Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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Macaroni and cheese has been a favorite food of mine since I was a kid. My kids also love it, and I wanted to share my favorite baked macaroni and cheese recipe with you because it’s so easy and delicious.

I use two cheeses; cheddar and gruyere, but you can get creative and make it your own. Keep reading for how to make this baked macaroni and cheese recipe and some alternative cheese ideas at the end!

Ingredients

Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients (for details see text)

1 lb. elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 ½ cups whole milk

1 ½ cup half & half

1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Extra cheese for topping

How to Stop Noodles From Getting Soggy in Baked Mac and Cheese

After years of making mac and cheese, I’ve learned that the noodles are easy to overcook when you boil them and then bake them in a creamy cheese sauce.

To ensure your noodles don’t get overdone in the oven, cut the cooking time by about 1-2 minutes. Be sure to taste your pasta before draining it and make sure it still has some bite to it. After mixing it into the sauce and baking it, it will continue to cook.

Instructions

Before the following steps, you can start preheating your oven to 375°F (190°C). The mac and cheese comes together pretty quickly, and having your oven preheated means you can go from pan to plate super fast!

Step 1 – Shred the Cheese

Shredded Cheese

I do this step first because it makes everything come together more quickly. 

Always shred your own cheese for macaroni and cheese. The pre-shredded cheese has a coating on it to keep it from clumping, and that can affect your sauce consistency. 

Step 2 – Cook and Drain the Pasta

Cooked and Drained Pasta

Salt the water generously before boiling. Add your dried pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions.

I like to use classic elbow macaroni, but cavatappi or shells are also a good choice as they hold sauce well. 

Drain the pasta before it’s fully cooked. You’ll want a bit of bite left as it will finish cooking in the oven. 

Step 3 – Start the Sauce

Roux

Add your butter to a saucepan over medium heat. Let it melt, and then add your flour. 

Cook the flour in the butter until it’s bubbly but not brown. This takes about 2 minutes, and the result is called a roux. More on this later.

Step 4 – Add the Milk, Cheeses and Finish the Sauce

Roux with Cheese on top to make sauce

Add the milk and stir. Stir constantly, until the sauce thickens.

Add the shredded cheeses, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika to your thickened sauce. 

Stir until everything is melted and combined.

Step 5 – Add Sauce to Cooked Pasta

Home made mac and cheese in saucepan being stirred

Stir your sauce into your cooked pasta and if it looks a little dry, add a touch more half and half.

Step 6 – Pour Into Casserole and Top with Cheese and Bake

Mac and Cheese in casserole ready to bake

Pour the mac and cheese into a 13×9 baking dish and then top with additional shredded cheese.

Bake in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 20 minutes until bubbly on the edges and in the middle. You can use the broiler for about 1 minute to make sure the top starts to brown. 

Avoid overbaking to keep the cheese sauce creamy and to prevent the noodles from getting soggy.

Cookware Used

Below are a few things I found helpful for making this recipe.

Casserole dish: I used a 13×9 casserole dish for this, but you could also use a glass baking dish. A cast-iron skillet would also be a great baking dish for a chewy, cheese exterior after baking.

Silicone whisk: I love using a whisk to mix this cheese sauce to make sure everything is incorporated without lumps. A silicone-coated whisk will protect your cookware no matter how much you stir.

Tips for Making the Cheese Sauce for Baked Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese Sauce

The sauce is the most crucial part of mac and cheese. A homemade cheese sauce starts with a roux which is equal parts fat, in this case butter, and flour. This is used to thicken your milk to make a creamy sauce. 

To the roux, you add milk and half and half for a creamy base for your cheeses. Below are my tips for the best cheese sauce for baked mac and cheese.

  • Cook the flour in the melted butter for at least 2 minutes; you want to cook out the raw taste of the flour
  • Avoid browning the roux. That is great for gravies, but not for a cheese sauce
  • Use milk that has come close to room temperature for a smoother sauce
  • Once you add the milk, stir constantly to avoid scalding the milk
  • The sauce is ready to add cheese when it coats the back of a spoon

The Best Cheeses for Homemade Mac and Cheese

The fun part is making these recipes your own, so be sure to try a few different combinations to find the best for your family. Here are some of my favorite cheeses:

  • Sharp cheddar
  • White cheddar
  • Gruyere
  • Fontina
  • Gouda
  • Swiss
  • Colby Jack
  • Brie

Now It’s Your Turn

Mac and Cheese being served

It’s time for you to choose your cheeses and get to baking! Whether this is a side dish for a perfectly grilled steak or your contribution to a potluck, you’ll enjoy this cheesy, baked mac and cheese recipe in under an hour.

Print

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Author: Beatriz Garcia
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

1 lb. elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 ½ cups whole milk

1 ½ cup half & half

1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Extra cheese for topping

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). 

Shred the Cheese

Shred or grate the cheese.

Cook and Drain the Pasta

Salt the water generously before boiling. Add your dried pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions.

Stop and drain the pasta just before it’s fully cooked.

Start the Sauce

Add your butter to a saucepan over medium heat. Let it melt, and then add your flour. 

Cook the flour in the butter until it’s bubbly but not brown. 

Add the Milk, Cheeses and Finish the Sauce 

Add the milk and stir. Stir constantly, until the sauce thickens.

Add the shredded cheeses, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika to your thickened sauce. 

Stir until everything is melted and combined.

Add Sauce to Cooked Pasta

Stir your sauce into your cooked pasta and if it looks a little dry, add a touch more half and half.

Pour Into Casserole and Top with Cheese and Bake

Pour the mac and cheese into a 13×9 baking dish and then top with additional shredded cheese.

Bake in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 20 minutes until bubbly on the edges and in the middle.

Tried this Recipe?

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