasting (so temperature wil vary) When they're bubbly and brown, take them out, let them rest, serve & enjoy!

                                  1. Another poster beat me to asking, how does it go wrong?

                                    Potatoes undercooked?
                                    Grease separates out and is abundant?
                                    Unimpressive flavor?

                                    There's a recipe on epicurious I've been planning to make with creme fraiche--commenters advise not to use too fancy or expensive ingredients. Supermarket swiss and land-o-lakes creme fraiche gave the best results by far.

                                    1. I posted this in a cauliflower thread last year. I hope it helps:

                                      This makes great potato gratin and I guess a similar method would work with cauliflower. This is based on a recipe from the great Roux brothers, multi Michelin winners here in the UK.

                                      Medium/thinly slice some peeled potatoes and bring them up to simmer point in a 50/50 mixture of milk and double (heavy?) cream with a handful of your chosen grated cheese (Gruyere my choice), a little salt & pepper and grated nutmeg if you have it. The milk/cream should be enough to just cover the top of the potatoes.

                                      When up to a simmer, spoon everything into a gratin dish, sprinkle over some more grated cheese (optional) and bake at about 400 for about 40 mins/until browned although cauli. may take a little less time.

                                      Sorry if I've been lazy about quantities etc. but it's that kind of dish. Also this would NOT appear in any diet books!

                                      1. Funny! I also have never gotten scalloped potatoes to turn out, cheese or no cheese. Curdling, or potatoes don't cook. Haven't attempted them for years. This thread almost has given me courage to try again.

                                        1. I use half-and-half (fence-sitting, I guess) and it never curdles. The more cheese and butter I use, the less liquid. I also like sprinkling some finely chopped garlic and fresh thyme on the layers.

                                          1. I attend a local culinary school in my city and oddly enough, we made Dauphinoise Potatoes today, aka potatoes au gratin. It seems there are a few keys to a perfect preparation.

                                            1 - Thinly sliced potatoes, about 1/8"
                                            2 - limited number of layers
                                            3 - limited amount of liquid

                                            Number 1 is easy, just cut the potatoes thin and uniform. For # 2, even if you have a high rimmed baking dish, resist the urge to pile on more than say 3 to 4 layers, you'll kill the top and bottom before you cook the middle with more. As to # 3, it can be a problem on its own or in combo with # 2. The cream that's used is only going to get to a certain temperature in the oven. If you flood the baking dish with cream, you can end up hammering the top of the potatoes and having an undercooked center.

                                            Take a cup of heavy cream, a minced clove of garlic and some salt and scald the mix on the cook top, set aside. Take your sliced potatoes and toss them into the pot with the cream. Take oval oven proof dishes or ramekins and fan out the cream coated potato slices. Sprinkle with freshly grated gruyere and add another layer. Add a tablespoon or two of the cream, no more, and bake until browned on top. Rest for 15 minutes and serve.

                                            Hopefully this is helpful.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Den

                                              I think you're right, I think also that I used a shallow baking dish and resisted to layer deep, saved the day! They were all lucious and tender creamy.

                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                My MIL has a recipe for potatoes au gratin that she's made several times. I always thought it had great potential (don't know the origin of the recipe) but every time she presented it all the flavoring was at the bottom and the potatoes were never fully cooked. I always cringed when I saw her head towards the table with it. The last time she made it she and I talked. She said she was never truly happy with the way they turned out either. I realized that the problem was she was using a round covered casserole and not a baking dish. Problem solved.

                                            2. What can possibly go wrong? Pick out a casserole 4-5 inches deep so stuff won't run over in the oven. Spray it with PAM. Fill it with sliced raw potatoes and stop every layer or so to sprinkle on some flour, salt, and pepper. Cheese is not mandatory but is nice---just stick some in there with the potatoes. Chunks of leftover ham are also lovely. When you get within sight of the top, you can put sliced onions on top or half-bury some pieces of bacon. Sprinkle on some more flour, salt, and pepper. You can dot the top with butter. I don't put cheese on top as it gets too baked---put the cheese under the onions to protect it.. Pour in milk until you can see it (If you warm the milk first the baking will go faster). Cover the whole thing tightly with foil and bake it at 350* for an hour then take the foil off and bake it some more until you can pierce the potatoes with a fork and the greatest of ease. I see on this thread that some people recommend slicing the potatoes paper-thin; I get the same result with the foil and the long baking, as much as two hours total---the point being that the potatoes should get really done and be mealy and soft. This is the ultimate comfort food.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                Peel, slice potatoes as stated.. Take heavy cream add roasted garlic salt pepper to taste simmer on stove reduce,,Layer potatoes , season each layer add cheese if u like,, When cream is starting to thicken add to potatoes,, cover Bake till tender ..ps strain cream mixture through sieve Good Eats

                                              2. What is happening to your au gratin? What are the problems with the final results?

                                                1. Thanks to this thread, I made them last night, for the first time in at least 10 years. Back then, I followed the Cooks Illustrated recipe to take to a Christmas ham dinner. As I recall, it called for rubbing a clove of garlic on the sides and bottom of a large gratin dish. Mine is an impressive oval, over a foot long. The finished dish looked gorgeous but was disappointing. Blah flavor except for that of raw garlic, which was a surprise after all that baking.

                                                  Yesterday I made a smaller version, using mandolin-sliced Yukon Golds about 1/16th inch thick. I made a thin bechamel with a little onion, garlic, nutmeg, S/P, and about a cup of half&half that was on the verge of souring. I probably had 1-1/2 to 2# potato, for a 7x11 Pyrex dish. There were 3 layers of potato, in between which were a total of 5 oz. cheese - both Swiss and Trader Joe's English Cheddar w/Caramelized Onion. Bechamel atop each potato layer. I poured an additional 4-6 oz of evaporated milk over the whole thing and topped it with canned fried onions, covered, baked an hour at 350. I then turned off the oven and removed the foil, letting it brown on residual heat for 20 min.
                                                  This one is a complete success. It's a scant inch deep, which is probably thinner than the CI gratin was, and I did not have a mandoline back then so I'm sure my slices weren't as thin. I probably had more cheese in the smaller one than the larger.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    Thanks for this and especially thanks for being so specific. I'm glad the mandoline didn't get them TOO thin. I'll be fixin' this.

                                                  2. i take a tip from tom valenti and infuse a pint of cream with thyme, garlic and black pepper, and bay leaves steeped for 30 minutes. i usually don't use cheese in deference to the cream. 1 pint cream, 5 russets, stacked potatoes/cream/potatoes cream to a depth of about 2 inches. press the whole works down with a flat spatula. cover w/foil and bake at 375. this is rostered to take 40 minutes but mine take longer--like 10-15 minutes longer. unfoil and brown before serving. a rest prior to serving is ok and might be a plus.

                                                    many recipes suggest parboiling potatoes. i suggest you don't. when the starch is gone, so is the thrill of moist but solid serving of potatoes.

                                                    1. This simple recipe from White Trash Cooking has never failed me..
                                                      6 med potatoes sliced thin
                                                      3 med onions sliced
                                                      1 stick butter (melt first if not parboiling potatoes)
                                                      1 can evaporated milk & 1 can water
                                                      Pour over layered potatoes and onion, salt & pepper generously and then
                                                      Bake in 350 preheated oven for 45min or so (I like to use my Iron Skillet)

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: twisterp

                                                        White Trash Cooking! OMG, I'd forgotten about that book.

                                                        Silly, but it did have a few gems. This looks like one of them.

                                                        1. re: happybaker

                                                          I literally read about 50 recipes trying to make something of high quality for a large group. I got the idea of the herbs in one, using broth and milk from another versus heavy cream from another, adding garlic and onions from another, the right quantity of ingredients for the large numbers in another, cooking times in another, mixing the cream and the potatoes in a bowl from another. I can't believe how many recipes had comments about curdling, seperation, part of the casserole cooking while other parts were raw. I was so glad to get such a perfect result with so many fabulous comments on the first try but I truly did do my homework.

                                                      2. I offer this from my cookbook, Pacific Northwest Palate: Four Seasons of Great Cooking, page 322:

                                                        "Is there anything finer in the world of vegetable cookery than a properly made Potato Gratin? Actually there are three basic types: one is made with heavy cream (Gratin Jurassien), one with half and half or milk (Gratin Dauphinois), and one with chicken or beef stock (Gratin Savoyard).

                                                        Although the methodology for all three is basically simple, there is a complicating factor that needs consideration. Potatoes are surprisingly acidic and have a definite tendency to curdle milk, half and half, and even, but to a lesser degree, heavy cream.

                                                        To minimize this possibility, potato slices can be neutralized with a preliminary blanching of 10 minutes in simmering milk. Because the potatoes are then partially cooked, the liquid requirement for the gratin decreases by about 1/3. Another way to control this undesirable side-effect is to regulate the oven heat so that the gratin is never actually boiling, while also monitoring the length of time the dish is in the oven so that overcooking does not occur (which does in itself have a negative textural effect on milk or half and half). Yet another trick is to use 1 tablespoon flour per cup of liquid, which also discourages curdling. My own preference is to use heavy cream (which is more stable than either half and half or milk) in combination with chicken stock for a gratin that is both wonderfully creamy and flavorful—but without the heavy calories of an all-cream gratin."

