This Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese is creamy and cheesy with a golden crispy and tasty topping. This baked macaroni and cheese recipe is the ultimate comfort food!
Macaroni and Cheese seems to be the ultimate side dish! It is perfect served during the holidays, at dinner parties, cookouts, barbecues and is always one of the most popular potluck dishes. A cheesy mac and cheese is equally loved by kids and adults, especially in my family!
Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese pairs extremely well with so many dishes, like this Pressure Cooker Rotisserie Style Chicken and this tasty and always Perfect Pan Seared Steak. The pairing possibilities are endless and delicious!
Of course there are so many mac and cheese recipes. One of our favorite macaroni and cheese variations is this Mac and Cheese Carbonara with bacon (yes bacon!). It is so addicting that you will not be able to stop yourself from eating it all.
For me, the best mac and cheese is made with more than one type of cheese and is also made with a bechamel sauce that starts with a basic roux. A roux is simply a combination of fat and flour.
In this baked mac and cheese recipe, I start by making a roux by melting butter and then whisking in the flour. This mixture is cooked for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste and smell but not long enough to get golden brown. Then, milk and Half and Half are whisked in to create a creamy bechamel sauce. The smooth and velvety sauce then turns into a mac and cheese sauce when you add the cheeses. In French cuisine, this sauce is called Mornay Sauce and is usually made with Gruyere cheese.
I know a lot of people skip the roux and milk approach and prefer using straight processed cheese. If you like Velveeta Mac and Cheese, I am absolutely sure you will also enjoy this rich and tasty Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese.
PRO TIP: You know the sauce consistency is right and ready for the cheese addition when your finger leaves a path mark on a sauce coated spoon (see picture above). All you have to do is – coat the spoon with sauce (you can do this just by stirring the sauce) and carefully – as it will be hot – rub your finger through the spoon as if drawing a path. If it leaves a mark, add the cheese. If it doesn’t, keep simmering until ready! Adding the cheese too soon can cause the cheese sauce to break and turn oily.
Other Tips for Making the Best Mac and Cheese
- Cook the macaroni pasta (or any other short shaped pasta) until al dente (firm and slightly under cooked). This will prevent the pasta from getting mushy and too soft while baking.
- Cook the pasta in salted water. Use plenty of salt as pasta needs it.
- After the pasta is cooked, drain it and place it in a mixing bowl or back in the pot (if you want to have less cleaning to do) and drizzle some olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking. Butter can be used instead of the olive oil.
- Do not over bake this Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese. If you want your topping a bit more golden brown, place the mac and cheese casserole under the broiler for a couple of minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions about Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
- Can I use pre-shredded cheese to make homemade mac and cheese? Pre-shredded cheese contains additives that prevent the cheese from naturally sticking together. The additives also change the way cheese naturally melts. I highly recommend shredding the cheese yourself if you want a creamy, velvety and smooth sauce.
- Do you cover the mac and cheese while baking? No. Whether you top your baked mac and cheese with shredded cheese or with a bread crumb or panko topping, you want the top to be golden and crispy.
- What type of pasta should I use for Baked Macaroni and Cheese? Use a pasta that can hold the cheesy sauce. Small shaped pasta like Elbows and Farfalle and small ridged shapes like Cavatappi, Rotini and Shells work best. Avoid long pasta like spaghetti and fettuccine.
- What are the best cheeses for homemade macaroni and cheese? Sharp Cheddar, White Cheddar, Gruyere cheese, Fontina cheese, Mozzarella and Gouda are great and popular options. Some people love adding Parmesan cheese to their Mac and Cheese recipe, although delicious in flavor the texture will not be as smooth when mixing Parmesan into the cheese sauce. Parmesan creates a bit of a grainy texture. If this is not an issue for you, by all means go for it! Otherwise, I suggest you add Parmesan cheese to the crispy breadcrumb topping.
- Can I eat this Mac and Cheese Casserole without baking it? If you want to eat this homemade macaroni and cheese without baking it first, either skip the topping or toast the topping separately on a skillet and then top the cheesy pasta with it.
- Do I have to add nutmeg to this recipe? You can skip the nutmeg if you prefer however, nutmeg is a wonderful spice to add to any white sauce like creamy bechamel.
- You can use other add-ins for the panko topping. Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese are great options.
- Looking for classic comfort food side dishes?
My Creamy Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes are made quickly and without draining.
This Skillet Apple and Sausage Stuffing recipe is made in just one pot! Perfect for the holiday season!
My Maple Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes are absolutely delicious and easy to make.
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Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound dry macaroni pasta
- 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups Half and Half
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
- 3 cups Sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1 cup White Cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup panko
- 3 tablespoons butter melted
- 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 x 13 (3 Qt) baking dish with butter and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes less than the cooking time indicated on the package. Drain, transfer the pasta to a large bowl and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil or butter to keep from sticking. Toss the pasta until well coated.
- In a large saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter (do not allow it to brown). Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine. Continue to cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk in a thin, steady stream, Slowly pour the half and half whisking constantly until combined and smooth,
- Whisk in the black pepper, pinch of nutmeg, garlic powder and ground mustard and heat, stirring, until sauce comes to a simmer and begins to thicken.This will take about 6 - 8 minutes. When the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon, you should be able to draw a path with your finger. Then you know the sauce is ready.
- Reduce the heat to low and working in increments, add the cheddar cheese stirring until well combined and completely melted. Add the Gruyere cheese and mix well. The sauce should be smooth and creamy. Remove from the stove.
- Pour the cheese sauce into the cooked pasta and mix until evenly coated. Add the White Cheddar cheese and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the cheesy pasta into the baking dish and smooth the top into an even layer. Sprinkle the panko topping and bake for 20 minutes. If the top is not golden enough, place the baking dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes. Keep an eye on it.
- Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.
- After adding the cheese, do not let the sauce boil.
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