This classic baked macaroni and cheese is in steady rotation in my home. My kids really love it. However, It is not how I always made macaroni and cheese. When I first started making good macaroni and cheese on my own I made it the Trinidadian macaroni pie way. My good Trini/Grenadian friend taught how to make macaroni pie when I was in undergrad. Her macaroni pie was bomb.com (are kids still saying this, insert shoulders raised emoji here). I continued to make my macaroni and cheese this way until a few years ago.
A new discovery:
While planning my Christmas menu one year I came across a recipe for mac and cheese using a white sauce (bechamel if you’re fancy). I remember that this was the way my mom made it when I was growing up. The recipe I found was unlike any other mac and cheese I ever had. It called for smoked gouda, and some other smoked cheeses as well as fresh herbs. I decided to give it a try and the end product was so rich and creamy that I started making my mac and cheese with that white sauce base and never looked back. Now don’t get me wrong, when I am in a rush I totally make a good ole macaroni pie, so I’m not knocking macaroni pie.
How I evolved my recipes over time
When you cook often you tend to rely on your classic recipes as a base and then you branch out from there. That’s how I feel about this recipe. It is my base for many other types of macaroni and cheese recipes that I make. My 5 Cheese Macaroni and Cheese Recipe is a remix of this one.
You can’t really go wrong with a classic. It has that rich sharp cheddar flavor with a mild yellow mustard taste and has the right amount of garlic and onion powder tells your tastebuds this dish was seasoned but you don’t encounter any bits of seasoning while eating (totally picky kid eater friendly). This dish is rich enough to grace your holiday table but simple enough for every day meals.
Choosing the right type of cheese for your Macaroni and Cheese
Everyone I know has made macaroni and cheese at some point in his/her life. The thing that makes the difference in how your macaroni and cheese tastes is the type and amount of cheese you use. Let’s talk about different types of cheese. Whether you want to keep it simple and grab some cheddar cheese or explore other types of cheese, like Ina Garten says, you must get the good quality cheese for the best mac and cheese.
What to use for this recipe
For this recipe, please buy extra sharp, aged or Vermont cheddar. I promise you that it will make the difference in the flavor. Also block cheese is always better than the shredded ones (I really am sounding like Ina now). Do I use shredded cheese? Yes, absolutely. I have a few bags in my fridge right now. I have 3 kids. They are always hungry. I always need to whip up quick meals and snacks. Do I put store bought shredded cheese in my macaroni and cheese? No ma’am. Okay, I sometimes put some store bought shredded cheese when making stove top boxed mac and cheese because my kids like that little bit of stretchy cheese in there. But I do not put it in my baked macaroni and cheese. I tried it once, when I was in a rush and regretted it.
Ok, I’m off my soap box. What can I say, I want you to get this right. I want your family to melt into every bite the way my family does, eyes rolling back in their heads and everything. I want you to get marriage proposals when you make this. I’ve gotten a few! I want people to always ask you to bring this Classic Macaroni and Cheese to all of the pot lucks and cook outs. I want you to be great, my friends. And friends don’t let friends use the wrong cheeses in their macaroni and cheese. Geez I guess I wasn’t off my soap box. Ha!
How much cheese is too much?
For this recipe I used a little less than two pounds of cheese for one pound of macaroni noodles. To be precise, I used a pound and a half of cheese for the noodle cheese sauce combo base and I used 4 ounces for the crust on top. If you are not a cheesy crust on your macaroni and cheese type of person we can’t be friend. Okay, we can be friends but you will only need a pound and a half of cheese and you can skip the cheese crust step in the recipe. For my cheeses, I chose an extra sharp cheddar cheese and an aged reserve cheddar cheese. If you can’t find an aged cheddar cheese use a Vermont white cheddar. Thank me later.
For shredding , please use the shred side of a multi-side cheese shredder or the big side as I call it. Or you can use your food processor, if it has a shred blade. I used the cheese shredder for the picture above (blogger tricks), but I totally shredded the rest of my cheese in my food processor, see below.
