This is the best Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese! Made with 3 different cheeses, this easy homemade mac and cheese recipe has a luscious creamy texture and the tastiest crispy panko topping. Enjoy this baked macaroni and cheese for dinner, any day of the week or as a holiday side dish!
I have made this mac n cheese so many times. I’ve taken it to my in-laws for Thanksgiving and my MIL approved it – which is rare! I swear I saw her having seconds!
The Best Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
Classic homemade mac and cheese with tender macaroni noodles in a creamy cheese sauce is the ultimate comfort food! The perfect side dish or weeknight dinner meal the whole family can agree on, and a popular casserole dish to serve for Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other holiday.
This easy mac n cheese recipe has the best flavor and always comes out super creamy and cheesy. It reheats well and can be made in advanced.
Why You Should Make This Recipe?
- Foolproof Recipe: If one of your favorite things is pasta and you are a cheese lover, you need to have a great recipe for baked mac on your back pocket!
- Family Favorite: Mac and cheese is loved by everyone. This simple recipe for delicious mac is always a big hit. Kids can’t resist it and adults can’t stop eating it!
- Flavor: This homemade macaroni and cheese recipe is rich, creamy, and flavorful. The crispy, golden brown Panko topping takes classic mac to new heights!
Bechamel Mac and Cheese
This recipe for oven baked mac and cheese defines cheesy and creamy in a new way! Elbow Macaroni is tossed with the creamiest cheese sauce made with some of the best cheese for mac and cheese. Sharp cheddar cheese, Gruyere cheese and white cheddar. The result is the best homemade mac and cheese ever!
Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients
Be sure to check the printable recipe card below for the complete ingredient’s list and their exact quantities.
- Pasta: We use the classic elbow pasta but any other short pasta shape can be used.
- Flour: We use all-purpose flour to create a roux that will thickened the cheesy sauce.
- Butter: We usually use unsalted butter but salted butter works as well. Cut it into smaller pieces so it melts quickly and evenly.
- Milk and half and half: The combination of whole milk and half and half creates a velvety rich homemade cheese sauce. For a more decadent and richer sauce, use a combination of heavy cream and half and half. You can use 2% milk instead of whole milk for a lighter sauce.Seasonings: Salt, ground black pepper, nutmeg, garlic powder and dried mustard aka mustard powder. If you want to add some spicy heat, cayenne pepper or a few dashes of hot sauce can be added.
- Cheese: We use a combination of cheeses to make the decadent cheesy sauce. Sharp cheddar cheese, Gruyere cheese and white cheddar cheese. You can use your favorite cheese or a combination of 2-3 type of cheese. It’s best to shred your own cheese at home but if you have to use pre-shredded cheese, that’s Ok.
- Mac n cheese topping: Panko bread crumbs, melted butter and seasoned salt.
How To Make Baked Mac and Cheese with Bechamel
For specific instructions and exact times, please check the printable recipe card below.
For me, the best mac and cheese starts with a béchamel sauce made with a basic roux. The roux in this recipe is made with butter and flour. This is the base of most cheese sauces unless you use processed cheese like Velveeta.
- Prep: Preheat the oven and grease a 3 qt. baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or melted butter.
- Mix topping: In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients.
- Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until almost al dente (about 2 minutes less than the cooking time indicated on the package). Drain, transfer the pasta to a large bowl and toss it with a little bit of olive oil (or butter).
- Make a Roux: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium high heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine. Continue to cook, stirring for about a minute. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk and the half and half until combined and smooth.
- Season Béchamel sauce : Season the creamy béchamel white sauce and simmer until the white sauce thickens. Add the shredded cheese, in small increments, one at a time only adding additional cheese after each cheese addition has melted and incorporated.
- Mix macaroni and cheese sauce: Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and toss well.
- Bake: Spoon the cheesy macaroni into a baking dish and top it with the Panko mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. If the topping is not golden enough, you can place the baking dish under a broiler (6-inches from heat source) and broil for 2-3 minutes.
Béchamel Sauce for Mac Cheese Sauce
What’s Béchamel Sauce?
Béchamel or white sauce is one of the five mother sauces of French Cuisine. These sauces are the building blocks to many others. Béchamel is made with 3 ingredients. Flour, butter and milk (half and half or heavy cream can be used).
This versatile white sauce is the base for many comfort food dishes like cheese sauce, many casseroles, and even soups.
How to Make Béchamel Sauce or White Sauce?
This versatile 3-ingredients sauce is very easy to make. First, make a roux by combining flour and fat (in the case of this macaroni and cheese recipe we use butter). Roux serves as a thickening agent and gives the sauce it’s consistency. Next, whisk in the milk and simmer until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
How to Know When Your Béchamel Sauce is Done?
You know that béchamel sauce is done when it has the right consistency or has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (see photo below). To test for doneness, simply coat a spoon with sauce and rub your finger through the spoon as if drawing a path (be careful the sauce will be hot). If it leaves a mark, the béchamel sauce is done! You can add the cheese and finish the sauce. Adding the cheese too early can break the sauce turning it into an oily mess.
Home Made Mac and Cheese FAQ
Can I Use Pre-Shredded Cheese to Make Homemade Mac and Cheese?
For the creamiest results, I highly recommend shredding the cheese from a block of cheese. Pre-shredded cheese contains additives that prevent the cheese from naturally sticking together. The additives also change the way cheese naturally melts however, if you need to use pre-shredded cheese for convenience, go for it!
Can I Skip the Baked Mac and Cheese Topping?
Absolutely! Actually, the cheesy pasta is ready to eat right after the cheese sauce is tossed with the noodles. You can skip the baking if you prefer.
Why Does My Baked Mac and Cheese Come Out Dry?
Baked Mac and cheese can get dried if baked for too long. Follow the recipe and if your topping is not golden brown by the time the baking time is done, simply place it under the broiler to toast the breadcrumbs.
Another reason for dried macaroni and cheese is if you are using more noodles than the recipe calls for. You need to have enough cheese sauce to generously coat the cooked pasta.
Should You Cover Mac and Cheese While Baking?
No, it’s not necessary to cover mac and cheese while it bakes. You want the topping to become golden brown and crispy so baking uncovered is a must.
The Best Cheese for Creamy Mac and Cheese
There are many good options when making this dish. Sharp Cheddar, White Cheddar, Gruyere cheese, Fontina cheese, Mozzarella and Gouda are great and popular options. Parmesan cheese adds great flavor to mac & cheese however, it gives the sauce a slightly grainy texture.
The Best Pasta for Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Any short pasta that can hold the cheese sauce works. Elbow macaroni small shells, farfalle, cavatappi, rotini and mini penne are all good options.
Making Ahead, Storing and Reheating
Make Ahead: You can make this recipe as directed but don’t bake it or add the topping. After transferring the cheesy pasta into the baking dish, cool it completely then, cover it and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Before baking, allow the dish to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes (so it’s not too chilled). If the mixture seems a bit too dry (it usually looks somewhat dried because is cold), you can stir in a couple of tablespoons of milk (a bit at the time) until the dish becomes a bit creamier. Add the topping and bake as directed.
Storing: Store leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Reheating: Before reheating, stir in a bit of milk to make the pasta a bit creamier then, reheat in the microwave in small increments, covered until heated through.
Homemade Baked Macaroni and Cheese Tips and Notes
- Remember that the pasta in baked mac and cheese has to cook twice. Make sure that you cook the noodles just until is about to become al dente (firm and slightly under cooked). This will prevent the pasta from getting mushy and too soft while it cooks a second time in the oven.
- Always cook your pasta in salted water. This gives the dish flavor from the very beginning.
- To minimize dirty dishes, after draining the cooked pasta, return it to the large pot where you cooked the pasta in. Then, toss it with some oil or melted butter to prevent the noodles from sticking.
- After adding the cheese to the white sauce, make sure the sauce doesn’t boil to prevent it from breaking.
- Don’t over bake the mac and cheese. If you want a super crispy topping, place the baking dish under a broiler.
- Add about 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese to the Panko topping for extra cheesiness.
- You can use two types of cheese only when making this recipe.
Take a Look at These Other Macaroni and Cheese Recipes:
- Mac and Cheese Carbonara
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- Baked Mac and Cheese
- Chili Mac
- Seafood Mac and Cheese
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Homemade Mac n 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
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 x 13 (3 Qt) baking dish with cooking spray or melted butter and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until almost al dente (about 2 minutes less than the cooking time indicated on the package). Drain, transfer the pasta to a large bowl and drizzle it with a little bit of olive oil (or butter) to keep the pasta from sticking. Toss to coat.
- 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 then, slowly pour the half and half whisking 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.
- Don’t over bake. If you would like the topping extra golden, place the pasta bake under the broiler for a few minutes. Over baking may result in dried mac n cheese.
- Add about 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese to the Panko topping for extra cheesiness.
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated to provide the reader with additional information. The recipe remains the same.