Still the best Baked Mac and Cheese I’ve ever had, with a stunning white creamy cheese sauce and a buttery breadcrumb topping. This is THE Macaroni Cheese recipe that’s wildly popular every Thanksgiving and Christmas!
This is a reader-favourite recipe included by popular demand in my debut cookbook “Dinner”!
Baked Mac and Cheese
I don’t want to be morbid, but if I had to choose a Last Meal, this Baked Mac and Cheese may possibly be it. Put me in a room with Macaroni Cheese, and neither of us stand a chance. Said Mac and Cheese would be ravaged.
And of all the Mac and Cheeses in the world, this is still the best Mac and Cheese I’ve ever had!
About this Macaroni and Cheese
This is a Mac and Cheese recipe that is everything you want in a knock-your-socks off Macaroni Cheese – cheesy and creamy, with perfectly cooked macaroni (no bloated pasta!), plenty of sauce and a crunchy buttery top (essential in my world!)
What goes in Baked Mac and Cheese
Here’s what you need. Cheese. Butter. Pasta. All the essential food groups covered!😂
Best pasta for Mac and Cheese?
Macaroni, also known as elbow pasta. But really, any short pasta will work just fine – penne, ziti, twirls etc.
Best cheese for Mac and Cheese?
A combination of Gruyere and mozzarella cheese. Gruyere for the most superior flavour with the best melting qualities for creamy sauces such as this – there’s no contention in my view. And mozzarella for stretch – nothing does the cheese pull like a good mozzarella!
But honestly, any cheese that melts well works is excellent with Mac and Cheese, such as cheddar, tasty, Colby, Swiss, Pepper Jack, Emmental.
NO! You do NOT need it. This sauce is rich enough as it is from the butter and cheese. Cream makes it so rich you can’t eat more than a few spoonfuls. How disappointing!!!
How to make Baked Mac and Cheese
It’s a straightforward recipe, starting with a basic butter-flour roux that is used to thicken milk to make the cheese sauce. For first timers, I think the short video below will help give you the confidence that you’ve got this!
The simple trick to avoid lumps in the Mac and Cheese Sauce is to pour the milk in slowly while constantly stirring, then just switch to a whisk if needed to remove any stubborn lumps!
Tips for the BEST Mac & Cheese!
Freshly grated cheese – don’t use pre shredded. They have anti caking agents that can make the sauce grainy.
No bloated overcooked pasta – Cool macaroni slightly and lightly coat in butter. This stops the macaroni from absorbing more liquid while baking, resulting in bloated overcooked pasta (hot pasta absorbs liquid faster, butter creates thin film of protection) and less sauce.
To avoid lumps in your sauce, stir constantly as you slowly pour the milk in and keep stirring once the milk is all added. If necessary, switch to a whisk to get rid of stubborn little lumps!
Plenty of sauce – Because I like my Mac and Cheese saucy, not dried up so you can cut it like cake!
Can you make Mac and Cheese ahead of time? Most recipes are not suitable for making ahead, but this recipe is! The best way is to cool pasta then toss with sauce and adding breadcrumb topping. Cool, refrigerate or freeze then bake on the day of (see recipe Note 5 for baking time).
How long can Mac and Cheese stay in the fridge? Unlike most, this Macaroni Cheese recipe is good for 3 to 5 days in the fridge. Most Mac and Cheese will not keep well because there’s not enough sauce so it gets absorbed by the pasta and you’re left with dry, sauceless pasta.
Freezing? Yes! Assemble, cool, do not bake, just freeze it. Thaw then on the day of, bake per Note 5 in the recipe.
Add ins? This recipe is great as it is, but there’s tons of add-in options. Add shredded chicken, sautéed onion and bell peppers/capsicum, bacon, hot sauce (for heat!), dried herbs of choice.
What to serve with Baked Mac and Cheese
Mac and Cheese is worthy of serving as a meal in its own right, served with just a fresh green salad or simple vegetable side. Nothing heavy because Macaroni Cheese is so rich as it is!
