My husband will tell you the first thing I ever made for him was this baked macaroni and cheese. From that moment on, I had his heart. This recipe is a combination of many I have seen over the years, but it all comes back to the basics of a great baked casserole. Pasta, cheese, and a creamy sauce. I'm excited to share my secrets with you for the perfect pasta dish.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
The best comfort food meal you will ever have is macaroni and cheese. It's no surprise that this is one of the most popular meals for kids, but also adults. It has been, as long as I can recall, one of my go-to comfort foods. This recipe is my favorite baked version and is sure to please even the pickiest person at your dinner table.
Everyone has their own version of this recipe. There are different cheeses, various methods of adding the creaminess to the recipe, and even a variety of pasta used. You can find a recipe to fit your taste preferences, food allergies, and how much time you have to prepare the meal.
This recipe, however, is the ultimate of all recipes. It combines the best of the best and is a show stopper that is far from a boxed pasta dinner.
What Are the Best Cheeses for Baked Mac & Cheese?
Cheeses you add to this recipe are as varied as the recipes out there. My personal favorite combination for a baked version like this is a mixture of cheddar, American, and Gruyere.
That doesn't mean these are the only cheeses you can use. I am a huge fan of getting creative when possible and that includes using variety in the kitchen. The only thing I recommend is making sure it is a cheese that will melt well. Things like paneer, halloumi, goat cheese, ricotta, or feat are not good choices for macaroni and cheese.
Do You Put Eggs in Macaroni and Cheese?
I do not add eggs to my macaroni and cheese. This is a popular option to help thicken sauces and add an extra creaminess to the sauce. While it is common, and often found in the Southern version of this dish, it is one that I find unnecessary.
This roux and cheese sauce is thick enough that you will not miss the creaminess added by an egg in other recipes. Skip the eggs and instead make a traditional cheese sauce.
How do You Keep Macaroni and Cheese From Drying Out?
The most important part of baking any pasta, including this one, is to make sure it doesn't get too dry. One of the things that I find most helpful when baking this is to cover the top with aluminum foil for the first half of the bake time. This helps trap some moisture into the casserole and prevents the top from browning too much and drying out.
The other thing that makes this particular recipe better is that it starts with a thick sauce. A bit more sauce than pasta helps keep it moist and still packed with flavor without being watery. Prepare the sauce before mixing with the pasta for the best results and then make sure the pasta is thoroughly coated and the top is covered in cheese so no pasta is exposed.
How to Make Macaroni and Cheese Creamier
If you want a super creamy pasta with more liquid but not watery, you can add ½ cup more heavy cream right before pouring the sauce into the pasta. This will thin out the roux after it is done cooking, but will still keep it thick.
Another rich and somewhat unhealthy option is to add additional butter on top of the pasta right before topping with the last layer of cheese. I find this method to be a bit too much for my preferences. As I am prone to say, make this dish your own with little changes that adjust the results to fit your needs.
What is a Roux?
A roux is the base of many sauces. It consists of fat like butter or oil, flour, and a liquid. Most commonly it will include milk or cream as the liquid. For many, this is also the base of a gravy.
They are, in essence, the same, but a roux is what most use as the start to a sauce like this or for a thickener for soups and chowders.
How to Reheat Macaroni and Cheese
When reheating this baked mac and cheese, I prefer to add a tablespoon of heavy cream to a portion, stir it well before heating. You can also add a bit of butter, extra sauce (if you have any). A sprinkle of water on the top of the pasta before heating can work in a pinch.
You can also add additional cheese on top if you are baking for a bit more texture and flavor. It is my opinion, that there is very rarely ever too much cheese.
To reheat the dish, I prefer starting with 30-second increments in the microwave if in a hurry. If there is enough time, it is much better when heated in the oven to crisp the edges of the cheese.
Variations of Mac and Cheese
This dish is perfect just like it is, but we often like to create an "all in one" meal that can be eaten in a single bowl. When I have this on the menu, I often add a few different items into the dish to add a bit more flavor, nutrition, or protein. Below are some of our family's favorite variations.
- Mix in ½ pound chopped fully cooked bacon or ham.
- Add a green vegetable like green peas, broccoli, asparagus, or even spinach and kale.
- Change the seasonings by adding cumin in place of the paprika for a "taco" seasoned pasta or curry powder for a curried pasta.
- Serve your favorite chili over the top of the pasta for a homemade "chili mac".
- Saute andouille sausage and add to the pasta before baking. Or, for the kids, add chopped hot dogs.
- Mix in seasoned cooked ground beef before or after baking.
What Goes with Macaroni and Cheese
The better question may be what doesn't go with it! There has never been a meal we have had where macaroni and cheese didn't easily fit into the menu. That may only be because we are pretty much addicted to this recipe, but I really think it is true.
Have curry? Mix it in.
Have chili? Mix it in.
Made veggies? Mix them in.
Grilled a steak? Serve it on the side.
Lobster or shrimp on the menu? It's a perfect combination.
In all honesty, macaroni and cheese is the perfect side for pretty much any protein. It mixes well with all vegetables, even Brussels sprouts. You can add it to any meal on your menu, and I am 99.9% certain it will be a hit.
- Elbow macaroni
- All-purpose flour
- Heavy cream
- Black pepper
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Mustard powder
- Cheddar cheese
- American cheese
- Gruyere cheese
How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°F and prepare a casserole dish with nonstick spray or butter then set aside.
Shred and mix together all cheeses, then divide into two equal portions.
Follow the directions for cooking the pasta, but remove from the heat and drain 2 minutes earlier than recommended. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat.
Now, you will make your roux by melting butter over medium heat and then adding in your flour and whisking or stirring until combined. Continue cooking stirring occasionally for another 1-2 minutes.
Pour in the milk and cream, whisking well until it is fully incorporated and no lumps remain. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken.
Mix in the spices and stir.
Add in ½ of the shredded cheese and stir. Mix together until the cheese melts.
Pour the cheese sauce over your drained pasta and stir to combine.
Pour ½ of the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish, then top with ½ the remaining cheese. Repeat this process making sure all of the pasta is covered nicely with cheese.
Put the macaroni into the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is melted and browning.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with parsley before serving.
Want More Comfort Food Recipes?
Make sure you check out these great comfort food meals. These are perfect for filling out your meal plan with delicious food this week!
- Homemade Egg Noodle Recipe
- Simple Old Fashioned Goulash Recipe
- Quick and Easy Spaghetti Bolognese
- Roasted Chicken with Garlic Butter
- Skillet Pork Chops with Pan Gravy
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ½ tsp paprika
- 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup American cheese, shredded
- 1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and spray a 9"x13" casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside;
- Shred and mix together all cheeses, then divide in half;
- Cook the pasta until just slightly underdone as it will continue cooking in the oven, drain the pasta and then add the olive oil and stir to coat, set aside;
- In a large stockpot, melt butter over medium heat and add flour then stir continuously until combined and just beginning to turn color;
- Pour in the milk and cream, and whisk vigorously to remove all clumps and then let cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened;
- Add in the salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, mustard powder, and paprika then stir until combined;
- Mix in ½ of the cheese mixture and stir until melted and the sauce is fully thickened;
- Pour the sauce over the pasta and coat well;
- Now, pour ½ the pasta mixture into the casserole dish, then top with ½ the remaining cheese then repeat a second layer of pasta then cheese;
- Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is melted and turning golden;
- Top with a sprinkle of parsley and serve!
Mix and match your preferred cheese blends for different flavors following the same measurements.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 517Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 20gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 100mgSodium: 968mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 20g