Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Tossed in a smooth cheese sauce and loaded with freshly grated cheese, Baked Macaroni and Cheese is the definition of comfort food. The tender noodles are smothered in creamy, cheesy goodness that will have you savoring every bite.

Macaroni and cheese being lifted off of a plate on a spoon.

Creamy Homemade Mac and Cheese

Topped with layers of golden baked cheese, you really can’t beat homemade mac and cheese fresh out of the oven. Layers upon layers of fresh cheesy flavor explode from every bite. If you’re looking for a staple mac and cheese dish to add to your dinner rotation, make it this one.

When it comes to classic comfort foods, macaroni and cheese is right up there at the top for a reason. The warm, creamy indulgence of this meal makes it the perfect pick-me-up. Plus, it’s simple enough to get a thumbs-up from even the pickiest eaters.

What You’ll Need

This mac and cheese recipe comes with just a little kick of spice to keep things interesting. You can find the exact amounts for all the ingredients by scrolling down to the recipe card.

  • Pasta: I like to use classic elbow macaroni, but any short tube-shaped noodle should work.
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Milk: I use whole milk for maximum creaminess.
  • Heavy Cream: Half-and-half also works, if you’re looking to make it a little bit healthier.
  • Shredded Cheese: I use a mix of gruyere and cheddar for this recipe, but any good-quality hard cheese will do.
  • Salt and Pepper: I go for kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Garlic Powder
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne

What Kind of Cheese Should I Use?

I absolutely love the sharp flavor of cheddar and the nutty flavor of gruyere in this recipe, but feel free to switch it up! Try to use at least one sharp-flavored cheese combined with a more mellow one so that your macaroni and cheese doesn’t turn out bland. You also don’t want to use all soft cheeses. If you go with something like mozzarella, pair it with something firmer, like white cheddar or gouda.

Freshly baked macaroni and cheese in a baking dish.

How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked macaroni and cheese is so easy to make. With less than 15 minutes of active prep, this comfort food is also low-stress in the kitchen.

  • Prep Your Ingredients: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or butter and set it aside. Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. While the pasta boils, shred both cheeses into a large bowl and toss them together.
  • Make the Roux: Start the sauce by adding the butter to a skillet. Wait until the butter has completely melted, then whisk in the flour to make a roux. Season the roux with salt and pepper and keep it on the heat for 1 minute.
  • Add the Cream: Slowly pour the milk into the roux, adding a little at a time and whisking so that lumps don’t form. Once the sauce is smooth, slowly pour in the cream. Use the same whisking process until the sauce is smooth.
  • Add the Cheese: Season the sauce with the garlic powder, paprika and cayenne if you’d like. Add 1 cup of the cheese mixture and whisk it until it melts and smooths out. Repeat this step with 2 more cups of cheese, making 3 cups total, and mix the sauce until it’s smooth. Taste it to make sure the seasonings are balanced and remove the pan from the heat.
  • Assemble: Dump the cooked macaroni into a large bowl. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to combine them. Pour half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish and smooth it out into an even layer with the back of your spoon. Add 2 cups of the cheese to the top of the pasta, then spread the remaining pasta on top.
  • Bake: Top the macaroni with the remaining 1 cup of cheese and bake it for 15 minutes, or until the center is warm and the cheese is melted. Serve it as-is, or mix in any additions of your choice.

Can I Make It in Advance?

My suggestion is to follow the recipe but stop before the baking step. Make sure the pasta has cooled completely, then cover it tightly with foil and pop it in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to dig in, bring the mac and cheese up to room temperature by leaving it out on the counter for around 30 minutes. Once it warms up enough, bake the macaroni and cheese according to the instructions.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with a scoop taken out of the dish.

Tips for Success

This easy recipe is basically foolproof. Here are a few tips so it comes out perfect every time.

