Baked Mac and Cheese is a staple of every household and finding the perfect recipe often can take several tries to find. But look no further, friends, this is a keeper.
Sometimes you want delicious mac and cheese with all the creamy cheesy sauce and no crunch. That’s when you make the Best Stovetop Mac and Cheese around. But when you are looking for the best baked mac and cheese, you need this recipe right here.
Tips For Baked Mac And Cheese
It’s decadent and cheesy with the perfect crunch from toasted breadcrumbs, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. First, we start with perfectly cooked pasta and a homemade roux.
First, keep in mind that the pasta should be al dente, because it goes in the oven at the end. This means you want to cook it about a minute less than you might normally.
A roux is a mixture of fat and flour used as the base for sauce. The best roux is made with butter and flour, which helps create a perfectly smooth and creamy texture that’ll leave you wanting more with each bite.
I also think that the best macaroni and cheese has at least a couple kinds of cheese for the best flavor.
What Kind Of Cheese?
Once we make the base of our sauce, we add a nice sharp Cheddar cheese to give a little bite to the sauce and balance it with creamy mild Colby Jack and rich half-and-half to give a good depth of flavor to the sauce.
While Cheddar is super classic for macaroni, you can absolutely play with your combinations. Instead of the Colby Jack, try Gruyere for a bit of nuttiness, mozzarella for creaminess, or smoked gouda for extra depth.
Want extra cheese? Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top along with the breadcrumbs.
Can I Use Pre-Shredded Cheese?
I know it’s tempting because it’s so convenient, but your cheese sauce will be better if you grate it yourself. Why? The pre-shredded cheese at the store has additives that prevent the cheese from clumping up in the bag. It doesn’t really affect the taste, but in my experience it doesn’t melt as nicely. So, buy the blocks of cheese and take a couple extra minutes and grate it yourself for the best result.
Making The Breadcrumb Topping
The best part of Baked Mac and Cheese always has to be a bite with the breadcrumbs and we don’t use just any old breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs tend to be crunchier. They are used in Japanese cuisine and have larger flakes than your traditional breadcrumbs. If you can’t find them by the regular bread crumbs, check the aisle with Asian ingredients.
With the butter, they toast perfectly in the oven while remaining light and airy and not greasy at all. The result is a perfectly crispy breadcrumb. The contrast between the crunch of the breadcrumb topping and the creamy macaroni is amazing. Peak comfort food.Print
- 8 cups water
- 8 oz. elbow macaroni
- 1 Tbsp. + ½ tsp. salt
- 7 Tbsp. butter, divided
- 4 Tbsp. all purpose flour
- 1 and ½ cups half and half
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 8 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese
- 4 oz. shredded Colby Jack cheese
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a large pot, bring water and 1 tablespoon of the salt to boil. Add elbow macaroni and cook for 9 minutes, until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat.
- Whisk in flour until incorporated and no clumps remain. Add in half and half slowly, while continually whisking. Mixture will thicken so keep whisking until smooth.
- Add in onion powder, garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. of salt and the pepper and stir until incorporated. Add cheeses a handful at a time and whisk until melted. Pour in pasta and stir to coat.
- Add mixture to a 4-quart casserole dish.
- In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs and 3 Tbsp. of melted butter until well coated.
- Top pasta with breadcrumbs.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, uncovered until bubbly. If breadcrumbs brown too quickly, top with aluminum foil.
- Serve warm.
This post originally appeared in August 2019 and was revised and republished in November 2022.