Yes, alfredo sauce will thicken as it cools. Alfredo sauce is an emulsion of butter, cream or milk, parmesan cheese, and seasonings. As the sauce cools down, the fat molecules begin to solidify and clump together which results in a thicker texture. Additionally, as alfredo sauce sits, the starch molecules from the pasta water blend with the fats and proteins, acting as a natural thickener. For best results, make the sauce just before serving. Leftover alfredo sauce will continue thickening in the refrigerator.
What is Alfredo Sauce?
Alfredo sauce is a creamy pasta sauce made from butter, cream or milk, parmesan cheese, and seasonings. It originated in Italy, but has become popular worldwide. The main ingredients in alfredo sauce are:
- Butter – Provides richness and body
- Heavy cream or milk – Adds creaminess
- Parmesan cheese – Provides nutty, salty flavor
- Garlic – Extra flavor (optional)
- Salt and pepper – For seasoning
Traditional alfredo sauce is made by melting butter in a saucepan, then adding cream and parmesan. The ingredients are simmered together until smooth and creamy. Pasta cooking water can be added to help emulsify the sauce. Alfredo sauce is extremely rich, so it tends to be served in smaller quantities than other pasta sauces.
Why Does Alfredo Sauce Thicken as it Cools?
There are a few reasons why alfredo sauce thickens as it cools:
Alfredo sauce is an emulsion, which means it is a mixture of fat and water. The main fats in alfredo sauce come from butter and cream or milk. When alfredo sauce is freshly made, the fat molecules are heated and liquified, allowing them to blend smoothly with the other ingredients. As the sauce cools, the fat begins to solidify at a molecular level. The solid fat molecules clump together, resulting in a thicker texture.
When pasta is boiled, some of the starch leaches out into the cooking water. This starchy pasta water is often incorporated into the alfredo sauce. As the sauce cools, the starch molecules bind with proteins and fat molecules through a process called gelatinization. The starch-fat/protein matrix acts as a natural thickener for the alfredo sauce.
As prepared alfredo sauce sits, some of the water content evaporates. This causes the sauce to become more concentrated with fat and solids. The increased concentration results in a thicker, denser sauce.
Tips for Making Smooth Alfredo Sauce
Here are some tips for making smooth, silky alfredo sauce at home:
1. Use heavy cream or whole milk
The higher fat content in heavy cream and whole milk allows alfredo sauce to achieve a rich, creamy texture. Low fat or skim milk may cause the sauce to become grainy or clumpy.
2. Warm the cream or milk
Adding cold dairy to hot butter can cause the sauce to break or curdle. Warming the cream or milk helps it gradually emulsify with the melted butter.
3. Cook over low heat
High heat can cause the dairy proteins in alfredo sauce to denature and separate. Use medium-low to low heat when making the sauce.
4. Add pasta water
The starch in pasta water acts as an emulsifier and binder. Slowly stir in 1-2 tablespoons pasta water if your sauce isn’t coming together.
5. Simmer gently
Once the ingredients come together, cook over low heat for 1-2 minutes. This allows the flavors to mingle without breaking the emulsion.
6. Stir continuously
Stirring continuously with a whisk or wooden spoon prevents the sauce from curdling or separating.
7. Remove from heat
As soon as the sauce is smooth and creamy, remove it from the heat. This prevents overcooking.
How to Thicken Alfredo Sauce
If your alfredo sauce comes out too thin, there are a few easy ways to thicken it:
Add more cheese
Grating in some extra parmesan cheese will help thicken the sauce through the starch molecules it contains.
Allowing the sauce to simmer for 2-3 minutes longer will allow more water to evaporate, leaving a thicker consistency.
Whisk in cream cheese
Add 1-2 ounces room temperature cream cheese and whisk vigorously to incorporate. This adds fat and stability.
Use a roux
Whisking a butter-flour roux into the alfredo sauce will help thicken it nicely. Use 1 tablespoon each butter and flour per 1 cup liquid.
Finish with cornstarch
Mix 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 teaspoon cold water. Slowly stir into simmering sauce until desired thickness is reached.
How Long Does Alfredo Sauce Last?
Properly stored alfredo sauce will last:
|Plain Alfredo Sauce||3-4 days||2-3 months|
|Alfredo with Vegetables||3-4 days||2-3 months|
|Alfredo with Chicken||3-4 days||2-3 months|
To maximize freshness, use alfredo sauce within 3-4 days. For longer storage, freeze the sauce in airtight containers. Thaw frozen sauce overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Reheated alfredo sauce may appear broken or curdled. To restore a smooth consistency, stir in a teaspoon or two of cream and reheat gently. Always boil or simmer the pasta in the sauce, rather than topping cooked pasta with alfredo sauce. The starch on the pasta helps bind the sauce.
In summary, alfredo sauce will thicken up as it cools due to the solidification of fats, starch gelatinization, and water evaporation. Making the sauce with warm dairy, cooking over gentle heat, and stirring constantly will help prevent curdling. To thicken a thin sauce, simmer longer, add more cheese, use a roux, or finish with cornstarch. Stored properly in the fridge or freezer, alfredo sauce will keep for several days to months. Reheating leftover sauce gently with a little added cream will help restore a silky texture. Tossing just-cooked hot pasta in alfredo sauce is the very best way to enjoy this luxurious Italian classic.