Baked Four-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese: If you don't have a broiler-safe baking dish, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. After sprinkling pasta mixture with panko mixture, bake about 10 minutes or until panko mixture is golden brown. This baked mac and cheese is a family favorite recipe, loved by both children and adults. My version uses a combination of cheeses for a gloriously cheesy dish!
- Best Cheese Combination For Baked Mac And Cheese
- Best Cheeses For Southern Baked Mac And Cheese
- Best 3 Cheese Baked Mac And Cheese Recipe
*cracks knuckles* This may be the most requested recipe ever. I kinda get why…not too many people hate macaroni and cheese. If you do, you might be a weirdo.
I’ve tried many, many, many mac n cheese recipes and this is one of the best. My husband loves baked, I love that super creamy mac (but don’t like using Velveeta. Baked mac and cheese: If you have a little extra time, you can bake the macaroni and cheese to give it a golden crust. Pour the prepared mac and cheese into a casserole. Add to Recipe Box. This really is the best baked macaroni cheese recipe. One of the reasons I love it is that it’s one of the easiest recipes to put together – just layer the ingredients and pop it in the oven.
Macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes that seems super easy to make, but many people can’t get it right. I’ve had so many terrible versions made by others…super soggy overcooked pasta, clumpy bland cheese, dry and flavorless…the list goes on. I didn’t nail my own macaroni and cheese until maybe the 5th time I made it. It does take patience and practice, so don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it right the first time. It’s totally worth the effort to make again and again. There are 3 distinct ways I prepare my macaroni and cheese. This is one of them. It’s the classic “béchamel (cheese sauce) + pasta + more cheese + breadcrumb” method. You can find this method just about everywhere, and I got my inspiration from watching Emeril Live back in the day. I saw him do it this way and it’s been my go-to method ever since, especially when I’m feeding more than 5 people. It’s super easy to do, but a little intimidating if you’re not used to cooking.
This isn’t some waxy boxed mac-n-cheese, people. This is real cheese. From real cows and sheep. This isn’t processed foolery. If you aren’t used to real cheese, you probably won’t appreciate the rusticity of this authentic bounty of cheesy goodness…ok? Are we clear? Because this is some real sh*t, but before I get into it, here are a few notes…
I absolutely love using pasta with the ridges. Elbow macaroni rigate, penne rigate, and cavatappi pasta are my top go-to choices. They hold onto the cheese sauce better, and have openings big enough for that creamy cheese sauce to seep thru. You can use regular elbow macaroni, but try stepping outside the box once in a while 😉
My usual starting-5 cheeses are Cheddar (any variety), Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Fontina. Those are my favorite cheeses because they all compliment each other extremely well, and melt together into this harmonious concoction of pure dairy lust. I love adding the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino-Romano to the béchamel sauce as a flavorful and slightly salty base, then tossing in the other cheeses with the coated pasta to be baked off. Sometimes I only use cheddar and smoked gouda, another delicious pair — especially during BBQ season. Smoked gouda isn’t very creamy on it’s own, so it absolutely needs to be paired with something and cheddar is always a great choice. Sometimes I only use fontina and gruyere — it really depends on what I’m craving. Colby-jack is another great cheese, but if you want dramatic stringy cheese action, try whole milk mozzarella, monterey-jack, provolone, etc. I encourage you to try different cheeses until you find a blend that best suits your ultimate mac-n-cheese experience.
Bland mac-n-cheese is a no-no!
Seasoning, where art thou? No matter what cheese you use, it needs a bit of help with some seasoning. Some cheese are very salty on their own, but that’s about it. You really wanna think about the flavors that compliment cheese overall, and try to apply that to your mac-n-cheese dish. For example, when you order a pizza…the cheese tastes amazing with all of those contrasting flavors — onions, herbs, etc. I love adding shallots, garlic and bacon to a mac-n-cheese dish for a whole ‘nother level of cheesy epicness. You can really get creative and add crushed up onion rings to the top for a sweet oniony crunch on top…man, I’m telling you…mac-n-cheese can take on just about any flavor. Some folks throw in roasted tomatoes, or mushrooms and onions, Italian sausage, or spinach. Open your mind and your palate will thank you. My seasonings of choice are usually black or white pepper, kosher or sea salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder, granulated garlic, a tiny bit of nutmeg and sometimes dry mustard. I like to season the béchamel itself before adding the cheese — just go easy on the salt because cheese is already pretty salty. Once I toss everything together, I taste it again and adjust the seasoning as I need to. Taste as you go, and season every layer!
