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This classic Scalloped Potatoes recipe is an elegant, comforting side dish that is a perfect choice for your holiday menu. This authentic method creates a uniquely delicious result every time.
Scalloped potatoes have a solid place in my memory bank. My mom made them frequently for special occasions and they graced our Easter table every year. In my opinion, there is nothing more suitable to serve with ham than these traditional and undeniably delicious potatoes.
This no-fuss, easy method results in beautiful, tender scalloped potatoes every single time. You’ll need to plan for the long cooking time, but the prep is a breeze.
Scalloped Potatoes vs. Au Gratin Potatoes
There is a difference between scalloped potatoes and au gratin potatoes and it all comes down to the cheese. An authentic scalloped potato recipe includes just potatoes, cream or milk (or both), salt, pepper, and sometimes fresh herbs. Once you begin adding copious amounts of cheese, you’ve got au gratin potatoes. Now, that being said, I do add a tad of Parmesan between the layers of Mom’s very classic recipe. It’s not enough to push it into the au gratin realm but just enough to add a nice salty bite that makes this an elegant, truly special dish.
Over time, many recipes for Scalloped Potatoes have strayed from tradition and include a thickened white sauce (bechamel). It’s fine if you’d like to go this route, however, the texture and flavor will not be the same. In an authentic Scalloped Potato recipe, the thickening process takes place when the starch from the potatoes combines with the cream while they bake. It’s a natural process that creates a unique and delicious result.
- Potatoes – Starchy potatoes like Russet, Idaho, and Yukon gold potatoes are the best choice to ensure that dish will thicken properly. While Yukon gold potatoes have a bit less starch than the others, they have a naturally creamy texture that make them my favorite all-around choice for this recipe. Avoid waxy potatoes like red-skinned and new potatoes. They are lower in starch and not a good choice for Scalloped Potatoes.
- Heavy cream and Whole Milk – I have found that a 50/50 ratio is what works best to thicken the potatoes while still retaining richness.
- Thyme, Salt and Pepper – I really like using fresh thyme in this recipe but you can substitute dried, if preferred. You’ll also need salt and freshly ground black pepper for this simply seasoned dish.
- Parmesan Cheese – A little Parmesan in the layers adds a nice salty, bite.
How to Make Scalloped Potatoes
- Add the heavy cream, whole milk, a few thyme sprigs, and salt to a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the edges just begin to bubble (don’t allow it to boil). Remove from heat and set aside.
- Cover the bottom of the prepared baking dish with ⅓ of the potatoes, spreading them out evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle evenly with salt, thyme leaves, and a light sprinkling of pepper
- Sprinkle with ½ of the Parmesan. Repeat layering once more with another ⅓ of potatoes, salt, thyme leaves, pepper, and the remaining Parmesan.
- Add the final layer of potatoes.
- Remove the thyme sprigs from the warm cream mixture and pull your fingers along the sprig to remove the leaves and drop them back into the cream.
- Pour the mixture evenly over the top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining salt and additional thyme leaves (omit pepper and Parmesan on top layer).
- Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to cook for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender and browned. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the potatoes to rest for 10 minutes before serving. The potatoes will continue to set up as they rest.
FAQs and Cooking Tips
The most effective way to thinly and evenly slice potatoes is with a mandolin. I avoided buying a mandolin for years because I was concerned about the safety of those exceptionally sharp blades, but they make some very cleverly designed units now that are very safe to use. I love my new upright mandolin with an adjustable, hidden blade that does not need to be removed to be changed or cleaned. Prior to my mandolin days, I often used the slicing blade on my food processor. This is a quick and easy method although the resulting slices are bit thinner than I prefer for scalloped potatoes. Lastly, you can use a sharp knife and steady hand to slice the potatoes by hand, if preferred.
Heavy cream does a more effective job of thickening when combined with the starch of the potatoes while baking. It also creates a buttery-rich and creamy flavor. I’ve tested these potatoes with every imaginable combination of cream and milk and have found the perfect ratio to be half heavy cream and half whole milk. Enough milk to lighten it up a bit but not impact the thickening process or creamy result. A perfect compromise.
Absolutely! However, if you stray too far and add thick layers of shredded cheddar or another type of cheese, you are veering into au gratin potato territory. Delicious, but different.
Make Ahead Scalloped Potatoes
Ideally, I recommend assembling and baking this dish right away or you risk the potential of the potatoes becoming discolored. However, Scalloped Potatoes reheat very well. In fact, I’ve had some say they taste even better the next day!
To make them in advance, bake the dish about 15 minutes shy of the directions, allow them to cool, and then cover the dish with foil and refrigerate them for up to 3 days. When you are ready to serve, let the dish sit out at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes to take the chill off. If they seem at all dry, drizzle them with a small amount of cream or spritz with a little water and bake them in a 350 degree oven until warmed through. The time can vary depending on how cold they are so check on them frequently after 20 to 30 minutes. For a nice, golden brown result, bake them uncovered.
Scalloped Potatoes pair well with most proteins but they are a natural accompaniment to ham and beef. They make a classic addition to any holiday menu.
- Maple Glazed Spiral Ham
- Slow Cooker Ham with Peach Thyme Glaze
- Roasted Beef Tenderloin
- Tender Eye of Round Roast with Gravy
- 3 pounds potatoes (Yukon gold, Russet or Idaho)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt divided
- freshly ground black pepper to taste, divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese divided
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 13- x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Peel the potatoes and set aside.
- Add the heavy cream, whole milk, 3 or 4 thyme sprigs, and ½ teaspoon salt to a small saucepan and place over LOW heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the edges just begin to bubble, about 5 minutes (don’t allow to boil). Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Thinly slice the peeled potatoes (⅛- to ¼-inch thick or mandolin setting between 1.25 to 1.33 mm).
- Cover the bottom of the prepared baking dish with ⅓ of the potatoes, spreading them out evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon salt, thyme leaves from 1 or 2 sprigs, a light sprinkling of pepper, and ½ of the Parmesan. Repeat layering once more with another ⅓ of potatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, more thyme leaves, pepper, and the remaining Parmesan. End with a final layer of potatoes (don't add any seasonings on the top layer).
- Remove the thyme sprigs from the warm cream mixture and pull your fingers along the sprigs to remove some of the leaves, dropping them into the cream mixture. Discard the sprigs. Pour the cream mixture evenly over the top of the potatoes. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining salt and additional thyme leaves, to taste (omit pepper and Parmesan on top layer).
- Cover the baking dish tightly with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to cook for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender and browned. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your potato slices. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the potatoes to rest for 10 minutes before serving. The potatoes will continue to set up as they rest.