This baked mac and cheese is super creamy, cheesy, and is topped with seasoned panko breadcrumbs for a little extra crunch!
Baked macaroni and cheese
If you love mac and cheese recipes, check out baja mac and cheese or broccoli cheddar mac and cheese.
Since ya’ll love my stove top mac and cheese recipes, I figured it was time for a baked mac and cheese recipe to finally hit the blog! It’s the ultimate comfort food- cheese and pasta! It puts me in a food coma every time!
This homemade baked mac and cheese recipe has it all- the creamy, cheesy sauce, the seasoned panko breadcrumbs, and ALL the flavor. Everyone has their own favorite way of making their own baked mac and cheese (it’s usually their momma’s recipe) and each one is unique.
For this baked mac and cheese recipe, I used three different kinds of cheese, but I included all the tips and tricks to vary this recipe up to make it your own. There are so many fun additions you can add to make this classic a true staple!
Baked mac and cheese ingredients
- Pasta– I love using elbow pasta for mac and cheese because it’s a classic, but if you can get your hands on lumaconi pasta, I highly recommend it! It resembles elbow pasta but it is shorter and wider and allows more sauce in the center, so when you bite down, there’s a gush of cheesy goodness. YUM.
- Cheese– Cheddar, Gruyere, and Monterey jack cheese is used in this recipe, but I have more recommendations on what kinds of cheeses to use under “chef’s tips.”
- Butter– Salted butter adds a delicious rich layer of flavor to this baked mac and cheese.
- Seasoning– Garlic, onion, and mustard powder are used to give the dish a little something-something.
- Breadcrumbs– Plain panko breadcrumbs are dressed up with some butter and seasoning and are used to top the baked mac and cheese to add a little crunch. SO good.
Baked mac and cheese variations
There are so many fun ingredients you can add to make this recipe your own! Here are a few of my best recommendations to make it extra yummy!
- Cheeses– You can different cheeses for this baked mac and cheese recipe. I recommend trying different combinations until you find the right one. White cheddar, Monterey jack, Gruyere cheese, parmesan, mozzarella, or colby are all great cheeses that will make a delicious homemade baked mac and cheese.
- Bacon– You can add bits of bacon to the mac and cheese and to the topping for extra flavor.
- Toppings– You have choices here! You can go for an Italian flare by using Italian bread crumbs, or keep it southern classic and use Ritz crackers. I like to switch it up by tossing my panko bread crumbs with grated parmesan cheese for an even cheesier mac and cheese.
- Veggies– You can make this baked mac and cheese with vegetables like carrots and broccoli for more of a Panera Bread vibe. So good.
Make it a freezer meal
Everyone loves a good freezer meal, especially when you are pinched for time during the weekdays! You can make this recipe ahead of time and freeze it until you are ready to eat it. Make the pasta, make the sauce, combine the pasta and sauce, lay it in the pan, then top it with breadcrumbds. Do not bake the mac and cheese, simply cover it, then place it in the freezer.
When you are ready to eat it, let the dish sit on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. Bake the mac and cheese for 25-30 minutes, then enjoy!
A few more suggestions
- Cook the pasta just under al dente ( even a minute under that depending on the brand of pasta) since the mac and cheese with bake for 25 minutes. Cooking the pasta to the full package time will result in spongey, mushy mac and cheese.
- Shred your cheese with a box grater. Pre shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents that can create a more grainy sauce and do not melt as easily. I know it can be a pain to shred your own cheese, but I promise it is well worth the time!
- Add a splash of pasta water. The heavy cream creates a rich and tasty sauce, but the secret is to add about 1/4 cup of pasta water to the sauce to thin it out and make it extra delicious. Don’t forget to salt your pasta water!
How to make creamy homemade baked mac and cheese
- Cook the pasta. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a roaring boil. Cook your pasta to al dente, according to package instructions. Save 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and drain the pasta. Place it to the side.
- Make the sauce. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a medium-sized pot. Add the flour and stir it into the butter. Add a cup of milk and stir until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining milk and pasta water and let it come to a light boil. Add the cheeses and continuously stir until the sauce is smooth. Mix in the garlic powder, onion powder, and ground mustard.
- Season the panko breadcrumbs. Melt the butter in the microwave, then toss the panko, butter, and garlic powder together until everything is well coated.
- Assemble and bake. Combine the pasta and the cheese sauce, then place it in a large baking dish. Top the mac and cheese with the seasoned panko bread crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the panko bread crumbs are golden. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Mangia!
How to store and reheat
You can store baked mac and cheese in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-5 days. To reheat, simply pop in the microwave for 2 minutes.
More Favorite Pasta Dishes
- Lobster Pasta with Saffron Cream Sauce
- Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta
- Hot Sausage and Pepper Pasta
- Baked Penne Au Gratin
Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb elbow pasta 1/2 cup pasta water, reserved
- 4 tsp salted butter
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour divided
- 3 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cups cheddar cheese
- 1 cup Gruyere cheese
- 1 cup Monterey jack cheese
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
- 1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 5 tbsp salted butter melted
- Cook the pasta. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a roaring boil. Cook the pasta 1 minute under the suggested al dente cooking time. Drain the pasta and set it to the side.
- Make the sauce. Place a medium sized pot over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the all purpose flour. Mix to combine. Add one cup of milk to the pot, then stir until it is well combined and there are no clumps. Add the rest of the milk and reserved pasta water, then place it over high heat and bring it to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium high, then add the cheese. Stir constantly until the cheese is melted and combined. Add the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground mustard. Stir to combine, then remove it from the heat.
- Season the panko crumbs. In a small bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs and butter. Stir until the breadcrumbs are evenly coated. Set it to the side.
- Bake the mac and cheese. Combine the pasta and sauce in a large pot and stir until the pasta is evenly coated. Place the mac and cheese in a large baking dish, then top it with the panko breadcrumbs. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the panko breadcrumbs are golden.
- Serve. Remove the mac and cheese from the oven and serve immediately. Mangia!
Nutrition values are estimates, for exact values consult a nutritionist.