  • Pick Your Pasta: I use elbow macaroni in this recipe, but any short tube pasta works! Shells, cavatappi, orecchiette, mini rigatoni, mini farfalle and mini penne are all good options.
  • Follow the Pasta Instructions: Whichever style of pasta you choose, cook it according to the package directions and drain it well. The oven is just there to melt the cheese, so you want to use fully cooked pasta at your desired level of doneness.
  • Use Fresh Grated Cheese: For the best smoothness and taste, you’ll want to shred your own cheese for the sauce. Most pre-shredded cheeses include some kind of extra processing to keep them from clumping, which can mess with the texture after melting.
  • Don’t Overcook: Make sure you don’t leave the pan in the oven too long, or the cheese may break apart and become oily. You want it creamy on the inside and perfectly golden brown on the outside.

Add-Ins and Variations

There are so many ways to put your own spin on this recipe. To make this meal a little bit healthier, trade whole milk and heavy cream for 2% milk and half-and-half. Or toss in one of the ingredients below for some extra protein or veggies.

  • Grilled Chicken
  • Canned Tuna and Peas
  • Baked Ham and Peas
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Crumbled Bacon
  • Peas & Bacon
  • Bread Crumbs: Or use crushed Ritz crackers tossed with butter.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese in a baking dish with a serving missing.

Serving Suggestions

The great thing about baked macaroni and cheese is that it can be served as the main course or a side dish! It makes a great holiday side, or you can pack it in a thermos for lunch on the go. This Everyday Chili Recipe goes really well with it, and you can even mix them together for a creamy and flavorful chili mac! I also like to serve a veggie on the side or stirred right in, like this Garlic Roasted Broccoli.

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

This baked macaroni and cheese lasts in the fridge for up to 3 days. Just cover it tightly with plastic wrap or pop it in an airtight container. You can set it out on the counter until it reaches room temperature and re-bake it until it’s warmed through, or just reheat it in the microwave straight out of the fridge.

Can I Freeze Baked Mac and Cheese?

This is definitely a freezer-friendly meal, even if it might not get back the ultra-creaminess it has when it’s fresh. Keep it in tightly sealed double-lock freezer bags or an airtight freezer-safe container. Let it thaw completely in the fridge, and leave it out on the counter for 30 minutes before re-baking it.

More Comforting Pasta Dishes

Print
Macaroni and cheese being lifted off of a plate on a spoon.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Author: Dan
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x

Tossed in a smooth cheese sauce and loaded with freshly grated cheese, Baked Macaroni and Cheese is the definition of comfort food. The tender noodles are smothered in creamy, cheesy goodness that will have you savoring every bite.

Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions and drained
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 cups shredded gruyere cheese
  • 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • A pinch of cayenne

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or butter and set aside.
  2. Mix the shredded cheeses together in a bowl. Start the sauce by adding the butter to a skillet, waiting until the butter is completely melted, then whisking in the flour to make a roux. Season the roux with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Slowly add the milk to the roux, whisking as you pour so that lumps don’t form. Add the milk a little at a time, then once the sauce is smooth, slowly start pouring in the cream using the same whisking process until the sauce is smooth.
  4. Season the sauce with the garlic powder, paprika and cayenne if using. Add 1 cup of the cheese mixture into the sauce and whisk until it’s melted and smooth. Repeat with 2 more cups of cheese (3 cups total in the sauce) until the sauce is smooth. Taste for seasonings and remove from the heat.
  5. Add the cooked macaroni to a large bowl. Pour the sauce in the bowl and stir to combine with the pasta. Pour half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish and smooth out to an even layer. Add 2 cups of the cheese to the top of the pasta, followed by the remaining pasta on top.
  6. Top the macaroni with the remaining 1 cup of cheese and bake for 15 minutes until the center is warm and the cheese is melted. Don’t overcook the macaroni and cheese as the cheese can break and become oily.

Recipe Notes

  • To Store: Keep in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container or covered tightly with plastic wrap. 
  • To Freeze: Keep tightly sealed in double-lock freezer bags or an airtight freezer-safe container. Let it thaw completely in the fridge.
  • To Reheat: Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes and re-bake until warmed through, OR reheat in the microwave. 
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop / Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: baked mac and cheese, mac and cheese, homemade mac and cheese

You Might Also Like:

Leave a Reply

Recipe rating

Cocktails and Drinks

Side “Bar”

Try some of the cocktails and drinks we’re mixing up this week!

VISIT THE COCKTAIL BAR

Mantitlement

Join thousands of subscribers and get new recipes via email!

Never miss another recipe!