A note about REAL cheese
Cheese give off oils when heated, so if you try to re-heat you may get some serious separation. That’s honestly because when reheating, you’re just further drying it out — especially if reheated in the microwave. However, reheating in the oven doesn’t necessarily give you better results either. This is why a béchamel sauce helps. The flour proteins help bind things together. It doesn’t prevent separation 100%, but it does help a lot by absorbing some of those oils all while staying creamy and reheating better. Whenever I’m making mac-n-cheese that I know will be consumed in a day, I’ll use half & half, or when I’m feeling super naughty — heavy cream (which is pure fat-assery, but you’d use less than half the regular amount and no roux). Half & half is basically half milk, half heavy cream, so you get the best of both worlds. If using only milk, you’ll still have an amazing dish! I suggest starting with milk first, if you’re new to this 😉
Totally optional, however, I love the crunch of Italian bread crumbs on top of my mac-n-cheese. It creates a crusty barrier full of flavor that cannot be described. You can use fresh homemade bread crumbs, which I only do if I have white bread laying around — which isn’t often. Any variation is bound to be delicious. I almost always have Italian breadcrumbs on hand, so I mostly use that. Sometimes I’ll add panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) to the mix for an even bigger crunch, depends on how I’m feeling. You don’t have to add breadcrumbs on top of your mac-n-cheese, but I promise you it’s delicious and it even helps keep the top layer of your dish from browning too quickly or burning. The breadcrumb barrier also keeps the entire dish moist, so you don’t have to worry about it drying out. The oils from the cheese seep up to the top and help toast the breadcrumbs perfectly. It’s amazeballs, y’all.
The more you make this, the more you’ll be able to gauge just how much of everything to use. I never measure when making this dish, I can just visually “eyeball” everything, but I’ve also been making it for years lol.
*The following photos were snapped at different times, but the method is generally the same…
starting five cheeses…
fontina cubes (you’ll see how I use these later)
VIDEO snippet of how I make the white sauce
add a little milk to get the lumps out
stir it around, increase the heat, whisking the whole time
add the gruyere and parmigiano-reggiano when it thickens
meanwhile, boil your pasta for about 4 minutes.. you want it undercooked because it’ll finish cooking in the oven
I drain my cavatappi pasta then rinse it with cool water to stop the cooking process. I don’t worry about removing any surface starches because I always reserve some pasta cooking water in case I need it later.
mix it around
then we layer…spray your baking dish w/ PAM or butter it… then ladle the coated pasta and top with a thin layer of each cheese
those fontina cubes from earlier? I tuck them into various areas of the dish for a big burst of creamy cheesy goodness 😉
all cheese’d up, but we’re not done yet…
take a spoon and smooth down the dish, feel free to mix it around so that all the cheese is distributed thru
then grab your seasoned bread crumbs and shake a very very thin layer on top for an over-the-top tasty layer
this makes a lot of mac! you could easily feed between 8-12 people.
oh! it’s a cheesy block of fontina just chillin 😀
Oh man…all I can do is shake my head…
Best Cheese Combination For Baked Mac And Cheese
My very own version of the classic baked mac and cheese.Scale
- 4 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 4 tbspbutter
- 4½ cups whole milk, or half & half
- 1 tbspkosher salt
- 1 tspgranulated garlic
- ½ tsponion powder
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp dry mustard (optional)
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- ½ cup seasoned Italian or Japanese breadcrumbs (optional)
- 1 lb dried pasta of your choice (see note below)
- kosher salt (for the pasta water)
Cheeses I use (see note below):
- 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- ½ cup pecorino-romano cheese (optional)
- 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded fontina cheese, plus a few pieces cut into cubes
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Butter a 9×13 or 8×11 baking dish and set to the side. You can use cooking spray instead.