                                                        Another complicating factor that I should have mentioned is the fact that young cheeses curdle mercilessly when exposed to the heat level necessary to cook a thick layer of potatoes. Always used well aged cheeses in casserole like this.

                                                        Here is the basic recipe. I give 6 wonderful variations in the book and will share the basic recipe and variations in an upcoming post at http://thelunacafe.com. Hope this helps!

                                                        1 tablespoon unsalted butter
                                                        2 pounds baking potatoes,* peeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick and put into cold water to cover
                                                        coarse kosher salt
                                                        freshly ground white pepper
                                                        1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced, optional
                                                        1 cup grated Gruyere, Emmenthaler, Jarlsberg, or other cheese of choice
                                                        3/4 cup heavy cream
                                                        3/4 cup chicken stock
                                                        2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional

                                                        Butter an oval 6-cup gratin dish. Carefully dry the potato slices with a clean kitchen towel and begin layering them into the dish. Season each layer rather heavily with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the garlic if desired and a portion of the grated cheese. Proceed with layering, ending with a topping of cheese. Then pour on the combined cream and chicken stock. (The amount of liquid a given batch of potatoes at a given point in time will absorb is always variable. The liquid should reach a little more than halfway up to the top of the potato layers. Check the gratin periodically and add more liquid if needed. Remember though, you want only a light binding of sauce present when the potatoes are fully tender; too much liquid makes the gratin soupy.)

                                                        Bake, uncovered, in the upper third of the oven at 425° for 45-50 minutes if cream or stock is being used; otherwise, lower the heat to 325° and bake more slowly for about 75-90 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the top is nicely browned. (If you have opted to blanch the potatoes as indicated in the opening paragraph, the cooking time, at the higher temperature, will be around 30 minutes, at the lower temperature, about 45 minutes.)

                                                        This dish can wait, loosely covered, for half an hour or so. To hold it any longer, stop the cooking process just before the last bit of liquid has been absorbed and heat gently just before serving.

                                                        Serves 4-6

                                                        Copyright 2009 Susan S. Bradley

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: RosePetalTea

                                                          Potatoes are actually not very acidic - they have a pH of 5.90 according to the FDA; onions, for example, are more acidic.... But milk proteins curdle when exposed to high heat, unless they are treated by a variety of methods, emulsified or protected by fats or starchy binders.

                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            Actually, 5.9 is rather acidic.....about 20x more acidic than water! Not as bad as a citrus, for sure, but pretty acidic nonetheless.

                                                        2. Because of its ease to prepare and tastes so damn good, this is one of my go to recipes for a large group of people.

                                                          I would also recommend this AFFORDABLE mandoline which has many uses. It is a well known CH recommendation.

                                                          Classic Potato Gratin

                                                          • 4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled , cut into 1/8" slices
                                                          • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
                                                          • 2 1/2 cups whipping cream
                                                          • 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
                                                          • Nutmeg

                                                          Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

                                                          Butter 19x9x2 baking dish. Mix milk and cream together. Layer 1/3 of potaoes in prepared dish; overlap slightly.

                                                          Season with salt, pepper, and numeg. Top with 1/3 cheese and 1 cup of milk mixture.

                                                          Repeat layering ending with potatoes. Press the layers down to compress them. Pour enough milk until it comes up to just below the top layer of potatoes.

                                                          Season with salt, pepper, and numeg and end with cheese.

                                                          Put pan on a smaller baking pan and bake for 1 hour.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Scagnetti

                                                            I am super-lazy, but after reading these posts and the classic recipe posted by Scagnetti, I'm tempted to trade in my couch potato ways... Thanks all, and to the OP, the title of this thread made me LOL. :)

                                                          2. I use russet potatoes sliced thin on a mandoline. I layer them in a buttered casserole (leaving at least an inch at the top so the whole thing doesn't boil over) with finely chopped scallions or grated onion, salt and pepper, and a little shredded cheese - asiago is my current fave. Drizzle layers with melted butter, and add enough half and half to not quite cover the top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with more cheese. Bake until golden brown and potatoes are tender. You can add bacon or ham. Sometimes I leave out the onion and cheese. I think russet potatoes are the secret.

                                                            1. I use the Jacques Pepin recipe from the cookbook Julia et Jacques Cooking at Home. I use the food processor to slice my peeled potatoes and they become thin enough to cook quickly. I think the trick to this recipe is that the potatoes are cooked on the stovetop in the bechamel sauce before being transferred to the casserole dish, topped with cheese and finished in the oven. If you can find a copy of this cookbook I highly recommend it! (Sorry, couldn't find the recipe online...)

