Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
Creamy homemade baked mac and cheese recipe is made with five cheeses blended together with a creamy béchamel sauce, tossed with macaroni pasta and topped with a crisp, buttery panko topping. This Baked Macaroni and Cheese is sure to become your favorite recipe of all time.
Baked Mac and Cheese
Craving all the comfort food right now. I’m sure you are, too. Things that are smothered in cheese, dipped in butter, swimming in sauce. And then I’ll eat a salad. It’s all about balance, it’s the way I live. A little bit of everything you like to eat…just in moderation.
But all bets are off when stressful situations are smacking you in the face daily. When the only thing that helps is a creamy, cheesy, baked mac and cheese that’s like a blanket for your soul.
What is Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
Macaroni and Cheese, also called mac and cheese or mac n cheese, is a creamy pasta dish that can be made on the stovetop or baked in the oven. Originating in the United States, baked mac and cheese is most often served as a side dish but can also be served as the main dish.
It’s made with a creamy bechamel sauce blended with cheese, most often cheddar, and then combined with pasta. This old fashioned macaroni and cheese recipe is topped with a buttery panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden brown.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
Homemade Baked Macaroni and Cheese will be the new star of the show for dinner….and beyond. It’s amazingly creamy with an ooey, gooey sauce and topped with a buttery panko crust.
It’s so simple to make and can be assembled in advance for an easy side dish that will soon be a family favorite. It’s the most epic comfort food.
This recipe is more of a Southern Mac and Cheese rendition similar to one I loved in South Carolina. I added five cheeses for more depth of flavor, sharpness and gooey goodness.
- Cook your pasta for 5 minutes and then drain immediately. Set aside.
- Make the bechamel sauce by melting the butter and sprinkling with flour to create a paste. Stir and cook until golden brown. Slowly add the milk and cream. Stir in the nutmeg and cook until thickened.
- Stir in the cheese and mix with the pasta. Transfer to a prepared baking dish and top with the panko breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake until bubbling and golden brown.
- Serve immediately!
What is the best cheese for Mac and Cheese?
This recipe calls for five different cheeses to create the most epic flavor BUT I find that a sharp cheddar or some variation of cheddar works best. Cheddar cheese is amazing in macaroni and cheese because it melts smoothly without breaking.
Gouda, havarti, parmesan and Fontina cheeses are also fabulous to use in your macaroni and cheese recipe.
What is the best pasta for macaroni and cheese?
I like to use a short cut or curly pasta so it can hold onto the cheese for the perfect bite each time. A longer spaghetti won’t work as well because the cheese sauce doesn’t have anything to creep into and hold onto when you take a bite.
An elbow macaroni is my favorite to use in mac and cheese because the cheese sauce sinks into the little hole and gets caught int the hook. Gemelli or corkscrew pasta is my next favorite for obvious reasons….all those spirals catch the cheese sauce so beautifully.
Tips for the Best Mac and Cheese
- When cooking your pasta, salt the water generously. This is the only time you can actually season the inside of the pasta and it adds a lot of flavor.
- Cook your pasta to just under al dente. If you cook your pasta completely, it will become mushy and fall apart when baking. Undercooked pasta will also absorb some of the flavor from the cheese sauce while baking.
- Grate your own cheese. Buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself instead of buying a bag of shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is coated in cellulose (an anti-caking agent) and doesn’t melt as well.
- Cook the roux properly. The roux is equal parts butter and flour, this is the base of your béchamel sauce. It is what makes your sauce thick, creamy and smooth. Be sure to cook the butter and flour until the flour smell cooks out but not so much that it ends up browning and then slowly whisk in the milk. If you don’t cook the roux long enough, you could end up with lumps in your sauce. The temperature of the milk doesn’t matter as much as slowly adding it to your roux. If you warm the milk ahead of time it will just make your sauce thicken a little more quickly.
- Get creative with your pasta shapes. I love using elbow pasta but you can use any short cut shaped pasta you want.
What To Serve It With
If I’m serving it as a side dish, it’s FANTASTIC with this Thanksgiving Turkey…really, anytime of the year. Or serve it with my favorite Roast Chicken. It’s also amazing with these super easy Baked Chicken Breasts.
More Easy Pasta and Cheese Recipes
- Baked Chicken Florentine Pasta
- Easy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe // Video
- The Very Best Lobster Mac and Cheese Recipe
- Buffalo Chicken Pasta Recipe
For more easy dinner ideas, follow us on Instagram and Facebook and check out this article on easy dinner ideas for busy weeknights!
Get the Recipe: Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
For the Panko Breadcrumb Topping:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups panko, Japanese breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Macaroni and Cheese:
- 1 pound dried small shape pasta
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 tablespoons mustard powder
- 2 cups grated extra-sharp white cheddar
- 1 cup grated havarti
- 1 cup grated munster
- 1 cup grated gouda
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 baking dish
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Coat a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- Bring a large covered pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the butter until butter foam subsides. Add panko and garlic powder. Stirring constantly, cook until crumbs are golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer panko mixture to a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan and salt. Set aside.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook until just al dente (the pasta will still be firm but not crunchy). Drain pasta and set aside.
- In a large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the butter, whisking to combine and make a roux. (It will look like a paste.) Continue cooking, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the roux is light brown and no longer smells like raw flour, about 4 minutes.
- Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate and create a béchamel sauce. Stir in the nutmeg. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a low boil, whisking constantly.
- Reduce to a simmer, whisking occasionally, and cook until the béchamel sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 4-5 minutes.
- Stir in the salt, pepper, and mustard powder. Add the cheeses, 1 cup at a time, whisking until each addition is completely melted before adding more. Remove from heat.
- Stir the drained pasta into the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer macaroni mixture to the prepared baking dish and place on a rimmed baking sheet covered with foil.
- Sprinkle topping evenly over pasta.
- Bake until golden and bubbling, approximately 20-25 minutes.
- Allow to cool 15 minutes before serving.