As a side dish, it will compliment virtually any non-Asian main dish. From simple Baked Pork Chops to Steak, a Roast Chicken to Crispy Garlic Chicken Thighs, the only things I probably would not serve with Mac and Cheese would be very light summery mains such as a Tuna Tartare – just a little too much contrast.
And of course, festive gatherings! Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter – alongside a grand Roast Turkey or your Herb & Garlic Butter Slathered Turkey Breast, the juicy Roast Pork with impossibly Crispy Crackling or your Prime Rib that’s so perfectly blushing pink all the way through, it makes you want to weep.
Holidays would not be the same without this Mac and Cheese!! – Nagi xx
Baked Mac and Cheese recipe
Watch how to make it
This recipe features in my debut cookbook Dinner. The book is mostly new recipes, but this is a reader favourite included by popular demand!
Baked Mac and Cheese
- 250g / 8 oz macaroni (elbow pasta)
- 1 tbsp (15g) unsalted butter (or 2 tsp oil)
- 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs (Note 1)
- 2 tbsp (30g) unsalted butter , melted
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp (60g) unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup flour , plain / all purpose
- 3 cups milk , warmed (low or full fat)
- 2 cups freshly shredded cheese, gruyere best (followed by cheddar and Colby) (Note 2)
- 1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese , or more other cheese of choice (Note 2)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add macaroni and cook per packet directions MINUS 1 minute.
- Toss in butter: Drain, return pasta to pot, add butter and toss until melted. Set aside to cool while making the Sauce (Optional – Note 3).
- Mix together Topping. Set aside.
Sauce (video is helpful):
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (all oven types).
- Make roux: In a large saucepan or in an ovenproof skillet (I use my 26cm/9" Lodge cast iron skillet), melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
- Add milk: Add about 1 cup of the milk and mix to dissolve the paste into the milk. Then add remaining milk and mix until lump free (use whisk if required).
- Add Seasonings: Mix in salt and Seasonings if using.
- Thicken sauce: Cook, stirring/whisking regularly, for 5 – 8 minutes until thickened to a cream consistency. When the Sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon, you should be able to draw a path with your finger.
- Add cheese: Remove from stove, add cheese and stir – cheese doesn't need to melt.
- Check salt: Adjust salt to taste (if you use recommended cheeses, you won't need more).
- Assemble: Pour Sauce into pot with Macaroni. Stir quickly, then pour back into the skillet (I did this) or a baking dish (Note 4). Sprinkle with breadcrumb topping.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until top is light golden. Don't bake too long otherwise you'll bake away the Sauce!
- Serve: Serve immediately! I sprinkled mine with a bit of fresh parsley. See notes for best make-ahead method.
- Main Cheese (2 cups) – my favourite is gruyere (used in video), for flavour and melting quality. Can use any flavoured melting cheese. Other cheeses I like for this include: cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, provolone. (Australia/NZ: Tasty cheese works & super tasty but sauce is not quite as smooth);
- I like to use mozzarella for the 2nd cheese (1 cup). It melts really well into the sauce, has that nice stretch, and isn’t as oily like other cheese can tend to be. Also, it’s less salty. However, you can just use more of the Main Cheese.
- Always grate your own cheese for cheese sauces. Store bought shredded cheese have anti caking agents which don’t melt so can give the sauce a slight powdery texture.
- SALTINESS of cheeses vary so if you use another cheese other than gruyere for the Main Cheese that is much less salty (eg Jarlsberg), you may need to add a pinch or two of extra salt into the sauce. Taste and check! Most cheeses are of similar salt levels though.
Recipe first published July 2017. Updated a few times since then with better photos, addition of recipe video. Updated November 2021 to reconfirm that it is STILL the best Mac I’ve ever had!! No changes to recipe – readers would never forgive me!!
The RecipeTin Eats MAC & CHEESE COLLECTION
I love a good Mac & Cheese! See??
Baked Mac and Cheese – this recipe, huge reader favourite!
Stovetop Mac and Cheese – one pot, 20 minutes, my best speedy emergency version.
Shrimp Mac and Cheese – outrageously delicious!
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