Basic Cream Sauce

Many of you have asked how I make my cream sauce and after reading all the entries for the pasta maker giveaway it is clear you all love your cream sauce. The truth is I never use a recipe for my cream based sauces, I always make it “to taste.”

basic cream sauce

So instead of giving you a clear cut recipe, I am going to share with you some basic ingredients I use to create my cream sauces. Or as my friend Joy says, “I am not going to give you a fish, I am going to teach you to fish.”

heavy cream

Heavy Cream

I use heavy cream in almost every cream sauce. The only reason I don’t use it is because there isn’t any in the fridge. You can use a little or a lot depending on how much sauce you like. I use about a half a pint for one pound of pasta.

challenge butter


Mmmmm, don’t you just LOVE butter? I do, and I use it in every sauce I make. Once again, depending on how much exercise you want to do after dinner you can add a little or a lot. (A little meaning 1 Tablespoon, a lot meaning throw in the whole stick)

sour cream

Sour Cream

If you want to lighten up your sauce (calories, not taste) use less heavy cream and substitute with light sour cream. You won’t be able to tell the difference. Sour cream is also cheaper (sales and coupons) than heavy cream, so use it when you want to stretch your pennies.

cream cheese

Cream Cheese

I use low fat cream cheese to give my sauces a slightly tangy taste.

chicken base

Chicken Base

This gives your sauce a little chicken flavor without actually buying meat. I use it when I include chicken in the pasta too, it is just a habit.


You can’t have sauce without garlic. You can use fresh, minced, crushed, or in a pinch, garlic powder. I prefer fresh, but I usually use minced garlic.


I don’t use a lot of salt in my sauce, but a little goes a long way. One teaspoon or two does the trick.


Like salt, a little cheese really livens up your sauce. I prefer asiago, but will use parmesan or romano too. I buy it in the triangle wedges and finely shred the cheese. 1/4 a cup for a pound of pasta is sufficient, but if you are from Wisconsin add the entire wedge.

cream of chix soup

Cream of chicken soup

I don’t use this often, but it tastes really good in my chicken tetrazinni recipe. It makes your sauce really creamy. For a pound of pasta I use about a half a can. Do not dilute, just spoon it right from the can into your sauce pan.

Extras:  I add these ingredients if I have them in my fridge or pantry, they add a lot of flavor to the sauce but aren’t necessary.

  • Sun Dried Tomatoes
  • Pepper
  • Tomato Sauce (for pink pasta)
  • Roasted Red Peppers
  • Green Onions
  • Red Onions
  • Emeril’s Essence
  • Italian Seasonings
  • Broccoli
  • Fresh Spinach

I don’t have a photo tutorial for making the sauce because it goes too quickly to stop and take photos. I usually have my pasta either already cooked or almost done when I start the sauce because it only takes about 5 minutes.

To make your cream sauce heat a saucepan to a medium high heat. I use a wok to make my cream sauces because I like the high sides for tossing the pasta.

Add butter. As the butter is melting add garlic (I usually add 1 to 2 Tablespoons). Once your house is smelling like Macaroni Grill add salt and any extra ingredients from the above list, plus cooked meat (optional).

Turn the heat down and add your creams – heavy cream sour cream, and/or cream cheese. You can skip the sour cream and cream cheese, but don’t skip the heavy cream. I use about a half pint per pound of pasta if I am not using the other creams.

Once the sauce has come to a boil, turn down the heat and add the cooked pasta to the sauce. I use tongs to mix in the pasta.

Once the pasta is coated in sauce, mix in the shredded cheese.


Try this delicious cream sauce with my homemade pasta recipe!

egg pasta

See all of The Happy Housewife’s recipes here.

Some photos courtesy of calamity_hane and quinn.anya.


  1. I almost started a fire boiling eggs in my house a few weeks ago. I really, really want to cook… I’m just so bad at it! Clicked over because I love me some cream sauces…. I’ll show this link to my cooking husband! Ha!

    Stop by my painting blog and say hello sometime!


  2. I like making cream sauce too, but had never thought of the sour cream substitution. thanks for all the additional ideas!

  3. No flour? I always use milk because too disorganized to have cream, but never did it without flour!!

  4. YUM! Visions of cream sauce, dancing in my head…

    I’ve also started using a roux and fat free half and half to sort of cheat a cream sauce – my husband loves it!

  5. Must you always make me so HUNGRY?? 🙂

  6. This sounds delish! I love how you have all the variations, too!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Have a great day!

  7. emma rastelli says:

    I love this, i had heavy cream and no idea what to do with it( lost my recipe from a maginzine) so searched and found this, I dont cook unless it is my crock pot. This was alsome and it came out great. I used cream of potato instead of the cream of chicken, and the only cream chesse i had was spinich and aritchoke. It is amasing i will be making my own sauces now ( at least for cream) thank you so much!

  8. Thank you. I added some pan fried chicken breasts an
    d smoked paprika and fire roasted peppers to the sauce. Then served with penne pasta and a slice chicken breast
    It was fantastic, it will be made again

  9. I’m a college student teaching myself how to cook, and this has been incredibly helpful! I impressed everyone by whipping out my own cream sauce!
    One thing I would add if you want a spicier cream sauce: 1-2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes at the stage where you put the garlic into the butter. Packs a lot of flavor!

  10. Great ideas and recipes. I use heavy whipping cream, small amount of unsalted butter, 1/2 block of cream cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese. i slow, very low heat, cook for about 30 minutes. Makes a great sauce to pour over pasta with grilled chicken

  11. Thanks! Googling this always results in a bunch of people talking about variations on a béchamel sauce. Since a garlic cream sauce was next on my list to master, I just hit the road running and used the principals that you mentioned above. The very first one also used a good quality can of clams. (Wife out of town. She’s NOT a fan of most things from the sea.)

    It was spectacular. My process is very similar to yours. Finely diced onions/shallots in olive oil with salt and fresh ground pepper. Followed by garlic. White wine added and then reduced to about a third. (For the clam sauce, I had wilted some spinach and finally chopped it. Added a nice flavor and color.) Then comes the cream. Bring to a light boil and stirring constantly, reduce a bit, and add freshly grated parmesan, pecarino romano, and asiago. Remove from the heat and add some butter. Allow that to melt and spoon over the pasta (I bought some fresh pasta from Whole Foods.) I was a happy man.

    Thanks again for your recipe/technique. I can see a couple of adjustments that I can make. (I’ll adopt the tossing the pasta in the sauce thing. That sounds like a winner.)

  12. This is how I make cream sauce. My favorite flavoring I use is white wine, garlic, tarragon and Dijon mustard! I make it with sliced pan seared or grilled chicken and penne pasta! My Hubby’s favorite is with lots of garlic, touch of chicken broth or white wine, crawfish tails, New Orleans type seasoning (like Tony’s) with corkscrew pasta.
    You can do pretty much anything g with a basic cream sauce. I, much like you, don’t really go by recipes. Wing it and taste all along the way!

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