Amazing Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

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This old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese recipe is full of flavorful cheeses like cheddar, asiago, and gruyere.  It is rich and flavorful and grown-up, but also a huge hit with kids.  This macaroni and cheese recipe makes me the hero of any potluck I attend!

white bowl of baked macaroni and cheese with text overlay reading "The Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese."

I love macaroni and cheese.  Every variation of it.  The super cheap boxed kind with lurid, day-glow orange powdered "cheese product," to gourmet versions full of lobster and truffles.  Always have.  my husband, however, hated the boxed stuff so much as a kid, that he once wrote down on his summer camp application that he was allergic to it, so he would get out of eating it in the dining hall.  Lying.  On an application for church camp.    He really, really hated macaroni and cheese.

But my macaroni and cheese--that, he loves.  And this baked macaroni and cheese deserves to be loved.  It's rich, decadent, and bursting with flavorful cheeses, like cheddar, asiago, and gruyere.  This homemade mac and cheese is worth every calorie and bite and, at least for my family, really is the best recipe around.  

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe:

  • one stick (half a cup) of butter
  • 5 1/2 cups of milk (skim milk or whatever you have on hand is just fine)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 1/2 cups sharp cheddar (1/2 a cup of that is to be sprinkled on top)
  • 1 cup gruyere
  • 1 cup asiago (1/2 a cup of that is to be sprinkled on top)
  • 1 pound macaroni noodles

Two types of shredded cheddar cheese on a wooden cutting board.

How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This macaroni and cheese recipe uses a mixture of hard cheeses and softer ones, some that are great at melting, and some that are there to add flavor rather than texture.  

I almost always grate my own cheese.  Commercially grated cheese has stuff added to it to keep it from sticking together, isn't available in the sharp, flavorful cheeses I prefer, and is more expensive than grating it myself.  If I had to use a box grater to shred cheese, however, I'd totally buy pre-shredded cheese.  I hate using box shredders!  I use my beloved Cuisinart food processor to grate my cheese, then plop the pieces in the dishwasher; the machines do all the hard work for me.  

What Cheeses To Use in Baked Macaroni and Cheese?

You really can use any variety of cheeses in this recipe to adapt it to your personal tastes.  Are you a Velveeta freak?  Go for it.  American cheese or blue cheese?  Not my thing, but you do you.  These are the kind of cheese that I think work particularly well in baked mac and cheese:

  • cheddar--the classic.  I love this (especially sharp cheddar cheese, and extra sharp cheese is also delicious), and always include it in my classic mac.
  • gruyere or emmental cheese--both are Swiss cheese varieties, and are great melting cheeses.  They add an earthy note that compliments other cheeses well.
  • parmesan cheese--a little of this wonderful cheese goes a long way.  Buy the real stuff, not the canned, shelf-stable variety!  
  • asiago cheese--get a young asiago if you want to boost the mild and creamy flavors in your macaroni and cheese, or an aged asiago if you want more intense flavor.
  • provolone cheese--this is a great cheese to use if you want a more mild and creamy macaroni and cheese dish.  It melts beautifully and adds a smooth, mild flavor.

Collage of images showing the steps of making a roux.

We start by making a roux, which will thicken our béchamel sauce (the glorious stuff the macaroni gets baked in).  Roux is very simple; melt the 1/2 cup butter in a large pot over medium-high heat, and once the butter starts bubbling, add the 1/2 cup of flour.  Stir with a whisk and cook for one minute.  Just this one minute of cooking is enough to take away that raw flour taste, and really makes a difference in the flavor of the finished macaroni and cheese.

Roux being mixed with milk and stirred with a whisk.

Once the roux has been cooked for a minute, it's time to add the milk.  Many recipes will tell you that you have to heat the milk up first, and only whisk it into the roux once the milk has simmered and is hot.  Not true.  I once went to an event and saw Christopher Kimball, of Cook's Illustrated fame, speak about this very subject.  Of course, I don't remember WHY we no longer need to heat the milk before adding it to the roux for a béchamel sauce, but I remember that it had something to do with how milk used to be processed, and that the instruction to heat the milk first is just a holdover from those earlier times.  I tested it out myself, and true enough, my beloved mac and cheese turned out just as nicely without heating the milk first.  I haven't pre-heated the milk since that day.  So go ahead, pour it in cold, and whisk the milk and the roux together.

Cook the milk and roux mixture for about eight minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.

Nutmeg being grated into the sauce for Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

Remove from heat, and stir in the nutmeg (I borrowed my husband's hands to show off the nutmeg grinder, which I totally recommend), the salt, the dry mustard, and the black pepper.

Cheese being added to a pot full of a milk mixture to make Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

Add in the cheese (a total of 4.5 cups cheese at this point--remember you're reserving some for topping the macaroni and cheese) to the milk mixture, and stir until the cheese melts into the sauce.

Partially cooked macaroni being mixed in a cheese sauce to make Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook macaroni for only two minutes.  We want only partially cooked pasta!  You want it to be cooked to a point even before the pasta is cooked to noodles al dente.    It will finish cooking in the oven.  Drain the macaroni, and mix into the cheese sauce.

You can use other pasta shapes in this recipe if you'd prefer. Fusilli pasta works beautifully my favorite mac n cheese recipe, as does penne pasta.   

Shredded cheese sprinkled over the top of baked mac and cheese ready to put in the oven.

Pour the cheese sauce and noodles into a 9x13 pan.  Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese over the surface.  

Cheez-its crackers being crushed in a ziplock bag with a kitchen mallet to make a topping for Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe.

You can top with bread crumbs, or, as I prefer, with crushed up cheesy crackers.  I used Cheez-Its here, but I've also enjoyed using goldfish crackers.  I love this crunchy topping so much more than breadcrumbs!  Some people use crushed potato chips as a topping, too.  I haven't tried it, but I can imagine it would be crunchy and decadent.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese baked in a 9x13 pan on a wooden cutting board on a dark wood surface.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 30 minutes.

Small bowl full of a serving of Baked Macaroni and Cheese next to a fork on a dark wooden surface.

When it's hot, it's creamy and amazingly delicious.  When it starts to cool down, it's firmer, but still amazingly delicious.  It's the perfect, crowd-pleasing potluck food.  This delicious recipe really does make the best mac.

Small white bowl of baked mac and cheese next to a fork on a dark wood surface..

You can also do everything but bake the mac and cheese ahead of time.  I take the unbaked pan of pasta up with us to the cabin when we go skiing in the winter.  When we come home from a long day on the slopes, all I have to do is pop the pan in the oven, and 30 minutes later we have dinner.   I've never tried freezing it in the unbaked stage, but I'll bet that would work spectacularly, too.  I'm sure you'd have to adjust the baking time and temperature if you were to bake from a frozen state.  If you experiment with that, let me know what works!  

Printable Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Want a one page, printable version of the baked macaroni and cheese recipe?  Click on the image below to print directly or save the recipe to your device.

Navigational image leading reader to printable PDF version of the baked macaroni and cheese recipe.

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Nicole Wills, creator of Tikkido

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