Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Your family will go crazy for this baked macaroni and cheese recipe! Sinfully creamy & gooey, with a 3-cheese blend that gives a perfect balance of flavors.
Today I’m here for you, with another classic comfort food dish: macaroni and cheese!
You probably remember from my last chocolate pound cake post how all I want to do lately is make comfort food. Life is really hard right now! And nothing makes you feel like everything is going to be ok quite like fat and carbs.
Whenever I really want a treat, I allow myself to indulge in one of my favorites, like chocolate chip cookies, or soft, yeasty bread slathered with butter, or homemade cinnamon rolls with gooey cream cheese frosting on top.
It makes me feel so much better!
Macaroni and cheese is right up there too. It’ so cheesy and savory and ooey-gooey good!
This is my go-to recipe and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you. You are going to love how rich and creamy it is, and the seasonings are absolutely incredible. I use a blend of cheeses that creates the perfect balance of savory, funky, milky, and tangy, and you can make this on the stovetop OR bake it in the oven, for a main course or side dish that will make you feel all the warm fuzzies.
Read on, for everything you ever wanted to know about the best ever mac n cheese recipe!
HOW TO MAKE MACARONI AND CHEESE
This recipe has 3 main parts:
- Creamy Sauce
Let’s start with the pasta!
I like to use elbow macaroni for this recipe, because it’s traditional and I love the way the little hole in the middle fills up with creamy cheese sauce. YUM!
But you can use whatever type of pasta you like. Just be sure to boil it in lots of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean), and undercook it slightly. Drain the noodles one minute before the directions on the box say. This will help your final product to be extra-creamy and delish!
Toss the macaroni in a little bit of butter while it’s still hot, to keep it from sticking together while you prepare the other components.
- Extra-sharp Cheddar (for the salty tang)
- Gruyere (for that nutty, funky flavor)
- Mozzarella (for the mild, milky-sweetness and the way it melts so gooey and stretchy)
To me, these 3 cheeses, along with the spices in the cream sauce, combine for the perfect balance. But you can feel free to sub in any of your favorites!
I also think these would be great choices:
- Pecorino or Parmesan
- Brie or Camembert
- Blue Cheese
- Goat Cheese
- Gouda or Smoked Gouda
- Colby or Colby Jack
- American Cheese
Just to name a few!
Whatever you decide to use, do yourself a favor and grate it yourself. Don’t buy the pre-shredded stuff! It contains additives that prevent it from melting smoothly. It’s so much creamier when you take a few extra minutes to shred your own cheese. I run mine through the food processor and it’s done in seconds.
THE CREAMY SAUCE
Once your noodles are boiled and your cheese is shredded, it’s time to start the sauce.
Begin by making a roux (pronounced “roo”). This sounds fancy but it’s just melted butter mixed with flour. It will thicken the sauce, give it body, and make it so velvety.
Once the flour and butter are combined, whisk in a little of the milk.
Whisk it really well so there are no lumps, then add in the rest of the liquid. I like a combination of milk and cream, but you could substitute half and half if that’s something you keep on hand.
Turn up the heat just a little and allow the sauce to thicken. It should be the consistency of like an alfredo sauce. When you dip the back of a spoon into it, it should coat it thickly. Run a finger down it, and it should leave a trail.
Now you have what’s called a bechamel sauce (besh-uh-MEL).
Next, add your seasonings. I absolutely love the blend of salt, garlic, dry mustard, paprika, and black pepper. It brings out all the best in the cheeses!
The last step is to let the cheese melt in. We are only going to use 1/3 of the shredded cheese, so the rest can get layered in and sprinkled on top.
Stir in a handful at a time, allowing each addition to fully melt in before adding the next. This is how you make Mornay sauce!
Once all the cheese has been added, pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni, and stir it together. Heavenly!
If you want, you can stop right there. That will give you stovetop mac n cheese and it’s fan-freaking-tastic.
But I like to take it over the top. Baking it in a casserole dish, with layers of gooey melted cheese running all throughout, is definitely a good move.
ASSEMBLING THE BAKED MACARONI AND CHEESE CASSEROLE
This dish goes like this: saucy noodles on the bottom, then melted cheese, more saucy noodles, more melted cheese. It’s 4 layers of saucy, cheesy goodness, and I got the idea to do it this way from The Chunky Chef. Girlfriend knows what is up.
Pour half of the sauced macaroni into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Then sprinkle on another 1/3 of the cheese blend.
Next, layer on the remaining half of macaroni, and top that with the last 1/3 of the cheese.
