Perfect Baked Mac and Cheese

Our family’s favorite baked mac and cheese recipe has the perfect sauce to pasta ratio, guaranteeing a creamy center, all topped with a layer of golden, bubbling cheese. This is the macaroni and cheese recipe we come back to again and again!

Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Video

Mounds of cheese melted into a velvety, creamy sauce and tossed with pasta. Yes, please! This incredible baked mac and cheese is high on my favorites list. I love the easy cheese sauce!

I’m so excited for you to try this easy recipe. Mac and cheese has always held a special place in my heart. When I’m short on time, I use our easy stovetop recipe. You might also enjoy our pumpkin mac and cheese, perfect for fall.

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese

Key Ingredients

  • Pasta: I love using pasta with nooks and crannies when making macaroni and cheese. You want something with lots of nooks and crannies to trap the creamy sauce. Use macaroni, shells, or penne.
  • Butter and flour: This makes our roux, which thickens the cheese sauce.
  • Milk: Keeps our cheese sauce super creamy. I use whole milk or reduced-fat milk.
  • Mustard and spices: A combination of Dijon mustard, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt makes this macaroni and cheese extra delicious.
  • Cheese: I use white cheddar and parmesan or pecorino cheese. The cheddar melts into the sauce nicely, and the parmesan adds a salty, cheesy kick. Feel free to use other cheese in this recipe, but I do recommend grating the cheese yourself (it melts so much better than pre-shredded cheese).

How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese

Making my favorite baked mac and cheese recipe is simple! You’ll start by cooking your pasta. Follow the package directions, but undercook your pasta by a minute or two. This way, the pasta won’t overcook and turn mushy when baking in the oven.

We’ll need to make a roux (pronounced “roo”) to make the cheese sauce. It’s a mixture of equal parts flour and butter (equal in weight, not volume). The roux will help thicken our milk and make our sauce creamy.

Making cheese sauce for baked macaroni and cheese.

I melt my butter in a large pot and then whisk in the flour. It will thicken but don’t worry. Once you add the milk, it will thin out. Speaking of the milk, we want to add it warm. Julia Child says warm milk prevents a lumpy sauce, and she’s right! Plus, it speeds up the time it takes to thicken.

Stir in the spices and cheese when your milk looks thick and saucy. I add my cheese slowly so it easily melts into the sauce. Then, when all the cheese has been added and you’ve checked for seasoning, stir in your slightly undercooked pasta.

My baked mac and cheese recipe below makes enough to fill a large (3-quart) baking dish. I slide everything into the dish and bake it in a 375°F oven for about 30 minutes.

The Best Baked Mac and Cheese

What to Serve with Baked Mac and Cheese

I love serving mac and cheese with vegetables. Roasted broccoli, broccolini, or roasted cauliflower are classic, but we also love these garlic green beans.

You can also serve macaroni and cheese with meatballs or meatloaf. Try our Italian meatballs or this recipe for juicy meatballs! Here is my favorite meatloaf recipe and our popular turkey meatloaf.

Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Perfect Baked Mac and Cheese

  • PREP
  • COOK
  • TOTAL

Our favorite baked mac and cheese recipe calls for a few smart steps to guarantee the macaroni and cheese is ultra creamy and flavorful. While many cheeses can work in this recipe, the two cheeses we go back to again and again are white cheddar and pecorino-Romano cheese. The cheddar melts down to be creamy, and the pecorino adds a sharp salty bite to the sauce. We hand grate the cheese for the creamiest sauce.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Watch Us Make the Recipe

You Will Need

1 pound (450g) dried pasta like elbow macaroni, shells or penne

5 tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter

1/2 cup (65g) all-purpose flour

5 cups (1180ml) milk, warmed, whole or 2% reduced fat preferred

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

1 pound (450g) white cheddar cheese, shredded (4 heaping cups), plus more if baking (about 1/2 cup)

5 ounces (140g) parmesan or pecorino cheese, shredded (1 ½ cups)

Directions

    1Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 3-quart casserole dish.

    2Grate the cheese, separate about 1/2 cup for the topping, and then set the cheese aside.

    3Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta, then follow package directions, but cook 2 minutes less than the recommended cook time. Drain then rinse pasta with cold water and set aside.

    4Add the milk to a large microwave-safe measuring jug and microwave until warm, 1 to 3 minutes. Or add the milk to a large saucepan over medium heat.

    5While the milk warms, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.

    6When the butter begins to bubble, add the flour. Cook, constantly whisking, until light brown (the butter smells fragrant and nutty), 2 to 3 minutes.

    7While whisking, slowly pour the warm milk into the butter and flour mixture. Continue to cook, constantly whisking until the sauce bubbles and thickens.

    8Remove the pan from the heat and stir in mustard, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne. Stir in the cheese, a handful at a time, until it melts into the sauce.

    9Taste the sauce for seasoning, then adjust with additional spices or salt (we usually start with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and go from there).

    10If the drained and rinsed pasta will fit into the pan, add it to the cheese sauce. If it will not, add both the pasta and sauce to a separate large bowl and stir well.

    11Pour the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish. Top with the reserved 1/2 cup of cheese.

    12Bake, uncovered, until bubbling, about 30 minutes. To brown the cheese on top, turn the oven to broil and broil for 3 to 5 minutes until the top has blistered and lightly browned. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

Adam and Joanne's Tips

  • Storing: Leftover baked mac and cheese lasts up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Store it in an airtight container. You can also freeze it. Cool it completely, divide it between freezer-safe containers, and freeze it for up to 3 months.
  • Make ahead: Prepare the mac and cheese, but don’t bake it. Let the dish cool to room temperature, double wrap with aluminum foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to bake it, let the dish stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, remove the plastic wrap, and then bake according to the recipe directions above.
  • The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We calculated using 2% milk and 10 servings.
Nutrition Per Serving Serving Size 1/10 of the dish / Calories 578 / Total Fat 28.1g / Saturated Fat 16.4g / Cholesterol 87.2mg / Sodium 728.9mg / Carbohydrate 51.1g / Dietary Fiber 1.7g / Total Sugars 14g / Protein 29.6g
AUTHOR:  Adam and Joanne Gallagher
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116 comments… Leave a Review
  • Missy Barthelemy June 17, 2024, 3:00 pm

    This recipe was a hit with the whole family! I used whole milk and american cheese and large shells.

    Reply

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