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This easy homemade Baked Mac and Cheese recipe is the ultimate classic comfort food. We’re talking decadent creamy macaroni with the most incredible cheese sauce. Total soul-food and always a crowd favorite!
The Best Baked Mac And Cheese Recipe
Get ready, my food-loving friends, because this Baked Mac and Cheese is here to rock your world! This is no ordinary mac and cheese – oh no – this is a creamy, cheesy, ooey-gooey pot of absolute heaven. Imagine tender pasta, bathed in a rich and luscious cheese sauce, and then baked until it’s golden and bubbly. It’s comfort food taken to the next level, a dish that will make your taste buds dance with delight.
But we’re not done just yet, my friends. What makes this dish really sing is its beautifully baked top layer. As this sumptuous mac and cheese bakes, the top becomes slightly crisped and golden, creating a subtle contrast with the creamy, cheesy pasta underneath. Each bite is a harmonious blend of rich, gooey cheese and tender pasta, creating a symphony of flavors that will have you going back for seconds… and thirds… and, well, you get the idea.
Whether you’re looking to impress at a potluck, want to treat your family to a special dinner, or simply need to satisfy that comfort food craving, this Baked Mac and Cheese is the answer. Trust me, one taste and you’ll be hooked – it’s comfort food at its finest!
Why You’ll Love This Baked Mac And Cheese
- It’s the Ultimate Comfort Food: This Baked Mac and Cheese is like a big, warm, cheesy hug in a dish. Whether you’ve had a long day, need to satisfy a cheesy craving, or just want something that tastes like home, this recipe is your go-to. It’s a dish that will bring a smile to your face from the first bite to the last.
- It’s Surprisingly Easy to Make: Despite its decadent flavors, this Baked Mac and Cheese is straightforward to prepare. It’s a simple blend of pasta and a homemade cheese sauce, baked to perfection. No fancy techniques, no hard-to-find ingredients, just good, honest cooking.
- It’s Perfect for Any Occasion: Need to impress at a potluck? Want a special dish for a family dinner? Or maybe you’re looking for the perfect side to pair with your favorite main? This Baked Mac and Cheese fits the bill. It’s versatile, crowd-pleasing, and always a hit, no matter the occasion.
- Elbow Macaroni – No mac and cheese is complete without the macaroni. While elbow macaroni is the classic pasta used, use your favorite small pasta!
- Butter – I love to use unsalted butter. Butter is important and a key ingredient to make a roux.
- Flour – You’ll need all purpose flour for the roux.
- Milk – I recommend using whole milk for the sauce so it’s nice and rich, however, I have made this with skim milk and lactose free milk.
- Cheese – Go ahead and use your favorite cheeses. I used provolone and cheddar cheese, but other great cheeses you can use are gouda, gruyere, Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, mozzarella, or Swiss.
- Worcestershire Sauce – This is a secret ingredient that will add tangy, sweet, savory and salty flavors to your sauce! It makes all the difference.
- Smoked Paprika – This is a personal favorite of mine, but I love adding a bit smoked paprika on top of my mac and cheese, totally optional though.
Making Mac and Cheese is incredibly easy. There are basically 3 parts to it, the roux, the cheese sauce and baking it.
Make The Roux
Don’t let the name scare you, it’s simply a French term for something that’s quite basic and simple. Roux, pronounced “roo”, is a mix of equal parts melted butter and flour, whisked together and cooked for a couple minutes over medium heat. This Roux is the start of any cheese sauce, and its purpose is to thicken the sauce. To it, milk is whisked in, and the end result is a creamy and rich bechamel sauce.
Make The Cheese Sauce
The bechamel is just the start of the cheese sauce, to which we add plenty of cheese. The key to a good cheese sauce for your mac and cheese is obviously the cheese. I always choose one cheese for flavor, and one cheese for gooey stretchiness. You can add as many different types as you want, as long as it equals 6 cups in total.
I also like to add Worcestershire sauce to my cheese sauce, think of it as your je ne sais quoi secret ingredient. Trust me on this one, a little goes a long way and it will add another flavor dimension to your sauce.
Bake Until Bubbly
Once your sauce is all done and you’ve added your macaroni, I like to add more cheddar cheese on top and another one of my secret ingredients, smoked paprika. Not only does it give your mac and cheese a gorgeous color, but it also adds a little smokiness to it.
Once all that is done, pop that skillet in the oven and bake it for about 15 minutes until the cheese melts and you can see the sauce getting all nice and bubbly.
Add Ins For Mac And Cheese
The options are endless here!
|Pulled Pork||Bell Peppers|
|Ground beef||Butternut Squash|
|Lobster, crab, or shrimp||Peas|
- Undercook your pasta: Cook about one minute less than what the package instructions say, this will avoid a mushy mac and cheese.
