Classic macaroni and cheese starts with a rich roux base and ends with creamy, cheesy mac and cheese baked to golden brown perfection. Serve this comforting side dish with a simple weeknight dinner or as part of a holiday meal.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Baked macaroni and cheese is always in steady rotation in my home. However, it is not how I always made macaroni and cheese. When I first started making it on my own, I made it the Trinidadian macaroni pie way thanks to a good Trini/Grenadian friend.
But you can’t go wrong with a classic macaroni and cheese. It has a rich sharp cheddar flavor with a mild yellow mustard taste that’s subtle enough to not be detected by picky eaters. When you cook often you tend to rely on your classic recipes as a base and then you branch out from there.
- Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
- Why You’ll Love This Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
- Ingredients for Macaroni and Cheese
- How to Make Macaroni and Cheese
- How much cheese is too much?
- Can you freeze macaroni and cheese?
- Recipe Variations
- Tips for the Best Macaroni and Cheese
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Classic Macaroni and Cheese
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.
Why You’ll Love This Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
- Kid Friendly: I want your family to melt into every bite the way my family does, eyes rolling back in their heads and everything. My children love it when I make this. It’s cheese and noodles so even the pickiest eaters will gobble this up!
- Great Comfort Food: Everything about mac and cheese is indulgent and decadent. Silky cheese sauce smothers perfectly cooked pasta before it is baked to crisp, bubbly perfection.
- Customizable: Make it with or without a roux, and try different cheeses, additions, and toppings.
- Great for Any Occasion: This dish is rich enough to grace your holiday table but simple enough for everyday meals too. Master this recipe and you’ll always be asked to bring this classic macaroni and cheese potlucks and cookouts.
Ingredients for Macaroni and Cheese
This easy macaroni and cheese recipe requires just a few pantry staples.
- Elbow Macaroni Noodles: This is the classic noodle shape for mac and cheese.
- Cheese: extra sharp cheddar cheese and aged cheddar
- Butter and Flour: This is what you need to make a roux, a thickening agent.
- Milk or heavy cream: Add this to the roux to make your cheese sauce.
- Seasoning: Keep it simple with onion powder and garlic powder.
- Spicy Brown Mustard: This adds a zesty, tangy flavor. Don’t worry; it won’t taste like mustard!
See recipe card for quantities.
How to Make Macaroni and Cheese
Using a Bechamel Sauce:
When I was growing up my mother always made her mac and cheese with a white sauce (bechamel). It made the mac and cheese creamy and rich. Some people choose to skip the bechemel and just use cheese and milk, but I love the results of using a sauce. It’s really simple and requires equal parts butter to flour and then the addition of milk and cream.
The Best Cheese for Macaroni and Cheese
For this recipe, please buy extra sharp, aged, or Vermont cheddar. I promise you that it will make a difference in the flavor. Also, block cheese is always better than shredded cheese. Do I use shredded cheese in other recipes for convenience? Yes. 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 stovetop 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.
How much cheese is too much?
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 friends. 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 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.
Make 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 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.
Melt the butter on low heat, then add the flour and cook that for a few minutes on low. Then add 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 warm my milk in the microwave (I like easy work) but you can warm yours in a saucepan on the stovetop, if you prefer.
After adding the milk, 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.
Keep stirring the pot to ensure that the milk does not burn. Once the milk comes to a boil, return the heat to low and continue to stir until the milk mixture thickens. Once you’ve achieved the right consistency – a translucent creamy white texture – remove the sauce completely from the heat. Then season the sauce, using a whisk to blend it all into a smooth sauce.
Add cheese to the sauce and pasta
The next step is a combination of classic macaroni and cheese and macaroni pie. Set aside 2 cups of cheese for the crust. Then divide the remaining cheese into two. I add one portion to the bechamel and stir until it is melted and creamy. Then add the bechamel sauce to the cooked macaroni noodles.
The secret to the texture
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 you’ve combined all of the cheese, transfer the mixed macaroni and cheese into a greased casserole dish. The final step is to sprinkle the two cups of cheese you reserved earlier, over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
Bake 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. Once it’s done baking, remove it from the oven and let it cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and consume within 3-4 days. To reheat, microwave or warm it on the stovetop. You may need to add a splash of heavy cream if it seems too thick.
Can you freeze macaroni and cheese?
Yes. For longer storage, freeze macaroni and cheese in a zip lock bag and store for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the fridge overnight before reheating.
- Cheese: 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. You can also try a combination of other cheeses including parmesan, Monterey jack, Colby jack, fontina, gruyère, gouda
- Pasta: Try cavatappi pasta as a replacement for elbows. It’s a similar shape but has more ridges for the cheese to cling onto.
- Simple Mac and Cheese Recipe without Flour: Although this recipe is easy, nothing is more simple than a stovetop macaroni and cheese. If you like your mac and cheese runnier, but still creamy, cook the pasta until it’s al dente, and skip the roux (but keep the butter). Don’t bake it. Serve immediately after all the ingredients are combined.
Tips for the Best Macaroni and Cheese
- For the best macaroni and cheese, use good quality cheese. And shred it yourself! Preshredded cheese has a grainy texture and doesn’t melt the same. The flavor and texture as so much better when you shred your own cheese.
- The best way to cook bechamel is low and slow. Otherwise, you risk curdling the sauce.
- Don’t mix your cheese and noodles in the pan you plan to bake in. After cooking and draining, return the noodles to the pot you used to cook the noodles in.
- Don’t forget to sprinkle the dish with shredded cheese just before baking. That crispy topping keeps the rest of the dish nice and moist just beneath the surface.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best cheeses for macaroni and cheese are sharp cheddar, gruyère, and fontina. You want a high quality cheese that melts well.
It may become too thick if too much flour is added to the roux. Correct this immediately by adding more liquid (milk) until you reach your desired consistency.
No. If you are concerned with it drying out, don’t overcook it or cook it at too high of a temperature. Bake macaroni and cheese at 350°F for 45 minutes, in the middle rack of the oven for the best results.
Classic Macaroni and Cheese
- Casserole Dish
- 1 lb elbow macaroni noodles
- 1 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese + 4 ounces for the crust
- 1/2 lb aged cheddar
- 4 cups warm milk
- 1 stick Butter (8 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- 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 1/2 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 1/2 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.
The information listed in the recipe card is an estimate provided by an online nutrition tool. The tool evaluates ingredient names and amounts then makes calculations based on the number of servings listed for the recipe. It is provided as a general guideline and not as a precise calculation. For precise nutrition information please feel free to add the ingredients to your preferred nutrition calculator or consult a doctor or licensed nutritionist.