Creamy Cauliflower Gratin

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If you’re looking for a new side dish that will please even the pickiest of eaters, this is the one.

This dish has it all. It’s creamy, cheesy, and loaded with tender pieces of fresh cauliflower. The breadcrumb topping adds a wonderful crunch to the velvety filling. It’s a wonderful side dish for a weekend or weeknight dinner, but it’s especially fantastic for a holiday feast. It’s wonderful alongside a slow-cooker spiral ham or roast turkey.

A close-up view of cauliflower gratin in a baking dish with a wooden spoon inserted into the casserole.

How To Make Creamy Cauliflower Gratin

You may be wondering what is the difference between au gratin and scalloped vegetables. It’s simple: Gratin dishes usually contain cheese, and scalloped dishes don’t. We love cheese!

This recipe is great, too, because it can be prepared in advance of serving.

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The Ingredients You Will Need

There aren’t a ton of ingredients in this dish, but it’s important to go with fresh and quality to get the best results. Here’s what we recommend:

Cauliflower – Fresh is best, but frozen (thawed) will work in a pinch
Butter – Unsalted
Onion – Chopped
Flour – All-purpose
Thyme – Fresh is best, but dried will work in a pinch
Milk – Whole
Cream – Heavy or half and half
Salt and pepper – This dish can handle a decent amount of salt, we recommend 3 teaspoons, add pepper to taste
Lemon juice – From one lemon
Cheese – Our favorite is Gruyere, but fontina, gouda, or white cheddar would all work
Breadcrumbs – Panko gives an amazing crunchy texture

EXPERT TIP: We add our cut cauliflower to a large pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. This softens the cauliflower. If you like cauliflower with a little more “bite” to it, no need to pre-boil. Pour the bechamel sauce directly over the cut cauliflower in the baking dish.

A person pouring a bechamel sauce from a large skillet into an oval baking dish filled with steamed cauliflower florets.

Tips for Perfect Creamy Cauliflower Gratin

Don’t Overcook the Cauliflower – You want the cauliflower florets to be tender in this dish, but if you cook them too long, they will become very mushy and will retain too much liquid. Place the cut cauliflower in the boiling water for only 5 minutes. By the time comes back to a boil, it will be about time to drain the cauliflower. For al denté cauliflower, don’t pre-boil at all.

Allow the Sauce to Thicken – To expedite the thickening process of the bechamel sauce, you can warm the milk and cream before adding them to the roux (onions cooked with flour). Be patient, and stir often. The sauce should be slightly thicker than standard gravy. This could take up to 10 to 15 minutes, especially if the milk and cream are cold.

Let the Dish Rest – The dish will get very hot and bubbly after cooking for 25 minutes. The sauce needs time to cool off somewhat before setting. It will stay warm for 20 to 30 minutes, so you won’t be serving an extremely hot (temperature) dish to your guests, but, also, the sauce will settle and create a better texture.

EXPERT TIP: You can substitute regular breadcrumbs for the Panko. Panko breadcrumbs are more coarse and give a little more crunch. Mix some of the cheese into the topping for added flavor.

A person sprinkling breadcrumbs and grated cheese over cauliflower gratin in an oval baking dish.

How To Serve

As mentioned, you’ll definitely need the gratin to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. This is ideal because it gives you time to bring the rest of the feast together.

You can cover the dish with foil after it comes out of the oven and it will stay nice and hot for close to 30 minutes.

It’s a beautiful dish and is great when presented on the table, just be sure to let guests know that the dish is hot. We serve this dish (along with the other holiday items) buffet style.

An overhead view of a large oval baking dish filled with cauliflower gratin with a portion gone and a wooden spoon inserted in the side.

Other Classic Side Dish Recipes to Try

Sometimes the side dishes can become the stars of your feast, especially at Thanksgiving, Easter, or Hannukuah! Here are some tried and true classics that you’ll want to try:

Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese
Baked Leek Gratin
Brussels Sprouts Gratin
Crispy Hasselback Potatoes
Best-Ever Corn Casserole
Homemade Broccoli and Cheddar Casserole
Sautéed Broccolini with Garlic and Lemon
Braised Maple Carrots
Roasted Beet Salad with Fresh Dill

Those are amazing, without a doubt. But isn’t this casserole calling your name?