                                                              12 Replies
                                                              1. re: bakinggirl

                                                                Please help! With Potatoes Au Gratin, my milk/cream always curdles/separates. Please don't give me a fail-proof recipe; I have them all. Just tell me why my milk always curdles. This is so frustrating to me. Thanks everyone. Didn't mean to be short, but I just threw out yet another no fail Potatoes Au Gratin. Ugh!

                                                                1. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                  Don't use milk. Use cream. Milk curdles.

                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                    Yep. And when we say cream, we mean heavy/whipping/35%+ cream -- not light cream, coffee cream, half-and-half and company. Heat curdles the casein in heavy cream, too, but there's so little of it you don't notice.

                                                                    1. re: carswell

                                                                      The basic issue is that the lower the fat content, the higher the level of casein protein that can curdle. Thus, skim milk has the highest risk of curdling, and heavy cream the lowest. The recipes that rely on milk run a higher risk for the cook who doesn't know how to handle milk that's about to curdle, so I always recommend cream for people who aren't up for dealing with that, which is most people. (As for calories: just eat a smaller portion; the high-fat versions also reheat far better than the low-fat versions, as generally potatoes are typically improved upon reheating. The other approach is to use a broth-based approach like Cooks Illustrated's.)

                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                        Evaporated milk is a good, non-curdling choice for the calorie-conscious.

                                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                                          I'm not worried about the calories, just turning out a good gratin. Heavy cream is the one that curdles on me the most; whole milk also curdled but not as badly; still wouldn't serve it. I haven't tried evaporated milk, yet, but getting tired of throwing out gratins. May wait awhile before I try that one. Thank you for the idea, though, hadn't thought of that one. :)

                                                                          1. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                            Good luck! You never mentioned temperature but I'd go no higher than 350. Ultra-frugal me would never, ever, toss out a failed gratin. If worse came to worse, I'd beat it up and call it cheesy mashed potatoes, or turn it into potato soup!

                                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                                              I don't go higher than 350. But you're right about not throwing them out. I'm ordinarilly very frugal, but this was twice in the same week they failed and I tossed them out of my "Irish Cherokee red-haired" temper. LOL

                                                                            2. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                              Your heavy cream curdles?! It must be badly made or old or exposed to acid.


                                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                                Couldn't tell you if it's badly made or not. I just buy it at the grocery store. I really don't think that's it. It doesn't matter where I buy the milk, whether it's cream or whole or half and half, it still curdles. :(

                                                                    2. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                      I use the recipe in Julia's MAFC volume I and it calls for whole milk.The trick is to start the dish on the stove and once it bubbles finish in the oven.

                                                                      1. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                        I've used cream, half & half, whole milk. ALL curdled. I also use a mandoline. :(

                                                                    3. Just saw this and wanted to share an easy version I make all the time; people seem to consider it my signature dish or something. No pre-cooked potatoes here and no extra additions or ingredients, though I'm sure it lends itself well to modifications I've jsut never bothered. It is based on the recipe for Gratin Dauphinoise from "One Potato, Two Potato". I always use Yukon Gold potatoes for this one and slice them uniformly thin in my food processor, of course you can do by hand, just takes more time and patience!

                                                                      Butter a 3 quart casserole dish and slice about 2 lbs peeled potatoes. Arrange the potatoes in the dish, overlapping layers and sprinkling with salk and pepper as you go. Combine 1 c milk and 1 1/2 heavy cream (you can play with these proportions or even try all milk). Pour over the potatoes in the dish until it just wets the top layer of potatoes but does not completely submerge this layer (this is an important part); you may not use all the milk/cream mixture. Sprinkle with about 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I always use fontina plus a little paremsan, original recipe calls for gruyere). Bake at 375 until the top is very brown and bubbly, about 40 minutes.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: cookie44


                                                                        Your recipe is EXACTLY how I make mine; to the inth degree. Curdles every time. Maybe Gratins just don't like me. Would you believe I used to write a recipe column for our local paper? Ugh! I think I'll just give up and go back to NO FAIL Betty Crocker boxed gratins. Shhhhhh Don't tell anyone. :)

                                                                        Thanks, everyone. Judi

                                                                        1. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                          I'm just so suprised because no matter how sloppily I throw it together, it never seems to mind. The original recipe even calls for precooking on the stovetop before putting in the oven but I've never done that and still no problem. I used to pre-heat the milk and cream before pouring over the assembled gratin but then I found pouring it over cold made no real difference in the end.

                                                                          I've never had curdling of any type so I'm stumped...must be one of your ingredients or oven not properly calibrated. Are you using an oven thermometer? How about your milk & cream? I use full fat milk and organic heavy cream every time. Potatoes? I use yukon golds and prefer smaller, fresher looking ones. Baking dish? y is simple pyrex.

                                                                          Thinking on this, I pulled out the original recipe from the cookbook. I make this so often I'm not sure when I last looked at the actual recipe...but I note that the last sentence states "Don't chicken out and remove it from the oven before the potatoes are completely tender and the edges of the gratin look as if the cream has broken." Now, I have never noticed this, but maybe this is what you are seeing as curdled? Again, I've never noticed that appearance but know it always tastes great. Have you tasted any of your curdled-looking creations?

                                                                          1. re: cookie44

                                                                            Yes, Cookie, maybe "broken" is what I'm talking about as opposed to curdled. Yes, I tasted it and it didn't taste bad, but just look curdled. I'm used to "creamy" gratin out of the Betty Crocker box. LOL Maybe I just don't care for the real deal.

                                                                            Well, you just may have solved the mystery. Thanks, hon. :)

                                                                      2. I just came across this recipe on foodwishes.com and have now made it twice (my husband can't get enough!)....it's totally foolproof and so ridiculously delicious. Of course you can leave out the truffle oil part (I did) and it was just perfect! Enjoy!


                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Lynndsey Rigberg

                                                                          Lynndesey: I just went over and checked out the recipe. It calls for 2 cups of heavy cream so I'll pass. I know it will curdle before I even try it. Thanks for posting it, though, I'm sure the others will enjoy.

                                                                          1. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                            You should take a picture of your dish for us, as maybe you're more offended by a slight lack of smoothness others don't notice. When cream has curdled for me, it turns into little white clumps, and the remaining liquid is almost clear. Is this what happens? Maybe you're better off making a gratin with broth only, like this recipe:


                                                                        2. I have had great success with the recipe from James Peterson's (sp?)" Vegetables" - never used a mandoline and have used skim, canned evaporated skim, and half and half depending on what's on hand, and have never had a curdling problem. Highly recommend the cookbook for all things vegetable, especially his gratins.

                                                                          1. Does Chowhound have a "Best Thread Title"? If so, I would vote for this one.."I hate you potatoes au gratin." So cathartic.

                                                                            1. I always slice the potatoes by hand as evenly as possible, then I layer them, salt and pepper them and them make a basic mornay sauce. pour it over the potatoes and bake. It always works out well.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: cassoulady

                                                                                Mornay sauce. Not sure what that is but I'll look it up and try that. Maybe making the sauce first and adding it will be my solutioin. However, if it's made with heavy cream I'll probably have the same problem. Going to give it one final shot, though., Will let y'all know. :)

                                                                                1. re: JudiMorrison

                                                                                  Judi, Mornay sauce is a classic béchamel (white sauce) with cheese added to it.

                                                                                2. Well, this recipe at epicurious has four out of four forks; it calls for potatoes and fennel, which go beautifully together. I have made it with and without the fennel, and both times it turned out delicious:


                                                                                  1. In addition to all the good tips here, I find it helpful NOT to rinse the potatoes after slicing. I've always used a medium starch potato (e.g. Yukon Gold). I peel, rinse, slice - and DON'T rinse again. I use the food processor to slice them but I haven't made it since I got a hand-held mandolin this spring. Next time I'll probably use the new toy.

                                                                                    Regardless of what kind of cream I use, or combination of milk and cream, it always turns out. I think the potato starch helps w the "breaking" and contributes more silkiness - esp if I haven't used all heavy cream. (I must say, I'm surprised that heavy cream would break.) Also, I only ever use a gratin dish as it restrains me from stacking it up too high . . . and I like the look of a white oval serving dish.

                                                                                    1. OK, so I cheated and made potatoes au gratin from a TRADER JOE'S mix. Guess what? Although it's not as good as homemade, it 's not bad. I baked it in the oven (you have the option of making it on the stove too) and then added a dash of nutmeg and black pepper. From start to finish, it took around 35-40 minutes.

                                                                                      1. I don't have much advise but I have a question - What is the difference between au gratin and scalloped? They both seem to have the same / typical ingredients and the same cooking method . . or am I being stupid or annul?

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: JerryMe

                                                                                          I was going to say something too so maybe we're both stupid! Really, back in the day, scalloped potatoes were made in a deep casserole with milk, not cream. There was some flour involved, likely to keep the milk from separating, but I don't remember it being an actual bechamel. Upstream in this thread some posters are describing scalloped potatoes but calling it "gratin" (IMO).

                                                                                          Gratin just means browned on top (not a direct translation) so they are baked in a low dish (hence the name, gratin dish) with more surface area than the deep casserole - to allow for lots of brown surface. Potatoes Dauphinoise are made with cream and baked in a gratin dish hence: potatoes au gratin or pommes Dauphinoise. It's not really need a "gratin" if it's made in a deep, covered casserole dish.

                                                                                          1. re: JerryMe

                                                                                            Simple answer: Cheese.

                                                                                            Scalloped Potatoes NEVER have cheese. Potatoes Au Gratin has cheese.

