My easy Baked Mac and Cheese comes out rich, creamy, and extra cheesy every time. You could eat this as a meal on it’s own, but it really makes a delicious side dish with just about any protein.
My son, my darling child, the human I gave life to, the fruit of my loins (ew), has an issue with mac and cheese.
He…get this…thinks it’s boring. Cheesy noodles…boring. What in the world?
He will happily just skip right over the big pan of gooey creamy baked mac and cheese and never even stop to consider the cheesy goodness that might be missing from his life.
I don’t know how he’s my child either. He was probably switched at birth.
Not to worry, his lack of love for macaroni and cheese doesn’t stop me from serving it up every time the urge hits…which, let’s face it, is often. He just loads up on other things and leaves the cheesy goodness for the rest of us.
This homemade baked mac and cheese recipe is lightly adapted from Ina Garten, so you know it’s good.
It starts with all of your basic ingredients, but the addition of Gruyere makes it a bit more ‘grown-up’ and fancy.
The crunchy panko topping is heavenly.
And there is A LOT of cheese sauce, so this is never dry or boring.
Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese:
I find that the best mix of cheese for baked mac and cheese is gruyere and sharp cheddar. The two cheese melt beautifully, add a rich flavor, and play well together.
Smoked gouda can add a nice touch and throwing a bit of cream cheese into the cheese sauce also makes for an extra creamy sauce.
The most important factor is that you grate the cheese yourself. A bag of shredded cheese contains ingredients that prevent it from sticking together. They also prevent it from melting into the most creamy goodness possible.
Easy Baked Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounces macaroni
- 1 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons butter divided
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 ounces sharp cheddar shredded
- 4 ounces Gruyere shredded
- 2 ounces cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta for one minute less than package directions state.
- While the pasta is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium sized pot and add the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes.
- Continue whisking and slowly pour in the milk and cream. Cook for another 2 minutes until thickened and smooth.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar, gruyere, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Continue stirring until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Return to low heat in short bursts if needed to melt the cheese fully.
- Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Stir to coat. Pour mixture into a buttered 2 quart baking dish.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and mix it with the Panko, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder.
- Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the mac and cheese.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the bread crumbs are browned and crispy.
Tips & Notes:
Ingredients for Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese:
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For the mac and cheese:
Macaroni – You’ll need 8 ounces of dried macaroni noodles. Any brand will work fine. You could use a different shaped pasta too like shells or fusilli.
Milk & Cream – We use a combo of whole milk and heavy cream for a decadent sauce. If you don’t have whole milk, just splash in a bit of heavy cream to your milk mixture to bulk it up a bit.
Butter & Flour – Our cheese sauce starts with a roux. This is just butter and flour cooked together to form a paste. Once you whisk in the milk, it’ll thicken right up with no lumps.
Cheese – We’re using a combination of freshly shredded cheddar and gruyere, along with a bit of cream cheese to make a decadent cheese sauce.
Spices – I’m using salt, black pepper, ground nutmeg, and garlic powder to season this dish. The nutmeg adds a bit of warmth and helps to enhance the other flavors in the homemade mac and cheese.
For the topping:
Panko – I’m using plain panko bread crumbs, not a seasoned variety. You can use a seasoned variety of panko if you prefer.
Butter – For mixing with the panko to prepare the crispy topping. The breadcrumb and butter mixture will bake up to a nice golden brown!
Parmesan – Some grated parmesan cheese is a simple way to add even more flavor to the topping and more cheesy goodness to this baked mac and cheese recipe!
Garlic Powder – Just to add extra flavor to the crispy topping. If you are using a seasoned variety of panko you may wish to leave this out.
WhaT Makes This The Best Baked Mac And Cheese:
- Topping: The star in this recipe (aside from all that cheese!) is the crispy panko topping. It adds a nice crispy texture and flavor that pairs well with the smooth cheese sauce and tender macaroni.
- Cheese: This recipe has the ultimate mix of sharp cheddar and gruyere for flavor with a bit of cream cheese mixed in to add extra creamy goodness.
- Versatile: This recipe works great as a side dish with just about any protein, but it is also hearty enough to be the star of the show. Serve it as a main dish with a side salad.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese:
Cheese Sauce: The cheese sauce is very simple: melt some butter in a pot, whisk in flour until you have a paste, whisk in the milk and cream and let it cook until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
Pro Tip: Remove your sauce from the heat before adding in the cheese to avoid a grainy cheese sauce.
Combine: Once the cheese sauce is all smooth and melty, pour it over the cooked & drained macaroni noodles and stir to coat the macaroni in the cheese sauce. Spread the gooey mixture in a baking dish.
Topping: Melt the remaining butter and mix it up well with the panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder. Spread the breadcrumb topping over the mac and cheese.
Bake: Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until the topping is lightly golden brown and crispy and the cheese sauce is nice and bubbly!
The cheese sauce soaks into the pasta as it bakes making things ultra creamy, cheesy, and decadent. You really can’t go wrong with this easy baked mac and cheese recipe!
Helpful TipS FOR Best BAKED MAC AND CHEESE:
- Pasta: Make sure to boil the macaroni a minute less than the instructions state or it could get overly tender and mushy when baking.
- Cheese: For best results grate your own! The sauce will taste better and be smoother. Use any variety or sharpness of cheese that you prefer!
- Heat: Make sure to remove the pan from the heat before stirring in the cheese or it could create a grainy cheese sauce.
- Mix It Up: Along with different types of cheese there are plenty of ways to change this recipe up. Try it with crushed Ritz crackers or Cheetos instead of panko, or mix in some other goodies like bacon, jalapeno, or broccoli!
Make Ahead Mac and Cheese:
To prepare this creamy baked mac and cheese ahead of time follow the instructions to prepare the pasta and the cheese sauce. Combine those in the baking dish and then cover well and store in the fridge until ready to bake, up to 2 days.
We recommend adding the panko topping just before baking so that it doesn’t become soggy.
Let the mac and cheese sit on the counter for a bit to warm up before you bake it or you may need to bake for a few extra minutes.
How to Store Mac and Cheese:
I generally don’t love mac and cheese that’s been reheated, but this one starts out so creamy that it reheats beautifully!
Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Reheat in the microwave when ready to serve.
It’ll take about 25 minutes for this baked mac and cheese to get nice and bubbly with a golden brown topping. You may continue baking until the panko is golden brown as you’d like.
We like the traditional macaroni for this recipe, but any small shape of pasta will work well here. Shells are always delicious, cavatappi, fusilli, and ziti all work great as well.
MORE FAMILY FAVORITE SIDE DISHES!
- Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole
- Cajun Fried Corn
- Instant Pot Sweet Potatoes
- Broccoli Cheese Casserole
- Scalloped Corn