Making the Bechamel (White sauce) for the Macaroni and Cheese
Bechamel sauce is a classic white sauce that is the base in many macaroni and cheese recipes and other casseroles. Some recipes for bechamel sauce include heavy cream. When I first started making my macaroni and cheese with a sauce base I used a cup of heavy cream and 3 cups of milk for in the sauce. However, I would always end up having left over heavy cream that just sat in my fridge and then expired. So I removed heavy cream from my recipe and now I only use milk.
Low and Slow is the way to go
The best way to make bechamel is low and slow. I melted the butter on low heat, then added the flour and cooked that for a few minutes on low then added the milk. Because you are cooking on low heat, it is important to warm your milk before adding it to the butter and flour mixture. I warmed my milk in the microwave (I like easy work) but you can warm yours in a saucepan on the stove top, if you prefer.
After I add the milk, I typically increase the heat to medium while continuing to stir the mixture. I do this because it takes forever to bring the milk to a boil on low and I’m very impatient. But I watch the milk like a hungry patron watches the kitchen door after ordering at a restaurant. I keep stirring the pot to ensure that the milk does not burn. Once the milk comes to a boil I return the heat to low and continue to stir until the milk mixture thickens. Once I’ve achieved the right consistency – a translucent creamy white texture – I remove the sauce completely from the heat. Then I season my sauce, using a whisk to blend it all into a smooth sauce.
Adding the cheese to the sauce and pasta
The next step is a combination of classic macaroni and cheese and macaroni pie. First I set aside 2 cups of cheese for the crust. Then I divide the remaining cheese into two. I add one portion to the bechamel and stir until it is melted and creamy. And then I add the bachemel sauce to the cooked macaroni noodles. Please don’t mix your cheese and noodles in the pan you plan to bake in. A good tip is to return the noodles after cooking and draining, to the pot you used to cook the noodles in.
The secret to the texture:
Next I add the remaining half of the shredded cheese to the noodles and cheese sauce combination. I discovered over time that adding the cheese in this combination adds a really great texture to the finished product. Once I’ve combined all of the cheese I transfer the mixed macaroni and cheese into a greased casserole dish. The final step is to sprinkle the two cups of cheese I reserved earlier, over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
Finishing up the classic macaroni and cheese
We are almost at the finish line. I recommend baking this classic macaroni and cheese at 350 °F for 45 minutes. You can bake it for longer if you like a darker crust but 45 minutes is usually perfect for me and my family. Cook it on the middle oven rack for even baking. This classic macaroni and cheese comes out perfectly every time. I hope you give it a try soon and do let me know how it comes out. Share a photo and tag me on instagram or facebook. Once it’s done baking, remove from the oven and let it cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Classic Macaroni and Cheese Recipe:
- 1 lb (+ 4 ounces for the crust) extra sharp cheddar cheese
- ½ lb aged cheddar
- 4 cups of warm milk
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- 1lb elbow macaroni noodles
- Preheat oven to 350 °F
- Shred cheese together and set aside. Keep 4 ounces for crust topping separately
- Cook the macaroni noodles by following instructions on the box
- Then drain noodles and return to the pot or place in a large mixing bowl
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan on low heat
- Once butter is completely melted add flour. Stir together until flour is completely mixed into the melted butter
- Cook butter and flour mixture for 3 minutes, then add warmed milk
- Increase heat to medium and bring milk to a boil while continuously stirring to prevent burning
- Once milk comes to a boil reduce the heat to low and and continue to stir until mixture forms a creamy translucent sauce and coats the back of a wooden spoon
- Remove sauce completely from the heat
- Add garlic powder, onion powder and mustard and whisk together to smoothly combine with sauce
- Divide shredded cheese (excluding the cheese reserved for the topping) into 2
- Add ½ to the sauce, stirring with a wooden spoon until is it melted and forms a creamy cheese sauce
- Then add the sauce to the cooked pasta and mix together
- Combine the remaining ½ of the shredded cheese with the pasta and cheese sauce mixture and gently stir together
- Pour the mixed pasta, cheese sauce, shredded cheese combination into a greased casserole dish and top with the shredded cheese set aside for the crust
- Place on the middle rack of the oven
- Bake for 45 minutes
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving