Cauliflower Gratin
Baked, Sides, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Cauliflower gratin (‘Blumenkohlauflauf’)

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Last Updated on 4 years by Tim

A creamy sauce topped with melted cheese and crispy breadcrumbs. That’s what cauliflower gratin is all about.

Preparing gratins is almost as joyful as eating them. All the anticipation that builds up once the gratin goes into the oven. It excites me to see the sauce gently bubbling away while the cheese melts and starts browning on top. A delightful smell starts building up in my kitchen. And even though the gratin is piping hot fresh out of the oven, I can never resist the urge to instantly take a bite.

I’ve burnt my tongue countless times but I guess that’s part of the experience. I can’t think of any dish better suited for a rainy Sunday evening than cauliflower gratin.

But before you jump straight into the recipe, here are some tips to nail this dish on your first try.

Why the cauliflower should always be precooked

I can’t stress enough the importance of precooking your ingredients whenever you’re preparing a gratin. May it be potato, kohlrabi, or, like in this recipe, cauliflower gratin. The vegetables won’t get tender enough otherwise. And no one enjoys brick-solid vegetables in his gratin.


Five minutes of precooking the cauliflower in boiling salted water are sufficient for this recipe. I also add white wine vinegar to the cooking water which helps to preserve the white color of the cauliflower florets.

There are many different approaches on how to sauce cauliflower. The simplest way to sauce cauliflower gratin is to use heavy cream. Season the cream with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Done.

A more sophisticated way would be to prepare a Sauce Béchamel that can be enriched with cheese. Or in the summertime, substitute the Sauce Béchamel with tomato sauce.

For my sauce, I use the cauliflower stem. It’s a part of the cauliflower that often gets trimmed off and ends up in the trashcan. But just like broccoli stems, the cauliflower stem is completely edible and packed with flavor. I cook it in milk just until tender and then puree it into a creamy sauce. The flavor intensity you will get in the finished gratin using this method is incredible.

If you’re a regular reader, you might’ve noticed by now that I love shallots. I use them in my sauces instead of onions because they’re milder in taste than regular onions. Cauliflower by itself has a rather subtle aroma which you don’t want to overpower with sharp-tasting onions. However, if you can’t source shallots, feel free to use regular onions instead

Cauliflower gratin in the oven

How to bake your cauliflower gratin in the oven

Cauliflower gratin is the ideal candidate for a make-ahead meal. Precook the cauliflower, make the sauce, mix, and let the flavors mingle inside a casserole dish. Shortly before baking, sprinkle with shredded cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for half an hour and dinner is ready. Perfect if you’re hosting a dinner party.

The cheeses I like to use for cauliflower gratin are Emmental or mountain cheese. They taste nutty and melt well. However, you can substitute any mild-tasting cheese that you have on hand.

For the last few minutes of baking, I recommend you to turn on your broiler. This will ensure a crisp crust and give the top these beautiful brown spots we all love.

Cauliflower gratin goes well with pan-fried plaice or pan-fried potatoes.


  1. Yum, I love cauliflower! Tim do you have a good recipe for roulade?

    • Thank’s Maria! Unfortunately, I haven’t published a recipe for beef rouladen yet. While browsing for recipes on the web, I couldn’t find any English recipe that does them the way I learned to make them. There was always something off. I guess it’s time for me to get working on my own rouladen recipe. The recipe on this blog: looks good. However, don’t use whole grain mustard for the filling. It’s best to spread the beef with a thin layer of regular, smooth mustard. Instead of frying the rouladen in olive oil, use clarified butter and omit the extra mustard that’s in the gravy. Dill pickles and bacon are great in rouladen but if you want to make them the traditional German way it’s best to use cornichons (pickled baby cucumbers) and fatty smoked black forest ham slices. As a side note, rouladen are almost never served with mashed potatoes as this recipe indicates. It’s best served with plain boiled potatoes or spätzle. I hope this was helpful and that I can provide more traditional recipes in the future on my own blog. I just started out 3 months ago, so there’s not a ton of content on my blog yet. But I hope my readers keep coming back for more. Happy cooking, Tim.

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  3. I visited Germany many years ago (ich war eine austauschstudentin) and I have been looking for this particular recipe for a long time. It was cauliflower based and it was served with an off white sauce (I don’t think it was bechamel but it could have been) and my classmates said it was a dish from Hanover. It didn’t have breadcrumbs, but everything else seems right. Excited to finally find something to try that seems like it is that dish.

    • How nice that you had the chance to visit Germany, Jen! As you guessed correctly, the sauce for the cauliflower is most commonly a plain bechamel sauce. The version on my blog is a bit more complex. It gives a more intense cauliflower taste. But if you prefer a smoother sauce or don’t want to have a lot of effort, this dish can be as simple as baking cauliflower and bechamel sauce covered with cheese in the oven.

      I think cauliflower gratin is not just popular in Hannover, but can be found all over Western and Northern Europe. It’s a simple comfort food that everyone prepares a little different. – Tim

  4. Made this dish and it was excellent! Thanks for the great recipe!

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