Baked macaroni and cheese is a comfort food classic. It's creamy and super cheesy and topped with a crispy golden brown panko crumb topping.
This homemade mac and cheese recipe is so simple to make and SO much better than the boxed stuff. It's a perfect side dish for an Easter ham, a Summer barbecue, fried chicken, or just alone as an indulgent main dish.
If you're really in a hurry you can skip the topping and baking and cook it a little longer on the stove top and have it on the table in about 15-20 minutes!
If you have the time it's worth it to bake it with the topping though. The texture from the buttery crunchy topping contrasts with the creamy cheesy sauce and soft pasta to make this dish perfect.
What you'll need to make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Pasta - I like to use classic elbow macaroni in my mac and cheese but almost any tube or small shell pasta will work.
- Béchamel sauce - This is a classic white sauce made with milk or cream thickened with a roux of equal parts flour and butter. Don't be intimidated by the fancy name, it's really easy!
- CHEESE! - That's really what creamy macaroni and cheese is all about, so don't skimp or go light here.
- Topping - For my topping I like to use buttered panko bread crumbs for the extra crunch but again you can get creative here too. Crumbled Ritz crackers work great or you can just add more cheese to the top!
What cheese to use
I usually like to use yellow cheddar as the main cheese for the classic color and then add in another for a little more flavor. You can get creative here but a classic choice is swiss or gruyere to add a nuttier flavor. Smoked gouda is great for a rich smokey flavor.
Whichever you choose just don't use pre-shredded cheese. The anti-clumping additives will prevent it from melting properly and cause your sauce to be grainy, instead of smooth and creamy. For the best results you'll have to shred your own.
How to make mac and cheese
- Cook your noodles a minute or two less than the package instructions so they're a little underdone. They will finish up while baking. If you're making stovetop mac and cheese go ahead and cook them all the way through.
- While the noodles cook, make a roux from equal parts flour and melted butter. Whisk frequently until it turns light golden brown and fragrant.
- Add your milk and cream and whisk constantly until all clumps are gone. Continue to whisk occasionally until thickened. I'm going for a rich creamy sauce here so I like to use cream but if you want to lighten it up a bit you can use all milk. I'd stick with at least 2% though.
- Add your cheese a handful at a time and stir until melted. Repeat until you've added all the cheese then season with salt and pepper to taste.
- After the pasta is cooked and drained add to the cheese sauce and stir until well combined then pour into your baking dish.
- Melt butter and combine with panko then sprinkle evenly over the macaroni and cheese and bake.
Variations of Macaroni and Cheese
- Bacon always goes great!
- Use pepper jack cheese in place of the gruyere and add black beans and corn and for an awesome Tex-Mex version.
- Adding broccoli or peas is a great way to sneak in some veggies for the kids.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded gruyere cheddar cheese
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 3 tbsp butter melted
- Place oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F
- Cook pasta for 7-8 minutes in salted boiling water then drain and set aside.
- While the pasta cooks melt your butter in large pot over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Stir frequently until light golden brown, about 2 minutes.
- Add milk and cream and whisk until well combined and there are no lumps. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes until mixture is thickened then add cheese in batches 1-2 cups at a time, stirring until each batch is fully melted and smooth.
- Season cheese sauce with salt and pepper then add cooked macaroni and stir gently until fully combined.
- Transfer the macaroni and cheese to a baking dish.
- To make topping, melt remaining butter in microwave safe dish then pour over panko and stir until panko crumbs are well coated.
- Sprinkle the topping over the macaroni and cheese then place dish in the oven. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes until topping is lightly browned.
* All nutrition information we provide are estimates based on third party calculators. We encourage you to calculate these on your own for accurate results.