This baked mac and cheese is a blend of tender noodles in a rich and creamy cheese sauce, topped off with more cheese and baked to perfection. The ultimate macaroni and cheese recipe that always gets rave reviews!
My kids are big fans of mac and cheese, they’re always requesting slow cooker mac and cheese, stovetop mac and cheese and this ultra decadent baked version. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with mac and cheese!
Macaroni and cheese is a timeless recipe for a reason – it’s incredibly delicious! This baked mac and cheese is the ultimate version of this popular dish. It features hearty corkscrew pasta in a super smooth and creamy sauce, with plenty of melted cheese for good measure. It’s the best mac and cheese I’ve ever tasted.
How do you make baked mac and cheese?
Start by making a roux with butter and flour, then whisk in milk and water. Add pasta and spices to the milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. When the noodles are tender, stir in two types of shredded cheese. The final step is to transfer your mac and cheese to a casserole dish, top it with more cheese, then bake everything to gooey and melted perfection.
Tips for Baked Mac and Cheese
- I use corkscrew pasta in this recipe, it’s sometimes called cavatappi or cellentani. These noodles are heartier than standard elbow macaroni and don’t get mushy as they bake. If you want to use elbow macaroni or a different type of short pasta, that will also work just fine. If you use elbow macaroni, you may need to reduce the cook time.
- I recommend using freshly grated cheese for this recipe. The bagged pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-caking agents and just don’t melt as smoothly.
- I find that whole milk works best for the creamiest sauce. That being said, you can make this recipe with other types of milk with good results.
- This is a thick and cheesy dish! If you prefer a thinner sauce, you can stir in a little extra milk at the end to get to your desired consistency.
What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese?
Cheddar cheese is my favorite choice for macaroni and cheese. It’s flavorful, melts great and gives the mac and cheese its traditional orange color. That being said, make sure you’re using a regular mild, medium or sharp cheddar cheese and not a cheddar cheese that’s extra sharp or aged. The aged cheeses can separate when melted and you won’t get a smooth and silky sauce. I often add in small amounts of other types of cheese for extra flavor, like parmesan, jack cheese or mozzarella. For this recipe, I’ve added some mozzarella because I love the creamy flavor it adds to this dish. Feel free to experiment with other types of cheese that melt well such as fontine or gruyere.
What can I add to mac and cheese?
I am a purist, and I love my mac and cheese simply with the noodles and cheese sauce, sometimes with a little parsley for garnish. But there are countless ways to dress up your macaroni and cheese. Some suggestions are:
- Crumbled cooked bacon
- Grilled chicken
- Fresh herbs
- Italian sausage
- Hot sauce
- Buttered breadcrumb topping
WHAT SPICES GO WELL WITH BAKED MAC AND CHEESE?
Spices are a great way to accentuate the flavor of the cheese sauce. I typically add salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and smoked paprika to my macaroni and cheese. You could also use regular paprika, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, or chili powder.
WHAT GOES WITH MAC AND CHEESE?
I typically serve this baked mac and cheese as a side dish, but my kids often eat it as a main course! Here are some entree and side dish suggestions to go with your mac and cheese.
- Garlic & Herb Chicken Drumsticks
- Roasted Asparagus
- Sweet and Sour Meatballs
- Roasted Butternut Squash
- Bacon Fried Cabbage
This is a must-make recipe in my house, and I hope your family loves it as much as mine does!
Baked Mac and Cheese Video
Baked Mac and Cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 4 cups milk I use whole milk
- 1 pound corkscrew pasta such as cavatappi or cellentani
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 5 cups cheddar cheese shredded, divided use
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- cooking spray
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 3-4 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
- Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour, then whisk until combined, about 30 seconds.
- Pour in the water and whisk until smooth and just thickened.
- Add the milk and whisk until combined.
- Stir in the pasta, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and pepper, then bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender.
- Turn the heat to low, then stir in 4 cups of cheddar cheese and the mozzarella. Keep stirring until the sauce is smooth.
- Spread the pasta mixture into an even layer in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheddar cheese over the top.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and pasta is bubbling. Serve immediately.
This post was originally published on November 5, 2019 and was updated on October 21, 2020 with new content.