An irresistible family favorite, this ultra-cheesy Baked Macaroni and Cheese is simple to make and perfect for holidays, meatless meals, or any occasion. Everyone will devour this ultra-cheese mac!
A Comfort Food Classic – Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese!
When you’re in the mood for a hot meal that’s simple, nourishing, and cozy, you can’t do better than macaroni and cheese. Each bite of tender pasta coated in velvety cheese sauce is an indulgence, while at the same time, a wholesome homemade dinner. My version is loaded with three cheeses, heavy cream, and a little garlic and onion powder – SO good! And, rich!
When it comes to making macaroni and cheese, one of my hands-down favorites is classic baked macaroni. It’s similar to cooking it on the stove, but with an added oven cook time for more developed flavors, and best of all, a layer of bubbly melted mozzarella on top. You’ll swoon over that stretchy layer of golden-brown cheese! It’s the ultimate finishing touch.
The Ingredients You’ll Need
This macaroni and cheese recipe includes not just one, but three cheeses – because nothing says “comfort food” like three scrumptious cheeses, melted into a smooth, creamy sauce.
- Pasta: Classic dry elbow pasta is the base of this recipe.
- Sea Salt: Some for the pasta water, and some for the sauce.
- Butter: I use unsalted butter
- Flour: To thicken the sauce, we’ll combine the butter with some all-purpose flour.
- Milk: Whole milk is best, for a really creamy sauce.
- Seasonings: Garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper.
- Cream: Heavy whipping cream is my secret ingredient!
- Parmesan: A little grated parmesan adds a ton of flavor.
- Shredded Cheese: I use a cup of cheddar cheese, a cup of mozzarella cheese, and a cup of gouda.
- Extra Cheese: For a perfectly melty finish, you’ll need an extra cup of mozzarella, for topping.
- Thyme: Fresh thyme, for a pretty topping or garnish.
What Is the Best Cheese Combination for Mac and Cheese?
You can use any combination of cheeses that you like, but I definitely recommend steering toward cheese that is good for melting. You’ll notice that I include a small amount of parmesan cheese in this recipe because it has such a great cheesy flavor – but I don’t use too much, because it can sometimes be a pain to melt properly.
Cheddar, gouda, gruyere, Colby, Havarti, and other similar cheeses are all great options for this dish.
How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
The method for making baked macaroni and cheese is a three-part process: cooking your macaroni, making a simple cheese sauce, and baking it all together.
- Cook the Pasta. First, fill a large pot with water, and add a teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it for one minute less than the package instructions. Drain the noodles well, add a tablespoon of butter, and set aside.
- Make the Roux. The sauce starts with a blonde roux (butter and flour cooked together until golden). In a large saucepan or medium pot, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Next, whisk in the flour to make a thick paste. Cook this, stirring continuously, until the roux turns a pale golden color, about 2 – 3 minutes.
- Turn the Roux into a Cheese Sauce. Now you’ll pour in the milk, and whisk it into the roux until it becomes a creamy sauce free of any lumps. Turn the heat down to low, and add the spices, cream, parmesan, and grated cheese (except the mozzarella topping). Stir to make a smooth sauce, and let it simmer for a moment to thicken. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.
- Assemble the Casserole. Take the cheese sauce off the heat, and gently dump the cooked macaroni directly into the cheese sauce. Stir well to coat the macaroni completely and get the sauce into the noodles, as well. Spoon into a baking dish, and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese for topping over the top.
- Bake. Bake the macaroni and cheese until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Enjoy! Serve garnished with thyme.
How Do You Keep Mac and Cheese Creamy?
There are a lot of ways to keep macaroni and cheese as creamy as possible, from adding cottage cheese to boiling the noodles in milk. I like to keep things simple – for creamy mac and cheese, use heavy cream! It’s also important to measure the ingredients for the roux (the cooked flour and butter mixture) carefully. If you make too much roux, the cheese sauce may thicken too much and turn out pasty.
A few more helpful hints are always good when it comes to cooking – these are my best tips for awesome macaroni and cheese. The creamiest, cheesiest macaroni ever!
- Cook the Pasta Al Dente: For the best result, I definitely recommend cooking your pasta on the al dente side – try taking it off the heat and draining it about one minute sooner than the package directions recommend. The reason for this is that the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, and you don’t want it to become mushy.
- Add the Cheese in Batches. To get the creamiest sauce, try stirring in the cheese in batches. It will melt more evenly and help avoid a grainy texture.
- Add Extra Flavor: For added depth of flavor, try stirring a small amount (half a teaspoon or so) of your favorite yellow mustard, spicy mustard, or Dijon mustard into the sauce.
I could make a meal just out of this casserole alone – no lie! Of course, it’s usually preferable to serve it with another dish or two. You can let this be a satisfying vegetarian main course, or serve it as a hearty side with chicken, beef, pork, or seafood. Here are some easy options to consider:
- Chicken: Any fried chicken dish is great with macaroni. My family is crazy for these Everything Bagel Chicken Tenders, coated with your favorite Everything Bagel seasoning and cooked to juicy perfection.
- Ham: Sweet ham and cheesy macaroni? Basically perfection. To make baking a ham extra simple, try this convenient Crock Pot Ham with Brown Sugar Glaze!
- Brussels Sprouts: Are you a fan of these cute “mini cabbages?” If not, you owe it to yourself to try this roasting method – it turns plain brussels sprouts into tender, caramelized perfection. Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts go with everything, especially creamy mac and cheese.
How to Store and Reheat Macaroni and Cheese
- Leftover baked mac and cheese can be stored in your refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Make sure it’s covered tightly so that it stays as fresh as possible, and to keep food odors out. Plastic food storage containers are great for this, and so are zip-top bags.
Can I Freeze This?
- Yes, you can freeze baked macaroni. The important thing is to cool it down first, so you don’t trap steam (and therefore ice!) in the food.
- Once the macaroni has cooled, pack it into freezer containers or bags, and mark it with the date.
- Freeze for up to 3 months, and thaw overnight in your fridge before reheating. Stir when reheating.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 pound dry elbow pasta
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, divided
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3½ cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded gouda cheese
- fresh thyme, for topping, optional
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Fill a large pot with water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and cook the pasta until al dente, 1 minute less than the package instructions. Drain well, stir in 1 tablespoon butter, and set them aside.
- In a large skillet or pot, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour to form a thick paste and continue stirring until the roux begins to turn golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Pour in the milk and whisk until it becomes a creamy sauce free of any lumps.
- Reduce heat to low and stir in the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, heavy cream, grated parmesan, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, shredded cheddar, and shredded gouda.
- Bring the creamy sauce to a simmer, stirring until cheeses are melted and mixture is smooth.
- Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- Remove from heat and add the cooked macaroni directly into the cheese sauce, mix well to get an even creaminess throughout the macaroni.
- Place macaroni in a baking dish, sprinkle with remaining 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese.
- Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
- Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes.
- Garnish with fresh thyme and serve.
- Cook the Pasta: I recommend cooking the pasta a little less time, about one minute sooner than the package directions state because, the pasta will continue to cook in the oven.
- Add the Cheese in Batches: To get the creamiest sauce, try stirring in the cheese in batches. It will melt more evenly and help avoid a grainy texture.
- Add Extra Flavor: For added depth of flavor, try stirring a small amount of your favorite yellow mustard, spicy mustard, or Dijon mustard into the sauce.