Easy Ultra Creamy Mac and Cheese
Everyone needs a go-to homemade mac and cheese recipe in their back pocket, and this one is ours. It’s effortless to make, tastes fantastic, and makes super creamy macaroni and cheese. Jump to the Easy Ultra Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipe or read on to see our tips for making it.
You’re only looking at six ingredients (plus salt and pepper). It can even be made in under 30 minutes (maybe less!).
I love that you can keep this as a quick stovetop mac and cheese or slide it into the oven to get bubbly and browned. I love it both ways.
How to Make the Best Mac and Cheese
We’re going to call this our basic mac and cheese — not because it isn’t incredibly delicious, but because it’s the perfect base for other variations. Take a look below for some suggestions.
To make our go-to macaroni and cheese, you will need the following:
- Pasta: The shape and size are entirely up to you. Look for pasta that will hold onto the creamy sauce. Elbow macaroni and shells are great options.
- Butter and Flour: It’s the combination of butter and flour that thicken the sauce. We like to use unsalted butter for this and then adjust salt to taste when making the sauce. That said, salted butter will work if that is all that you have.
- Cheddar cheese: Whenever we make macaroni and cheese, we reach for sharp white cheddar cheese. It’s flavorful and melts beautifully. For more cheese suggestions see our notes below. Whatever cheese you use, it’s best to grate it yourself. I know it’s extra prep time, but hand-grated cheese melts so much easier into the sauce.
- Cream cheese: The mac and cheese would be excellent with just cheddar cheese added, but to make it ultra creamy, we’ll stir in some cream cheese. It adds a lovely silky texture, and since it has a little zinginess, it brightens up the flavor a bit.
- Salt and Pepper: Nobody wants an unseasoned cheese sauce! Make sure that you taste the sauce before serving. If it doesn’t pop, add a touch more salt to the pot.
Macaroni and Cheese Variations
This recipe is easy to adapt to other variations. Here are some of our favorites:
- Baked Mac and Cheese: Once the pasta and cheese sauce are combined, add it to a baking dish and bake with a little more cheese and breadcrumbs sprinkled on top. We shared this Baked Macaroni and Cheese a while back.
- Garlic Mac and Cheese: Fresh garlic and roasted garlic are excellent in this recipe. Add either to the butter just before adding the flour. For fresh, I’d use 2 to 3 cloves. For roasted garlic, you can increase to 6 cloves or more. See our recipe for making roasted garlic.
- Use a Variety of Cheeses: Cheddar isn’t the only cheese to use. Try easy melting Gruyere, Fontina or Monterey Jack. For more flavor, a bit of parmesan or pecorino cheese is lovely, and for a more adult dish, try blue cheese!
- Spiced Macaroni and Cheese: Mustard (Dijon or mustard powder), nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne pepper are classic additions to the cheese sauce. Smoked paprika is also delicious.
- Broccoli Mac and Cheese: A kid favorite! Stir roasted broccoli or steamed broccoli into the pot before serving. Here’s how we make roasted broccoli.
- Lighter Mac and Cheese: Swapping half of the cheese sauce for pureed cauliflower cuts calories and still tastes incredible.
For more easy recipes like this one, take a look at these:
- This Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese swaps some of the cheese sauce for pumpkin puree. It’s delicious.
- Try our Creamy White Chicken Lasagna — Nothing says comfort to us like baked lasagna loaded with creamy sauce, chicken, and cheese.
- For a lighter take on pasta with cheese, try our Orzo Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Parmesan or these Easy Buttered Noodles!
- Serve this Homemade Caesar Salad on the side or try our Easy Coleslaw for some crunch.
Easy Ultra Creamy Mac and Cheese
This is our basic, quick, and easy homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. It’s made on the stovetop and does not require any baking. That’s not to say that you could not bake it. We’ve shared how in the recipe below. Thanks to butter, flour, and milk the sauce is like velvet and super creamy. To the sauce, we add a whole pound of cheddar cheese (the sharper, the better) as well as a bit of cream cheese. The cream cheese is optional, but it does add tanginess and even more creaminess.
You Will Need
1 pound dried pasta like elbow macaroni, shells or penne
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons (45 grams) all-purpose flour
5 cups (1180 ml) milk, warmed, whole or 2% reduced fat preferred
1 pound white cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces cream cheese, optional
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Baked Mac and Cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta then follow package directions, but cook 1 minute less than the package calls for. Drain.
Meanwhile, make the creamy cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a large high-sided pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk the butter and flour together and around the pan until they smell toasted and look light brown; 2 to 3 minutes.
While whisking, pour in the warm milk. Continue to cook, constantly whisking until the sauce begins to simmer and thickens.
Turn the heat to low then stir in the cheddar and cream cheeses, salt, and black pepper. When the sauce is smooth and velvety, stir in the cooked pasta. If the sauce looks wet/thin, don’t worry, the pasta absorbs some the extra moisture as it cools. Turn the heat off, and then cover with a lid. Leave for 3 to 5 minutes, stir once more, and then serve.
After adding the pasta to the cheese sauce, spoon into a large baking dish, scatter breadcrumbs (optional), and more shredded cheese on top. Bake, uncovered, in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven until bubbling and browned on top; 25 to 30 minutes.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Storing: Keep covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days. To freeze, transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze up to 2 months. Bake, covered, in a 350-degree F oven for about an hour. Or, thaw overnight and reheat on the stove (if it seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of extra milk).
- Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.