A spoon filled with cauliflower gratin is being raised over a baking dish filled with the same.

Perfect Holiday Side Dish

This recipe makes a decent amount and can easily feed 8 to 12 people, making it ideal for holiday feasts.

It’s rich and a little decadent but is the perfect pair to ham, turkey, and all the other popular sides.

The recipe can also easily be cut in half. Or, divide it between two smaller dishes and freeze one!

A white dinner plate filled with a serving of cauliflower gratin next to green beans and slices of cooked ham.

Ready to make one of the most delicious side dishes in town? Go for it!

And when you do, be sure to take a photo of it, post it on Instagram, and tag @HowToFeedaLoon and hashtag #HowToFeedaLoon!

A spoon filled with cauliflower gratin is being raised over a baking dish filled with the same.

Creamy Cauliflower Gratin

This gratin really is over-the-top good. We recommend fresh cauliflower. You'll need either 2 large heads or 3 small/medium heads, about 12 cups after you cut them into medium-sized florets. If using frozen, you'll need 2 lbs, thawed. The recipe can easily be halved. Perfect for a holiday feast side dish!
Print Pin Rate
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American / French
Keyword: holiday side dish recipe, how to cook cauliflower
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Resting time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 10 people
Calories: 440kcal


  • 9"x13" dish


  • 12 cups cauliflower cut into medium florets (usually, about 3 small/med heads or 2 large)
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter divided, plus more for greasing the dish
  • 1 medium onion roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme fresh, chopped
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 cups Gruyère cheese grated. divided
  • cups panko Japanese bread crumbs


  • Preheat the oven to 375°F and bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Butter a 9x13 baking dish.
  • Carefully add the cut cauliflower to the boiling water. Stir it around with a wooden spoon. Simmer for just 5 minutes then immediately drain. Set aside.
    12 cups cauliflower
  • Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a large saucepan, then add the onion and cook slowly over low heat until soft, 4 to 5 minutes.
    5 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 medium onion
  • Add the thyme and then stir in the flour. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
    1 tbsp thyme, 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Slowly add the milk and cream, and whisk until all lumps are gone. Stir with a wooden spoon until thickened, about 5 to 15 minutes (heat the milk and cream before adding to expedite this process). The bechamel sauce should be slightly thicker than the consistency of gravy.
    3 cups whole milk, 2 cups heavy cream
  • Stir in the salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Next, add 1 cup of the cheese and stir until melted.
    3 tsp Kosher salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 2 cups Gruyère cheese
  • Transfer the cauliflower to the prepared dish and pour the sauce over the top.
  • Melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter and combine with the bread crumbs and remaining cup of cheese in a medium bowl.
    1½ cups panko
  • Top the cauliflower mixture with the breadcrumb mixture.
  • Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly and golden on top.
  • Let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.


See the video near the top of the blog post for visual guidance. If you liked the video, please subscribe to our YouTube channel
We recommend using fresh cauliflower but take care when cutting away the core and then cutting it into bite-sized florets. Always cut AWAY from the hand that is holding the cauliflower. Take your time.  If using frozen, you'll need 2 lbs, thawed, or steamed. 
Be sure to not allow the cauliflower to simmer for too long. 5 minutes is plenty of time, otherwise, it will get too soft and will be mushy and retain liquid that will release during the baking. For al denté cauliflower, skip simmering completely. 
The recipe can easily be halved if not serving a small gathering. 
Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days and can be frozen (baked, or unbaked) for up to 2 months. Let thaw and then heat in a 375°F until bubbly and heated through. You may need to cover the dish with foil. 


Calories: 440kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 34g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 107mg | Sodium: 1030mg | Potassium: 566mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1278IU | Vitamin C: 60mg | Calcium: 437mg | Iron: 1mg
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POST UPDATE: This recipe was originally published in April 2015, but was updated with improved tweaks to the recipe with new tips and photography and a fabulous new video in April 2023.

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