A classic homemade baked mac and cheese recipe is one of my favorite dishes.
Tender elbow macaroni is smothered in a rich homemade cheese sauce and then baked under a crispy butter crumb topping until golden brown and bubbly.
This mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.
A Favorite Baked Mac and Cheese
- Cheesy, creamy, and loaded with tons of cheddar flavor, baked mac and cheese is always a crowd-pleaser!
- This recipe uses everyday ingredients and turns them into a decadent cheesy dish.
- This can be a side dish or a budget-friendly main dish.
- Keep it as a vegetarian entrée or hearty side dish, or add leftover cooked chicken, ham, bacon, or even sliced summer sausage.
Ingredients for Baked Mac and Cheese
Pasta – Classic mac is made with elbow macaroni; however, any small-ish shape will work. Elbows, shells, penne, and rotelle are all great options.
Cheese Sauce – This sauce starts with butter and flour to make a roux (don’t worry, it’s really easy!). Milk and cream make this mac and cheese sauce really rich and creamy.
Cheese – Sharp Cheddar is my favorite choice for a classic mac and cheese recipe. If you’d like, add a little Gruyere (or swiss) for a bolder flavor. Feel free to use your favorite cheeses like gouda, white cheddar cheese, colby jack, or a blend of your favorites. Be sure at least half of the cheese is a sharp or bold cheese for the best flavor.
Toppings – Baked mac and cheese is perfect on its own! But if a topping is in order, make a quick topping using breadcrumbs or a Panko topping. Bacon bits, diced tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, or green chiles are tasty toppings as well.
How to Make Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese has achieved superstar status all over the world, and it’s easy to prepare:
- Boil pasta: Cook pasta al dente (firm), drain, and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
- Make the sauce: Make a roux by cooking flour, seasonings, and butter. Whisk in milk, cream, and seasonings. Cook until thickened per the recipe below.
- Stir in cheese: Remove from heat and add cheeses; whisk until smooth. Stir in cooked elbows and spread in a casserole dish.
- Bake: Add topping and bake until the top is browned and bubbly. Let it rest before serving.
For An Extra Creamy Mac and Cheese
Be sure not to overbake the macaroni and cheese. Everything in the dish is already cooked, the purpose of heating it is to blend the flavors and to get a browned topping.
Once heated through, the macaroni is done!
Tips for Creamy Mac and Cheese
- Cook pasta to a perfect al dente to avoid mushy noodles.
- Shred your own cheese! Pre-shredded cheeses have additives that can keep them from clumping which also makes it so they don’t melt smoothly.
- Remove sauce from the heat before adding cheese to keep it from separating or getting grainy.
- Do not overbake (or the mac and cheese will be dry). Once the macaroni is bubbling and heated and the topping is browned, you know it is ready. Everything is cooked, the baking is to meld the flavors and brown the topping.
- Mac and cheese can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
How to Prepare Mac and Cheese Ahead of Time
- To make ahead, prepare the recipe as directed without baking. Cover and chill until ready to reheat in the oven or assemble and bake later.
- If making ahead, once the sauce is mixed with the pasta, I like to stir in an additional ½ cup of cheddar cheese to the cooled dish. Since the pasta will soak up a little of the sauce, I find this keeps it nice and creamy.
- Remove the mac and cheese from the fridge at least 30 minutes (or up to 60 minutes) before baking. You may need to add extra baking time if it is cold from the fridge. Do not overbake.
How To Freeze
Homemade mac and cheese can be prepared ahead of time and frozen before baking.
- Line a baking dish with aluminum foil add the macaroni and cheese. Freeze in the baking dish.
- Once frozen, lift the foil out of the baking dish and wrap it tightly (this allows you to use the baking dish while the macaroni is frozen).
- To bake: Put the foil-lined mac and cheese back into the same baking dish. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before baking. You may need to add a little bit of cooking time.
Store any leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days and reheat in the oven, on the stovetop, or in the microwave.
Freeze leftover portions in an airtight container or a freezer bag for up to three months.
More Cheesy Baked Pasta
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Baked Mac and Cheese
Macaroni noodles are tossed in a creamy, cheesy sauce, topped with a buttery crumb mixture, and baked until hot and bubbly.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cook the macaroni al dente according to the package directions. Drain well, run under cold water, and set aside.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and onion powder and cook for 2 minutes.
Whisk in milk, cream, and seasonings over medium heat. Continue to stir until the mixture thickens. Let boil for 1 minute while stirring.
Remove the sauce from the heat and add cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese. Whisk until melted.
Stir in macaroni and pour into a 9×13 casserole dish.
Top with crumb mixture and bake 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and topping is browned. Do not overcook.
Cheese: Use 3 ½ cups of cheddar cheese as directed in the recipe, or substitute ½ cup of the cheddar cheese for Gruyère if desired. Pre-shredded cheese is not recommended; does not melt as smoothly. Remove the sauce from the heat before adding in the cheese. Pasta: Cook pasta just until al dente (firm), as it will cook more as it bakes. Baking: It’s very important that this is not overcooked or it won’t be creamy. Cook just until hot and the topping is browned. Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Topping: Adding bread crumbs to the topping is optional, this mac and cheese can be topped with just cheese if you’d prefer. Make Ahead: Mac and Cheese can be prepared 2 days ahead of time and refrigerated before serving. If making ahead, once the sauce is mixed with the pasta, I like to stir in a bit of extra shredded cheese (about ½ cup or so) to the slightly cooled dish. This is optional but will melt as the dish bakes and help keep it creamy. If preparing ahead, store the topping in a separate dish or sandwich bag and sprinkle on top before baking. If you’ve made this ahead, remove it from the fridge 30-60 minutes before baking. You may need to add extra baking time if it is cold from the fridge. Leftovers can be kept covered in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Serving: 1cup | Calories: 650 | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 34g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 100mg | Sodium: 630mg | Potassium: 332mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1135IU | Calcium: 634mg | Iron: 1.7mg
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
Course Main Course, Side Dish Cuisine American
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