                                                                                          2. I always end up with mine being soupy. I usually make a scalloped potatoes and ham variation. After reading the replies I've got some things to try. I was wondering, does the ham or potatoes add extra liquid as it bakes?

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: datagatherer

                                                                                              U think it may. I recently made it using small baking dishes, so I wanted the potatoes to be deeper than usual. So the inside wouldn't have any raw taste, I briefly microwaved small Yukon Golds before peeling and slicing. I'm not positive that I've used YGs in this before. Usually I make a mornay sauce, or use shredded cheese with bechamel sauce. This time for no particular reason I just layered potatoes and cheese and poured evaporated milk and cream over. These came out rather soupy. I froze some - when thawed and reheated in the microwave it was VERY soupy. In the future I'll go back to using some flour.

                                                                                            2. Here is a link to the SF Chronicle cookbook that I believe Sarah mentioned below... could be a similar recipe but it looks pretty darn close. Thanks Sarah! I'm making it for dinner tonight!


                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: WIburgergirl

                                                                                                How did it turn out? It's not the same recipe but relatively close -- no cheese in my recipe (a plus!) and calls for whole cream as the only liquid..

                                                                                              2. First off - after decades of making potato gratins, I've NEVER come across a recipe that called for pre-cooking the potatoes. That's bizarre, as thinly-sliced potatoes (done on a mandolin as they should be) bake quite nicely without pre-cooking. I would think pre-cooked potatoes would bake into mush.

                                                                                                Anyway, here's a foolproof recipe that I make almost every Xmas to accompany our traditional roast goose. I can't remotely imagine any way that this could be screwed up. It's simplicity itself.

                                                                                                BACARDI1 BOURSIN POTATO GRATIN
                                                                                                2 cups heavy cream
                                                                                                One 5-ounce package Boursin cheese with Garlic & Herbs (if Boursin isn’t available, “Alouette” brand works well)
                                                                                                1-1/2 pounds red or white (or a mix) waxy, thin-skinned potatoes,very thinly sliced (use a mandolin if at all possible)
                                                                                                Kosher or sea salt & freshly-ground black pepper

                                                                                                Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
                                                                                                Generously butter a 2 or 3-quart baking dish.

                                                                                                In a saucepan, melt Boursin cheese with the cream – a few small chunks of cheese left are fine.

                                                                                                Place a layer of the potatoes in the baking dish & sprinkle with a little salt & freshly ground black pepper. Pour half of the cream/cheese mixture over, and repeat with the remaining half of potatoes & cream/cheese mixture.
                                                                                                Bake approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until top is browned & a knife slides easily through gratin.

                                                                                                (Recipe is easily doubled or tripled.)

                                                                                                1. I make them this way: layer sliced raw potatoes in a casserole, sprinkling each layer with flour, salt, pepper, and butter. Without cheese they are scalloped, with cheese they are au gratin, so layer in some cheese if you want au gratin. You can also incorporate pieces of cooked ham left over in the freezer from Christmas. Also you can put bacon strips on top if you want, over the final topping of flour, salt, pepper, and (optional cheese). When the dish (use a deep one) is full of potatoes, pour in milk until you can see it. I heat the milk first. Cover this with foil and bake it for about an hour then remove the foil and bake until the potatoes are really tender to a fork. The only two problems I can think of are a) it takes longer than you think for the potatoes to get tender and b) this dish always runs over in the oven so set it in another pan. I can't imagine what could go wrong. How did your potatoes come out that was wrong?

                                                                                                  Alternate more focused on cheese: make a white sauce of 1 stick butter, 1/2 cup flour, and a quart of milk, then stir in a whole envelope (8 oz) of shredded sharp cheddar to make a cheese sauce. Mix this gently with boiled potatoes and bake at 400* until brownish on top.

                                                                                                  Either is perfect for a snowy night. The homiest of dishes.

                                                                                                  1. I wanted to report that this thread, of many years ago, fixed my problem. I frequently make lovely ones all the time now and my three year old is an expert helper.

                                                                                                    1. This is the best recipe that I have come across in my years of making potato dishes.

                                                                                                      Ingredients list:

                                                                                                      Chicken bouillon base (either bouillon cubes or chicken base that comes in a paste form such as Tones or McCormick)

                                                                                                      Heavy Whipping Cream (at least 40%)

                                                                                                      Drinking/Distilled Water (can substitute with liquid chicken cooking stock for your liquid base)

                                                                                                      4 Sticks of Salted Butter

                                                                                                      2 Cups of All-purpose, Bleached Flour

                                                                                                      Idaho Russet Jumbo Potatoes


                                                                                                      1) In this first step you will make a white roux. Heat 4 sticks of butter in a skillet that is deep enough to contain the liquid/flour mixture. Using a wire whisk, stir the butter until it completely melts. Blend in two cups of flour (add a pinch more if you want more of a pasty roux), using a wire whisk to constantly mix together the melted butter and flour. NOTE: The stove top should be at no more than a medium heat for cooking a roux.

