Here’s how to do it
Featuring tender pasta, smothered in an outrageously cheesy, ultra-creamy sauce and topped with a crunchy panko parmesan crust, this macaroni and cheese is the definition of comfort food.
This quick and easy recipe starts with a sauce made with milk, cream and two types of cheese. It’s thick, rich, pungent and melting. If you use high-quality, flavorful cheese, you don’t need additional seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, or nutmeg. It’s worth spending a little more on cheese so you can skip the spice aisle.
Take a bite and we reckon you’ll never go back to boxed mac and cheese.
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The best cheese for homemade mac and cheese
Choose cheese for both taste and meltability.
In this recipe, I marry sharp cheddar and gooey Swiss in the creamy sauce. Cheeses that go well in macaroni and cheese include Fontina, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, Gouda, Gruyere, and American. You can substitute a variety of cheeses, just choose a combination that delivers both the flavor and stickiness you want. You’ll need six cups of shredded cheese total, so mix and match as you like.
Use blocks of cheese, not pre-shredded cheese sold in bags. Pre-shredded cheese is often coated with cellulose, an anti-caking agent that prevents clumping. This coating also prevents the cheese from melting properly.
Pick up blocks of cheddar and jack, grab your box grater (or food processor), and let the shredding begin.
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The best pasta for homemade mac and cheese
Elbow macaroni are classic, but any pasta shape will work for macaroni and cheese. I prefer small pasta tubes because the cheese sauce works its way into the pasta tunnels, and each bite delivers tender pasta that’s both coated and filled with melty cheese.
Whatever shape you choose, be sure to cook your pasta a little less than al dente. Stop cooking your pasta about 1 minute before they are al dente, usually the earliest time listed on the package. These macaroni and cheese are baked so they continue to cook in the oven. If you start with soft noodles, they might get mushy.
Note: If you decide not to bake this macaroni and cheese, cook the pasta al dente.
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How to make cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese
A good cheese sauce starts with a roux. Making a roux from buttermilk is easy. Start with melted butter and flour and beat over medium heat until bubbly. When the roux is smooth and golden brown, stir in cold or room temperature milk (warm milk can cause lumps) and simmer gently. Once the sauce thickens, it’s time to add the cheese.
Make sure you never stop stirring.
It’s the cream sauce that makes or breaks your macaroni and cheese. And I mean breaks. If you move away from the pan or stop stirring while the cheese sauce is coming together, it can burn and curdle, meaning the cheese will separate and result in a grainy-looking sauce. The taste will be good, but the presentation will not be.
The entire process of making the sauce only takes about 5 minutes, so plan on sticking with it the whole time.
Don’t forget to taste your cheese sauce before adding pasta. It’s important to taste the cheese sauce before tossing the pasta in, as cheese choices vary. If the sauce seems bland, add a pinch of salt and try again (salt naturally enhances cheese flavor).
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How to make baked macaroni and cheese
You don’t have to bake these macaroni and cheese. If you’d rather serve this macaroni and cheese straight out of the pot, do it! Simply omit the panko parmesan topping in the recipe below, add all of the cheese to the sauce, mix well, and serve.
However, if you want to get that nutty, golden crunch on your macaroni, simply combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter and sprinkle the mixture over your macaroni and cheese in an ovenproof skillet or casserole dish. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
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How long does macaroni and cheese keep?
If you have leftover macaroni and cheese, cover the casserole dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days. If desired, add some milk or cream to the macaroni and cheese before reheating in the microwave.
Pro tip: Microwave small portions in short intervals, about 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time.
Do not freeze leftovers. Homemade macaroni and cheese doesn’t freeze well. It might taste delicious, but after freezing and thawing, the creaminess is gone, the pasta and sauce often separate, and the mixture is downright gooey.
Recipe: How to Make the Ultimate Mac and Cheese
This Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese is easy to make, yet it delivers so much more flavor and texture than a packaged mac ever could.
Power: 4 to 6 servings
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or your choice of tubular pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups grated Swiss cheese
- 6 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk, cold or room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream, cold or room temperature
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 3 or 4 quart casserole dish with olive oil or cooking spray (I used a 3 quart casserole dish).
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, stopping 1 minute before cooking al dente. Drain, place in a large bowl, add the olive oil and stir to coat. Set aside to cool.
- Prepare the cheese sauce by grating and combing cheddar and Swiss cheese. Put aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan or stockpot over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the flour. Continue beating until mixture is smooth, bubbly and golden brown, about 1 minute.
- Gradually stir in the milk and cream and continue to cook and whip until bubbles appear on the surface. As soon as you see bubbles, continue cooking and beating for another 2 minutes until the sauce thickens. Reduce the heat to low and stir in ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
- Fold in 2 cups of the cheddar-swiss cheese mixture. Once the cheese is melted, add another 2 cups of the cheese mixture and beat until smooth, thick and creamy.
- Fold in the noodles. Pour half of the pasta and cheese mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups of cheese, then sprinkle with the remaining pasta mixture.
- In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter. Sprinkle the mixture over the macaroni and cheese in the casserole dish.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve.