Copy Cat Panera Bread Baja Macaroni and Cheese

This creamy Copy Cat Panera Bread Baja Macaroni and Cheese is exploding with flavor! With garlic-lime seared chicken, fresh pico de gallo, and extra cheese macaroni, this dish is a hit!

copy cat panera bread mac and cheese recipe flat lay photo with pico de gallo and plated chicken

Creamy Panera Mac and Cheese

This copy cat Panera Bread mac and cheese is exactly what you would expect- creamy, cheesy, flavorful, and soul-soothing. Yes, I went there. There’s nothing a bowl of hot carbs can’t fix.

This recipe is based off of Panera’s Baja Mac and Cheese. Freshly made pico de gallo (my favorite!), shredded sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, and sticky lime garlic chicken are combined to bring you layers of flavor! Seriously, one bite and you’ll be hooked!

creamy copy cat panera bread mac and cheese recipe ingredients

How to make mac and cheese extra creamy

Macaroni deserves to be swimming in sharp white cheddar cheese and buttermilk. It’s the only way! Here are some tips to get the creamiest, most delicious mac and cheese!

  • Use grass fed salted butter as the base for the sauce. A high quality butter will result in a more flavorful dish.
  • Buttermilk is thick, creamy, and adds a layer of flavor, too!
  • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese has a deeper flavor than other cheese, and helps add to the creaminess.
Copy cat panera bread mac and cheese is extra creamy and cheese in a metal pot.

How to quickly make garlic lime chicken

  1. Combine soy sauce, honey, lime juice, and spices in a bowl.
  2. Add thin slices of chicken to the bowl, and coat each side evenly in the sauce.
  3. Put a pan over medium heat. Add 1 TBS of olive oil.
  4. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken, and sear on each side until it’s cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, depending on thickness.

How to make Baja Mac and Cheese

There are a few components to this hearty mac and cheese. First, there is the sauce, which can be quickly made in a small pan. Then there is the large elbow pasta that is cooked perfectly to al dente. Next is the sticky garlic lime chicken that is quickly seared over medium heat. Lastly, pico de gallo is assembled, adding color, texture, and a fresh flavor to this dish.

  1. In a small pan, heat butter over medium heat. Once it is melted, add the flour, and stir until it forms a paste. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  2. Add buttermilk, cheese, salt, garlic powder, cumin, and black pepper. Stir to combine. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent cheese from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Cook pasta in a large pot of water to al dente according to package instruction.
  4. Drain the pasta and add back to the pot. Pour cheese over the pasta and stir to combine.
  5. In a cast iron, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  6. Combine soy sauce, honey, lime juice, and spices in a bowl. Add thin chicken slices to the bowl, and coat evenly.
  7. Add the chicken to the hot cast iron, and cook until done. Remove from heat and place to the side.
  8. Assemble the pico de gallo by chopping 1 whole red onion, 5 deseeded roma tomatoes, 1 jalapeno, and a handful of cilantro. Squeeze 1 lime over the chopped vegetables, then toss a little salt on it.
  9. Add 1 cup of pico de gallo to the pot of mac and cheese, and stir to combine.
  10. Assemble the Baja Macaroni and Cheese by placing in individual bowls, top with chicken, sliced avocados, seared garlic lime chicken, cilantro, and extra pico de gallo. Mangia!
Pico de gallo tops creamy panera bread copy cat mac and cheese with garlic lime chicken in a white bowl

Heating macaroni and cheese in the oven:

Preheat the oven to 350 ° F. Serve the mac and cheese in a glass oven-safe dish, and heat for 10 minutes. The macaroni and cheese should still be super creamy, but adding an extra tablespoon of buttermilk will definitely help maintain that consistency.

Heating mac and cheese in a microwave:

Grab a microwavable dish, preferably glass and not plastic. Add the desired amount of mac and cheese to the bowl, and microwave for 1 1/2 minutes to two minutes.

I find that this mac and cheese can dry out in the microwave easier than the oven, so you can cover with a damp paper towel, or add an extra tablespoon of buttermilk before heating.

a sppon full of copy cat panera bread mac and cheese showing cheesy and smooth texture.

More Pasta Favorites

  • Pesto Pasta With Artichoke Hearts is a vegetarian meal that bursts with flavor! Fresh peppery basil and juicy lemons enhance the flavor of the artichoke hearts, giving this dish a perfect balance of simplicity and taste.
  • Fresh squeezed lemon and garden picked basil light up this fresh spaghetti squash meal! Drizzled olive oil with a hint of garlic and creamy ricotta cheese accents the nutty flavor of the squash, giving this dish layers of flavor!
  • Penne au Gratin made easy! This saucy meal is the soul food of all American- Italian food! Spicy Italian sausage is pan-seared with peppers and mushrooms, and baked in alla vodka sauce with loads of cheese and penne pasta. This is a fabulous meal to feed a large hungry family!
  • Easy Stuffed Shells With Spinach is a dish that calls for elegant simplicity. Red wine sauce from scratch compliments the herb and spinach ricotta that fills the al dente shells. This is an effortlessly delicious classic!
  • This easy, simple ingredient, 20 Minute Creamy Lemon Orzo With Salmon is a fresh tasting meal. With light hints of lemon and Parmesan cheese, this dinner is satisfyingly delicious.
close up shot of creamy and cheese mac and cheese with seared garlic lime chicken

Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to stay in touch! I love to see your creations! Tag me at #SeaSaltSavorings to show me what you’ve made!

Pico de gallo tops creamy panera bread copy cat mac and cheese with garlic lime chicken in a white bowl

Copy Cat Panera Bread Baja Macaroni and Cheese

Sea Salt Savorings
This creamy Copy Cat Panera Bread Baja Macaroni and Cheese is exploding with flavor! With garlic-lime seared chicken, fresh pico de gallo, and extra cheese macaroni, this dish is a hit!

5 from 32 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 1 LB large elbow macaroni

For the Sauce

  • 4 TBS grass-fed butter
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 16 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin

For the Garlic Lime Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken breasts, cut thin
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 cup Pico De Gallo Link to recipe in notes

Instructions
 

  • In a large pot of water with 1 tsp of salt, cook large elbow pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, place the pasta back into the pot, and place to the side.
  • In a small pot, add butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add flour, and stir until it forms a paste.
  • Add buttermilk and shredded cheese to the pot. Add salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cumin, and stir to combine. Continue stirring regularly for 5 minutes until the cheese sauce has thickened. It should still be slightly liquidy. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir to combine.
  • In a medium cast-iron pan, heat a little olive oil over medium heat. Combine the soy sauce, honey, lime juice, garlic powder, salt, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne powder in a small bowl.
  • Add the thinly sliced chicken strips to the sauce, and stir to coat evenly. Add the chicken to the pan, and sear on each side for 5 minutes, or until it is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan, and place to the side.
  • Add 1 cup of pico de gallo to the macaroni and cheese and stir to combine. Serve macaroni and cheese in individual bowls, and top with seared garlic lime chicken, sliced avocado, cilantro, and more pico de gallo. Mangia!

Nutrition values are estimates, for exact values consult a nutritionist.

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5 from 32 votes (32 ratings without comment)

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19 Comments

    1. sherry brubaker says:

      Thank you for pointing that out! 1-2 tablespoons will be enough!