                                                                                                      2) Cook the roux as it slowly bubbles, constantly stirring to avoid burning the roux. Cook the roux for no more than 3-4 minutes, just enough to cook out the raw taste of flour but not turn the roux a darker color. This is called a white roux, and has the best thickening potential.

                                                                                                      3) Allow the roux to cool to room temperature and solidify. This usually takes about an hour. The roux will harden and the butter will separate slightly from the flour during the cooling stage. Be sure to mix the butter and flour back into a cohesive mixture if this occurs. After cooling has finished, the roux should be pasty and hard with a glistening buttery sheen to it.

                                                                                                      4) Pour distilled/drinking water into a saucepot (I use 3/4 gallon of water, filling up a corningware sauce pot about 2/5 of the way full).

                                                                                                      5) Bring water to a soft boil using high heat.

                                                                                                      6) Once the water is boiling, add your chicken base until the color of the water turns a deep yellow. NOTE: You always want to add slightly more base than the recipe calls for because you are going for a semi-rich, salty chicken stock. Don't overdo it though. The heavy whipping cream that you add later will work with the chicken stock to create a rich, valvety smooth sauce.

                                                                                                      7) While keeping the water at boiling, add your roux using a spatula. It will look like you are putting a solid glob into the sauce, but this is what you want. You can add a cold or room temperature roux to a boiling sauce but never a hot roux to a boiling sauce. In this specific instance I add 1 1/2 spatulas full of roux to the mixture, with a little bit of roux remaining in the original skillet that you made the roux in. USE A WIRE WHISK TO CONSTANTLY STIR THE ROUX MIXTURE INTO THE BOILING SAUCE.

                                                                                                      8) The sauce will begin to thicken shortly after the room temperature roux is added. Stir CONSTANTLY with a wire whisk to avoid getting lumps in your sauce. Turn the heat down slightly where the sauce begins to bubble slowly as it cooks. Immediately proceed to the next step while the sauce is simmering on a high heat. NOTE: The thickness of the sauce should resemble a country white gravy and will cling to a spoon slightly when you do a taste test.

                                                                                                      9) Add heavy whipping cream, warmed up to room temperature, to the bubbling hot simmering sauce. Mix immediately with a wire whisk, otherwise the heavy cream will curdle. Keep adding heavy whipping cream, stirring constantly, until the color of the sauce turns from a shade of yellow to yellowish-white. This is where you have to taste test it yourself and determine where you want the balance to be.

                                                                                                      10) After the heavy whipping cream has been added to the suace, allow it to simmer for an additional 3-5 minutes. NOTE: Do not over-simmer! The roux will eventually break down and release the fat into your sauce, completely ruining it.

                                                                                                      11) Take the sauce off the heat and allow it to cool. As the sauce cools, it will thicken even more. If you stick a spoon into the sauce at this stage, it will cling to the spoon slightly.

                                                                                                      12) Peel your Idaho russet potatoes and then using a mandoline slicer, slice the potatoes into 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick layers. Layer the potatoes in a deep-dish baking pan, slightly overlapping layers to avoid big gaps.

                                                                                                      13) After the first layer is complete, use a ladle to pour a nice good coating of sauce over your first layer of potatoes.

                                                                                                      14) Repeat the process until 3/4 of the pan is full with your potatoes-sauce layers. You want to cover the very top layer of potatoes with sauce, never with bare potato.

                                                                                                      NOTE: Keep in mind that as you bake the potatoes and sauce, the roux will break down and cook with it, releasing the excess butter into the pan. Don't overfill the pan! If you do, sauce and butter will leak out of the pan and make for a smoky mess.

                                                                                                      15) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil, and bake for roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes.

                                                                                                      16) Remove the pan, test the potatoes with a fork to make sure they are tender and cooked, and then add grated medium cheddar cheese on top of the sauce.

                                                                                                      17) After adding the cheese to the top, bake for an additional 2 minutes until the cheese completely melts.

                                                                                                      18) Take the pan back out of the oven and enjoy!

                                                                                                      NOTE: If you stick the pan in the refrigerator and wait to eat it until the next day, you can cut and section the au gratin potatoes into squares. The sauce will have thickened at this point into a gelatinous layer which helps to hold the layers together.

                                                                                                      1. I just wanted to add that years later, my 3 year old and I make "cheesy matatoes" all the time with no problem. Every culinary problem can be conquered with the help of 'hounds.