- Boil your pasta in water seasoned with plenty of salt (about a tablespoon) for about 4 to 5 minutes. You want it undercooked because it will continue cooking in the oven when you bake it. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the macaroni and quickly rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let it sit and drain while you make the cheese sauce. You may not need the reserved pasta water, but it’s good to have just in case your cheese mixture gets a little too thick and gloopy.
- In one heavy bottom pot or large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it starts to foam and bubble, add the flour and immediately whisk so that it forms a paste. Allow this to cook for about 1 minute to get the “raw” flour taste out, whisking frequently.
- SLOWLY add 2 cups of the milk (or half & half) while whisking constantly to remove any large lumps. Continue to whisk until smooth and thick, about 20 seconds. Add the remaining 2½ cups of milk (or half & half) and continue to whisk until smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high to allow the mixture to simmer and thicken, about 5 minutes. Season the mixture while it thickens and taste as you go. If the sauce is yummy alone, just imagine how incredible it will be once you add the cheese.
- Once your mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add in the parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino and gruyere cheese and remove from the heat. Taste it again, season if you need to.
- Toss the cheese sauce with the pasta, and taste to season if need be. Don’t panic if there’s more sauce than pasta, you’re going to spoon it into the baking dish, so you’ll be able to control the cheese sauce/pasta ratio. As you’re layering, it’ll start to thicken up even more. On the flipside, if your mixture is too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to the sauce coated pasta to thin it out. You want it smooth and creamy, but not incredibly soupy and watery.
- Ladle a layer of the coated pasta into your prepared baking dish, then sprinkle a layer of the remaining cheeses and repeat until all of the pasta and cheese is used up — lasagna style. This is where you can “eyeball” your cheese portions. Use more or less, it’s totally up to you. Too much cheese can be a problem because it’ll make it too oily and clumpy, so don’t go too nuts with the cheese.
- Run a spoon thru the entire mixture just to lightly mix in the cheese throughout the entire dish. Smooth the mixture with the back of a spoon just until its relatively even on top, and sprinkle a thin layer of seasoned bread crumbs on top for an amazing and tasty crunch, if you’d like. The breadcrumb crust also acts as a barrier to keep the cheese from drying out by helping to keep it moist. But again, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.
- Bake on the center rack of your oven for about 20 to 35 minutes or until the center is bubbly and the entire dish is golden brown.
- Let it cool for about 10 minutes before you dive into it.
- Enjoy, and make this again and again until you nail it 😉
*You may or may not use ALL of the cheese measurements. If you have any cheese leftover, seal it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for later use. Alternately, you could add all of your cheeses to the white sauce and skip the “layering” method, it’s totally up to you.
**If you have ANY questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I realize this is an extensive recipe, but once you make it, you’ll see how truly simple and easy it is. I want you guys to get it right, so ask away if anything is unclear
***As far as choosing the right pasta goes, try sticking with the more traditional tubular shapes such as elbow, ziti, penne, cavatappi, capanelle, or something similar. Avoid pasta shapes that won’t hold onto the sauce well, like spaghetti or linguini, or even small shells in some cases.
Homemade Mac and Cheese is a rich, creamy casserole that is truly a show stopper!
Not only is this creamy macaroni and cheese recipe easy to make it, has a special ingredient making it extra delicious!
This dish has so much velvety cheese in a quick homemade sauce that, once you try it, this is going to be the only baked macaroni & cheese dish you’ll ever need!
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Hello, my name is Holly and I am addicted to Macaroni and Cheese. It is literally my favorite thing to eat on the whole planet! It doesn’t even have to be fancy, I love crock pot mac & cheese, stove top mac and cheese or even out of a little blue box.
Of all of the mac and cheese recipes, *this* little gem right here is like striking mac and cheese gold. It is definitely the best mac and cheese recipe ever and always gets rave reviews! Take it from me, I definitely should know!
How to Make Homemade Mac and Cheese
Making homemade macaroni and cheese (including this 5-star recipe) is surprisingly easy and quick!
This mac and cheese casserole starts with tender macaroni noodles that are slightly undercooked so they don’t get mushy when it’s baked.