- Start with a Roux: Equal part butter and flour, cook this together for a minute or two to remove the raw flavor from the flour. This is the easiest and best way to make a cheese sauce, you’ll always end up with a creamy and rich sauce.
- Don’t buy pre-shredded cheeses: I recommend shredding your own block cheese, because pre-shredded cheese usually has added ingredients which prevent the cheese from melting properly. This will result in a grainy texture to your sauce!
- Lots of sauce: You might feel overwhelmed when you’re mixing the noodles into the sauce because there is so much of it. Don’t worry! It will turn out perfect. The macaroni will absorb some of the sauce as everything bakes. We want it to come out of the oven still nice and saucy, not as a noodle block.
- Don’t over bake: If you over bake you’ll end up with mushy macaroni. You want to bake it only until the cheese on top melts and you see the sauce bubbling and it starts to get golden around the edge. Only bake for the recommended time.
Can I Freeze Mac And Cheese?
While technically you can freeze mac and cheese, I don’t recommend it because after you thaw it out and bake, the creamy consistency is gone. However if you really wan to freeze it, before the baking step, transfer the mac and cheese to an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw it out, then transfer it to a skillet or 9×13 inch baking dish and bake it as instructed.
Do I Have To Bake This?
Absolutely not! I like my mac and cheese unbaked as well, but there’s something to be said about a cheesy bubbly sauce.
Do I Have To Cover The Mac And Cheese With Foil Before Baking?
No, do not cover it. If you cover it, it will steam the inside instead of giving it a crunchy topping.
Can I Make A Breadcrumb Topping For It?
Absolutely! I know some people love their mac and cheese with breadcrumbs and some don’t, it’s totally up to you. To make a breadcrumb topping, simply combine a cup of breadcrumbs such as Panko with a ¼ cup of melted butter and simply top your mac and cheese with it. Then all you have to do is bake as instructed.
More Macaroni Recipes To Try
- Chili Mac and Cheese
- Deviled Egg Macaroni Salad
- Easy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Chicken Alfredo Pasta Bake
- Macaroni Salad
- Italian Mac And Cheese
- Instant Pot Mac And Cheese
- Baked Mac and Cheese
- 2½ cups elbow macaroni ((10 oz) uncooked (will yield about 5 cups of cooked macaroni))
- 4 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups milk (lukewarm)
- 2 cups provolone cheese (shredded)
- 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Prepare the oven: Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Boil the pasta: Boil the macaroni according to the package instructions, then drain it and set aside.
- Make a roux: While the pasta cooks, add the butter to a large skillet that’s oven proof or a Dutch oven and melt over medium heat. Once the butter has melted whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture is lightly browned. This will remove the raw taste of the flour. Whisk in the salt and pepper.
- Add milk to the roux: Add the milk and whisk to remove lumps. You can add it all at once or a bit at a time whisking rigorously until smooth.
- Add cheese and Worcestershire sauce: Add the provolone cheese and half of the cheddar cheese and whisk until smooth. Add the Worcestershire sauce and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- Cook sauce: Cook over medium-high heat until the sauce starts to thicken and bubble, should take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Add macaroni: Add the cooked macaroni to the skillet and stir it until combined. Top with remaining cheddar cheese and sprinkle smoked paprika over the cheese.
- Bake: Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the top starts to brown and sauce gets bubbly.
- Serve: Serve while warm.
- Make-ahead Instructions: You can prepare this Baked Mac and Cheese a day in advance. Follow the recipe up to the point where you combine the cooked pasta with the cheese sauce, then let it cool. Transfer the mixture to your baking dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Store in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready, bake as directed. Be aware that you may need to add an extra 5-10 minutes to the baking time since the pasta will be cold from the fridge.
- Crunchy Topping Option: For an added crunch, consider adding some crushed crackers or potato chips to the breadcrumb topping. It adds an extra layer of texture that pairs wonderfully with the creamy mac and cheese.
- Avoid Overbaking: Be sure not to overbake your mac and cheese, as it can become dry. The perfect baked mac and cheese should be golden on top and bubbly around the edges. Remember, it will continue to cook a bit after you remove it from the oven.
- Freezing Instructions: To freeze, prepare the mac and cheese up to the point of baking and let it cool completely. Wrap the dish tightly in plastic wrap and then foil, then freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap, replace the foil, and bake from frozen at 375°F. You’ll need to add an extra 20-30 minutes to the baking time, but start checking it around the hour mark. Once it’s bubbly and golden, it’s ready to enjoy.
Notice: Nutrition is auto-calculated for your convenience. Where relevant, we recommend using your own nutrition calculations.