Homemade mac and cheese is the perfect comfort food! It's easy to make, and it's so much better than the boxed stuff. This recipe is creamy and cheesy, with a delicious crispy topping. Making homemade mac and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods. There's something about that creamy, cheesy sauce that just hits the spot. And when it's baked to perfection in the oven? Even better.
If you're looking for a classic mac and cheese recipe that's sure to please, this is it. We start with a roux to make a smooth and creamy sauce, then add in lots of sharp cheddar cheese. We bake it until it's hot and bubbly, then top it with even more cheese before serving.
This dish is always a hit, whether we're making it for a family dinner or potluck. Give it a try next time you're in the mood for some comforting mac and cheese. You won't be disappointed!
I hope you enjoy this recipe! ❤️ If you give it a try, please let me know how it turned out for you in the comments section at the bottom of the page or share a pic of your om noms on Instagram and tag @dishesanddustbunnies! ❤️
How to make Classic Baked Homemade Mac and Cheese from Scratch – Overview
You can find the full recipe details, including ingredient amounts and the full instructions, at the bottom of this post, but first, here's a quick overview on how to make the cheesiest mac and cheese right at home!
Cook the macaroni noodles – before beginning, cook elbow macaroni 2-3 min less than the package directions, drain, and set aside.
Make the Roux/Cheese sauce – In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, and add salt and pepper. The pot with melted butter should be combined using a whisk in this step. Continue to whisk while the mixture cooks for around 3 minutes until it gets darker in color and more fragrant. Make sure not to let it burn!
Reduce the heat and whisk in the heavy cream. Increase the heat a bit and continue to whisk for a few minutes until the mixture is well combined and thickened. Turn off the heat. Finally, add the cheese and continue to whisk until it's completely incorporated.
Combine the sauce with the macaroni noodles, add the crispy toppings and bake – Pour the cheese sauce into a baking dish with a spatula to remove any cheese from the pan. Stir in the cooked macaroni noodles.
Top with additional shredded cheese then, sprinkle crumbled crackers evenly over the macaroni and cheese. This will give your mac and cheese a nice crunchy texture! Place the baking dish in the oven (uncovered) and bake for about 20 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling throughout this time period. Allow 5 minutes for resting after taking it out of the oven before serving.
How to make roux for mac and cheese:
*Full ingredient amounts and recipe instructions on how to make the roux for mac and cheese can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Making a roux for mac and cheese is easy. A good roux is essential in creating a deliciously rich and creamy cheese sauce. You'll need butter, flour, seasonings, heavy cream (or milk and half and half). Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until well combined. Gradually add the cream, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Then, slowly add the cheese while combining with a whisk.
What are the best cheeses to use in Mac and cheese?
This is a classic, homemade baked mac and cheese recipe that is simple to make and so delicious! The key to making the best mac and cheese is using good quality cheese. I like to use sharp cheddar but I sometimes use others depending on what I have on hand. Here are some cheese combinations you might enjoy:
- Sharp cheddar and Gruyere
- Gouda and Parmesan
- Cheddar and mozzarella
What's your favorite cheese mixture?
What can I add to my baked mac and cheese to make it better?
There are a few things you can do to upgrade your classic baked mac and cheese. First, you could try using a different type of cheese. Instead of cheddar, try using Gruyere or Gouda. Both of these cheeses will give your dish a deeper, more complex flavor.
You could also add some extra vegetables to your mac and cheese. sauteed mushrooms, spinach, or even roasted red peppers would be delicious additions. If you want to make a heartier dish, you could add some crumbled bacon or sausage.
Finally, don't be afraid to experiment with the toppings. Instead of bread crumbs, try using crushed potato chips or pretzels. You could also top your mac and cheese with a drizzle of hot sauce or BBQ sauce.
No matter how you make it, homemade baked mac and cheese is always delicious comfort food. So go ahead and get creative in the kitchen – your taste buds will thank you!
Should I bake mac and cheese covered or uncovered?
This is a great question that home cooks often ponder when making this classic dish. While both methods have their benefits, it really comes down to personal preference.
If you like a crispy (as in this recipe!), cheese-topped mac and cheese, then baking it uncovered is the way to go. However, if you prefer a creamy and rich mac and cheese, then covering it while baking will help to trap in all that goodness.
So, there you have it! Now you can make the best decision for your own homemade baked mac and cheese. Just remember to enjoy every cheesy bite!
Ingredients You Can Crush For Crunchy Mac and Cheese Toppings
When it comes to toppings, you can really let your imagination run wild. The options are endless! But if you're looking for something a little more unique than the usual suspects (bread crumbs, anyone?), here are some ideas to get you started:
- crushed crackers such as:
- buttery ritz crackers
- Cheez-Itz – we like the spicy kind!
- bread crumbs
- panko crumbs
- Crushed up potato chips
- corn chips
- Corn flakes
- Nuts (try chopped pecans or almonds)
- Seeds (sunflower or pumpkin seeds work well)
- Crispy bacon
- Fried onions
Do you put eggs in baked macaroni and cheese?
For this man and cheese recipe, you do not need to add eggs. Eggs are sometimes added to mac and cheese recipes because it creates a more custardy texture and helps the cheese sauce thicken. But for this recipe, we are not adding any eggs!
Mac & Cheese Recipe Variations
Mac and cheese is one of those comfort food dishes that everyone seems to love. And while you can easily buy a box of the stuff, there's something about homemade mac and cheese that just tastes so much better. This recipe for classic baked mac and cheese is easy to make and can be easily adapted to your own taste.
Butter – This recipe called for unsalted butter when making the roux. If you choose to use salted butter for this recipe instead, you can leave out the additional salt called for in the recipe ingredients.
Cheeses – A variety of different cheeses can be used for this recipe. I used sharp cheddar, but feel free to experiment with your favorite cheese or whatever you have on hand.
Heavy Cream – For this recipe I used heavy cream as I find it produces the best creamy texture, however, if you'd like to lighten it up a bit, you can use a combination of cream, milk or half and half. If you go this route, I'd suggest using a ratio of half milk with half heavy cream (or half and half).
I know using heavy cream might seem very decadent, but if you're looking for the best creamy mac and cheese, that's how you do it!
Pasta – I used elbow macaroni for this recipe, but any type of pasta will work. ex. shells, rotini, penne, etc
Topping – The topping for this mac and cheese is optional, but I think it really takes the dish to the next level. I used crumbled spicy cheez its, but you could also try topping it with a mix of panko bread crumbs or another crunchy crumbled cracker or chips. Feel free to experiment with different toppings or leave it off altogether. Ritz cracker topping works very nicely too!
Mix ins – Mix ins are also optional, but they can really add some flavor to the dish. Sauteed onions and garlic make for nice additions, but you could also use diced ham, bacon, or even lobster. You could also try adding chopped jalapeño, sun dried tomatoes, or spinach.
Tips to make the perfect Macaroni and Cheese:
- Don't overcook your pasta. You want it to have a little “bite” to it, so cooking al dente is critical. You'll still be baking mac and cheese, and you don't want it to get mushy!
- Use high-quality cheese! Do not utilize pre-shredded cheese in bags. They don't melt well, and the flavor is lacking!
- Prepare ahead of time! Have everything measured out ahead of time so that the sauce does not burn or adhere as you whisk it throughout the cooking process.
How to prepare this mac and cheese recipe in advance:
This recipe can be prepped in advance in a few different ways. You can assemble the entire dish, except for the bread crumb topping, and refrigerate it until you're ready to bake.
Or, you can mix together the sauce ingredients and keep them in the fridge until you're ready to use them. Finally, you can cook the pasta ahead of time and store it in the fridge until you're ready to assemble and bake the dish. Whichever method you choose, this recipe will be just as delicious as if you'd made it fresh!
What to serve with Mac and Cheese:
Homemade mac and cheese is a great main dish to serve for a family dinner or as a side dish at a potluck. It can be paired with a variety of different dishes, such as roasted meats, grilled chicken, or salads. For a heartier meal, try serving it with a green vegetable like broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
Here are some other great ideas for dishes to serve with mac and cheese:
- Roasted vegetables: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, etc.
- bacon strips, sausage, etc
- Green salads
- Fruit salad
- Tomato soup
- Grilled chicken or steak
- Baked fish
- Hot dogs
Storage and Reheat Instructions
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, and in the freezer for up to 2 months.
To reheat, thaw in the fridge overnight if frozen. Preheat oven to 350F and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through.
Other Recipes you'll enjoy:
- 1 (500g/1lb) package of macaroni noodles, cooked 2-3 min less than package directions, drained and set aside
- ½ cup butter, unsalted
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ⅛ tsp cayenne
- 1 ½ tsps garlic powder
- ½ tsp paprika (can also use smoked paprika)
- 2 tsps salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 4 cups heavy cream (I find heavy cream gives the best texture and creaminess, but you can use a combination of cream, milk or half and half to lighten it up a bit if you prefer)
- 4–6 cups aged cheddar cheese, shredded or crumbled
Important: Please use cheese from a block, not the pre-shredded kind. Pre shredded cheese has extra ingredients to stop the cheese from sticking together in the package, which will affect the texture (you don't want grainy cheese sauce!)
- Optional: 1 cup crumbled crackers for the topping. Any kind of crackers are ok to use, but I have a few favorites: Cheez-It, corn chips, Ritz, etc
- In a medium pot, over medium heat, melt the butter.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Add this mixture to the pot with melted butter and combine using a whisk. Continue to whisk while the mixture cooks for about 3 minutes. It's color should become more golden, it'll become fragrant and get thicker. Be careful not to let it burn!
- Turn down the heat and whisk in the heavy cream. Turn up the heat a little and continue to whisk for a couple of minutes until the mixture is well combined and thickened. Turn off the heat.
- Next, add the cheese and continue to whisk until it's well combined.
- Pour the cheese sauce into a large baking/casserole dish and use a spatula to scrape out any cheese left in the pot.
- Add the cooked macaroni noodles to the baking dish and stir to combine.
- Optional: Sprinkle crumbled crackers evenly over top of the macaroni and cheese. This will give your mac and cheese a nice crunch texture!
- Place the baking dish into the oven (uncovered) and bake for about 20 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling. After removing from the oven, allow the dish to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
- Prep Time: 20
- Cook Time: 20
- Category: Main Dish
- Cuisine: American/Canadian