About This Mac and Cheese Sauce
The sauce for this easy homemade mac and cheese is a classic roux based cheese sauce. Roux sounds very fancy but truthfully once you make a roux, you’ll realize how easy it is! It’s just butter and flour cooked and then milk added so don’t let it scare you away!
The results of creating a roux based sauce means your macaroni and cheese is going luscious and velvety smooth every single time. This allows the cheeses to melt in evenly and perfectly for this casserole.
To add to the creaminess of this dish, I combine a little bit of milk and a little bit of light cream (I use a cream that is about 10-12%MF or half and half).
What Cheese Is Best For Mac and Cheese?
Now, this recipe has a special ingredient that is a little bit unconventional but makes it extra yummy… AND it is optional.
The addition of cheddar soup makes the sauce a little bit extra velvety and just adds a little something.
Mac and cheese with Velveeta, I personally prefer to make it without! The addition of the cheddar cheese soup to this recipe is something you definitely should try! (You can find it at your local grocery store with the other condensed soups or online here).
If you don’t happen to have cheese soup on hand (or if you just don’t want to use it), this baked mac and cheese recipe is still ridiculously great without.
You might be wondering what cheese is best for mac and cheese, and it’s one with lots of flavor!
I generally use a sharp cheddar in this recipe as I love the flavor however you can certainly use your favorite cheeses in this recipe too. Sometimes I mix up the cheeses and use a bit of gruyere, or even pepperjack for a little kick. If you have bits of cheese leftover, you can combine them all together in this easy homemade mac and cheese sauce.
I would suggest buying a block of cheese and shredding it yourself as pre-shredded cheeses don’t melt the same way as they have additives to keep them from clumping/sticking.
Making Homemade Macaroni and Cheese is not difficult but below are a few simple tips to make sure it turns out absolutely perfectly every single time!
Tips to Make Creamy Mac and Cheese
- Cook your pasta al dente (firm) as the noodles cook extra in the sauce and you don’t want them mushy.
- Don’t forget to salt your pasta water.
- While not everyone agrees with rinsing the pasta after cooking, in this particular recipe it stops the noodles from cooking and the sauce is created with a texture that pairs perfectly with the rinsed noodles.
- A sharper cheddar cheese will add a stronger cheese flavor.
- Pre-shredded cheeses contain additives to keep it from sticking together which affects the way it melts. The sauce is best if you shred your own cheeses.
- Allowing the baked macaroni and cheese to rest for a few minutes after baking will thicken the sauce.
- Most importantly of all… Do not over bake this recipe.
When cooking your macaroni noodles, cook them according to the package directions but you want them to be still firm. If your package says 6-8 minutes, just cook them 6… you get the idea. I choose not to top this baked macaroni casserole with a bread crumb mixture but if you really like bread crumbs on your macaroni and cheese, by all means, add some!
How to Make a Bread Crumb Topping for Mac & Cheese
Combine the following and sprinkle over your casserole before baking.
- 3/4 cup bread crumbs (Panko Bread Crumbs are best)
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon parsley (optional)
This recipe makes an extra saucy creamy macaroni. Do not over-bake this recipe.You want it creamy and rich, over-baking will cause it to dry out.
I find that 20 minutes was perfect in my oven… note that the recipe will thicken slightly while standing.
More Macaroni Recipes You’ll Love
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese – Super easy!
- American Goulash Recipe (Tomato, Beef and Macaroni) Crowd pleaser.
- Homemade One Pot Cheeseburger Macaroni – Easy & quick!
- Crock Pot Mac and Cheese – The BEST!
Homemade Mac and Cheese Casserole
- 12ozdry macaroni
- 1 1/2cupsmilk
- 1cuplight creamabout 10-12% MF
- 1/2teaspoondry mustard powder
- 1teaspoononion powder
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1can condensed cream of cheddar soupoptional 10.75oz
- 4cupssharp cheddardivided
- 1/2cupfresh parmesan cheese
- Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water.
Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour and let cook 2 minutes while stirring. Slowly whisk in cream, milk, mustard powder onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat while stirring until thickened.
- Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese & 3 cups cheddar cheese until melted. Add soup if using.
- Toss cheese sauce & macaroni noodles together. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Top with remaining cheese.
- Bake 18-24 minutes or until bubbly. Do not over cook. Cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.)