Pop this into the oven until the cheese is bubbly and melted. I like it when the edges are just barely beginning to turn brown and crispy, but the middle is still really saucy and creamy. In my oven, this only takes about 15 minutes.
If you like it extra bubbly and browned, run it under the broiler for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
WHAT MAKES THIS MACARONI AND CHEESE RECIPE SO EXTRA-CREAMY
If you’ve ever had baked macaroni and cheese that’s dry or grainy then you know what I’m talking about here. We want our mac n cheese luscious and saucy and CREAMY! Creamy mac n cheese is the best mac n cheese.
I have a few tricks up my sleeve with this recipe that make it the creamiest around:
- Undercooking the pasta just slightly prevents the noodles from going mushy and it keeps them separate from the sauce. The sauce stays loose and liquid, and it flows all around the macaroni, which is SO GOOD.
- We already talked about shredding our own cheese above. This is really key.
- Also, the sauce to pasta ratio is quite heavy on sauce. I learned this one from Food52. It may look like it’s too much, but trust me. This is what you want.
- And the bake time is short. The longer this is in the oven, the more the proteins in the cheese will tense up and clump. Bake it just until the cheese is melty, and you’ll be rewarded with the creamiest result.
And one final tip: This dish is best served fresh from the oven! Try to time it so you’re eating it at its ooey-gooey best.
I personally don’t mind this as a meal in itself, but you can really round it out as a balanced main dish by adding in a few handfuls of meat and/or vegetables.
- Crumbled Bacon
- Turkey or Chicken
- Lobster or Shrimp
- Ground Beef
- Cauliflower or Broccoli
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Sauteed Onion
- Butternut Squash or Pumpkin
- Spinach and Artichoke Hearts
CAN THIS RECIPE BE SCALED UP OR DOWN?
This recipe will work just as well if you halve or even quarter it. And if you need to scale it up, it’s no problem at all. Just make sure you have a big enough bowl to hold it all!
CAN MAC N CHEESE BE MADE AHEAD?
This is really best served immediately, but if you need to make it ahead, here is what I recommend:
- Cook the macaroni, shred the cheese, and make the sauce, keeping all 3 components separate until just before you’re ready to serve it.
- Then, rewarm the sauce over low heat, stirring often.
- When the sauce is heated through, combine it with the pasta and layer it in the pan with the remaining cheese.
- Bake it off and serve.
If you need to buy yourself a little extra time, keep it warm in the oven on the lowest possible setting.
You *could* assemble it and keep it in the fridge or freezer, but I find the above method preferable because the macaroni will absorb a lot of the sauce as it sits.
HOW TO STORE LEFTOVER MACARONI AND CHEESE
While it’s best served fresh from the oven, the leftovers are still so dang good. Wrap them tightly and store them in the fridge. They’ll keep there for 5 to 7 days or so.
It can be frozen too- just thaw it in the fridge and reheat it as follows:
In the microwave, for short, 20-second bursts on full power, stirring after each, until warmed through. Or, in the oven, covered, on very low heat (200-ish?) until melty.
A FEW MORE OF MY FAVORITE CHEESY DISHES:
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Your family will go crazy for this baked macaroni & cheese recipe! Sinfully creamy and gooey, with a 3-cheese blend that gives a perfect balance of flavors.
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni
- 12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese (should yield about 3 cups shredded)
- 8 ounces gruyere cheese (should yield about 2 cups shredded)
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese (I use part-skim), (should yield about 1 cup shredded)
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), plus 1 tablespoon extra for the noodles
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk (whatever kind you usually buy)
- 1 cup cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large pot filled with salty water, boil the macaroni for one minute less than the package directions.
Drain the pasta in a large colander, then toss with the additional 1 tablespoon of butter to coat the noodles and prevent sticking.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly mist a 9x13 casserole dish with non-stick spray.
Melt the remaining 1/2 cup of butter in a large pot over low heat, and stir in the flour until a smooth paste forms.
Slowly pour in 1 cup of the milk, while whisking.
When no lumps remain, add the rest of the milk and the cream.
Turn the heat up to medium and allow the sauce to thicken slightly (it should coat the back of a spoon).
Whisk in the salt, garlic powder, dry mustard, paprika, and pepper.
Whisk in about 1/3 of the shredded cheese, a handful at a time, allowing each addition to fully melt in before adding the next.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni, and stir until combined.
Transfer half the mixture to the prepared baking dish, then top with another 1/3 of the shredded cheese.
Layer the remaining mac and cheese on top, then sprinkle on the last 1/3 of cheese and bake until the cheese is melted (about 15 minutes).
Optional: Broil the top of the baked macaroni and cheese until bubbly and browned (3 to 5 minutes).