                                                                                                        For three large baking potatoes and a medium gratin dish or 10 inch pie plate:

                                                                                                        Peel and thinly slice potatoes, braving Madame Guillotine if you prefer.

                                                                                                        Cover the bottom of pan with a layer of potatoes so that no space is showing but that is no thicker than 2 - 2 1/2 potatoes thicks. Add a generous amount of salt, pepper, and fresh nutmeg. Cover surface with grated aged gruyere cheese. Repeat.

                                                                                                        Add heavy cream (the real stuff - not ultrapasturized) about 1/3 - 1/2 way up the side of the dish. Add a splash of milk.

                                                                                                        Bake at 350 - 375 for about 50-60 minutes. Timing and oven temperature are flexible. Try not to overbake.

                                                                                                        If you sitt down with your beautifully prepared meal and discovered the potatoes are a little hard, five minutes in the microwave won't ruin it. What a surprise.

                                                                                                        1. Scalloped Potatoes for 80-100

                                                                                                          I give credit to everyone out there that has ever posted a scalloped potato/gratin recipe as I think I read them all coming up with this one with fantastic results.  

                                                                                                           These scalloped potatoes can easily be made ahead, frozen, thawed overnight and reheated.  They are very flavorful, creamy but not runny even after reheating.  They have a rich flavour but with fewer calories than other recipes that use cream.  Use whatever cheese you like and adjust the amounts to your preference or leave out entirely.


                                                                                                          Prayer (You are feeding a lot) 
                                                                                                          20 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
                                                                                                          1  1/2 cups butter
                                                                                                          2  1/2 cups finely diced onions
                                                                                                          10-15 cloves garlic finely chopped
                                                                                                          3 cups flour
                                                                                                          1/4 cup salt (less if using broth with sodium)
                                                                                                          1 Tblsp. Pepper
                                                                                                          1 Tblsp. Paprika
                                                                                                          4 liters whole milk
                                                                                                          1 litre carton low sodium chicken broth (2 if making ahead and reheating)
                                                                                                          5 bay leaves
                                                                                                          6 sprigs of thyme tied together
                                                                                                          6 cups or more, medium cheddar cheese grated (optional)

                                                                                                          2 - 18x26x2 or 4-9x13x2 pans well greased

                                                                                                          In a large, preferably non stick, 8 liter stock pot, on medium heat, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic until tender, 5-10 minutes.  Sift flour and mix into butter mixture.  Stir often for 6-8 minutes.  Slowly whisk in milk and broth so that lumps do not form.  Add salt, pepper, paprika, bay leaves and thyme sprigs.  Heat 10-20 minutes stirring constantly until sauce thickens.  Turn heat off and cover.  

                                                                                                          Peel, wash and thinly slice 10 lbs. of the potatoes using a mandolin or food processor. Place sliced potatoes in a very large bowl.  Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the sauce.  Pour half of the sauce and 3 cups or more if desired, of the shredded cheese over the potatoes and mix to coat potatoes evenly.  Spray or butter pans well and pour in potato mixture.  Spread evenly.  Repeat with the other 10 lbs of potatoes and remaining sauce and cheese.

                                                                                                          Bake uncovered in preheated oven 350 degree (conventional) for 1  1/2 - 2 hours or 300 degree oven (convection) until tender.  Cover them with foil if tops are browning too quickly but insides are not cooked.  Spread additional cheese on top and bake for a few additional minutes.

                                                                                                          Note, you can make these ahead by cooking 3/4 of the way through, turn heat off and let sit in the oven for an hour or two to even out the cooking but preventing the tops from over browning. Cool on wire rack and freeze.  To reheat, thaw overnight, cover/tent with foil and cook at 375 for 90 minutes minutes until heated through and tender.  Remove foil and let top brown in the last 30 minutes.  You can sprinkle more cheese on the top and cook for a few minutes longer.

                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: Jabber2

                                                                                                            Is this applicable for anyone *not* working in a restaurant?

                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                              Absolutely ... I made it for a church gathering. I am one of 8 children. My family is 45 people strong and it will be wonderful for get togethers. Also, because it freezes so well, you can make a big batch in seperate containers and enjoy it for months to come without the work.

                                                                                                              1. re: Jabber2

                                                                                                                Well, those certainly are helpful amounts for massive gatherings, but I don't know that the OP implied that amounts were an issue.

                                                                                                                For a home cook with perhaps 4-5 people to feed (tops -- for me it's exactly 2), those are.... a bit much :-)

                                                                                                            2. re: Jabber2

                                                                                                              Jabber2 -

                                                                                                              I love that first ingredient and comment : )

                                                                                                            3. This is a simple dish from Edna Lewis that is surprisingly good.


                                                                                                              Now that we're heading to colder temps, time to start making it again!