Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Easy baked macaroni and cheese with the creamiest, most flavorful cheesy sauce! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

And for this month’s savory recipe: baked mac & cheese! Or should I really call it shells & cheese? (Yuuuuum.)

Dinner ruts. You know what I’m talking about. Tired and hungry, when clock hits 6pm, you end up making the same chicken dish you’ve made 396 times before. Your usual dinner rotation is safe because the family loves it, but it’s also losing its appeal… quickly. Getting out of the rut feels like climbing a mountain because you’re busy, lacking inspiration, and/or you don’t have the right ingredients to try something new. I know it! I’m there with you.

Easy baked macaroni and cheese with the creamiest, most flavorful cheesy sauce! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

So here’s what I’m doing this year and feel free to borrow it. My goal is to make a new-to-us dinner recipe each week. That’s not a huge commitment because it’s only 1 night a week, but the slight variation makes our “regulars” taste a little less mundane. The latest and greatest in my kitchen? This straight-up comfort food in a skillet. It’s nothing crazy or unique, but it’s not something I usually make either. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had homemade macaroni and cheese, which is the reason I chose it. Also: cheeeeeeeeese.

PS: for this week, I’m aiming for a chicken coconut curry dish OR homemade pad thai. Could go either way– I’m craving both and Kevin likes either. Do you have any recipe suggestions?

But right now, let me show you how to make this easy baked macaroni and cheese. And I promise, it really IS easy!

How to make easy baked macaroni and cheese on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Four Steps to Baked Mac & Cheese

  1. Make the noodles. You can use any shape you’d like; I went for shells because how irresistible are shells & cheese? My second pick would be elbow macaroni. Add a little butter so the noodles don’t stick. ↑ ↑
  2. Make the sauce. Let’s get to those step pictures in a second.
  3. Combine the buttered noodles and sauce.
  4. Bake.

How to make easy baked macaroni and cheese on sallysbakingaddiction.com

How to make easy baked macaroni and cheese on sallysbakingaddiction.com

The sauce is prepared in the same skillet in which you’ll bake the mac & cheese. You’ll start by making a béchamel sauce. Don’t get nervous, it’s just how you begin the cheese sauce. Basically you’ll melt down some butter, add flour and milk, then stir in cheddar cheese, salt, and spices. And a dash of hot sauce for kick! Let it all simmer and melt for a few minutes. Soon you’ll have the creamiest, most flavorful cheese sauce. For the best results, I recommend an extra sharp cheddar. You can use mostly cheddar plus another cheese for more flavor. I’ll add that to the notes below. And for optimal flavor, shred the cheese yourself– don’t buy the pre-shredded cheddar. The pre-shredded bagged cheese typically has stabilizers and a drier texture. You want it off the block!

Here are the spices: garlic powder, smoked paprika, and mustard powder. I highly recommend the mustard powder for a sharp kick and added depth of flavor. Same reason I rave about it in this ham & cheese strata!

My secret ingredient though? I add 2 ounces of cream cheese when it’s time to mix the noodles + sauce together. This just adds another level of creamy + dreamy + indulgent + rich.

Combine it all together, then add a crunchy topping.

Easy baked macaroni and cheese with the creamiest, most flavorful cheesy sauce! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

How to make easy baked macaroni and cheese on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Why Bake Macaroni & Cheese?

Doesn’t that just add another step? Yes, it does. But baking macaroni and cheese adds texture! Cheesy creamy underneath a crunchy, toasty, crisp topping. The topping is simply Panko breadcrumbs mixed with some melted butter. I used pre-seasoned Panko for extra flavor. If you use regular breakcrumbs or Panko, add some flavor with parmesan and garlic powder.

And while the oven does some work, you can prepare a healthy salad to balance out your plate. 🙂

Easy baked macaroni and cheese with the creamiest, most flavorful cheesy sauce! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

“Get out of the dinner rut” recipes: breakfast for dinner, strawberry bacon salad (add some chicken!), coconut chicken, pizza night, peanut chicken zucchini noodles, and this citrus avocado kale salad is SO GOOD with salmon!

Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (450g) elbow macaroni (or shells!)
  • 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons (24g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 and 1/2 cups (600ml) whole milk1
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (14 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese2
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: salt, ground mustard, smoked paprika, and garlic powder
  • optional: dash of hot sauce
  • 2 ounces (55g) brick-style cream cheese
  • 1 cup (90g) Panko breadcrumbs3
  • optional for serving: finely chopped fresh parsley

Special Equipment

  • 12-inch oven-safe skillet or 9x13 baking pan

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
  2. In a large pot of boiling water, add a pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than the package cook time. Drain the cooked pasta, pour into a large bowl and stir in 2 Tablespoons of butter. Set pasta aside.
  3. In a large saucepan or 12-inch oven-safe skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour to form a thick paste. Cook and whisk the paste for 1 minute, then slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time. Once all of the milk is added, continue to whisk. The sauce will begin to simmer. Slowly whisk in the cheddar cheese, a little at a time. Once all of the cheese is added, continue to whisk as the cheese melts down and the sauce becomes smooth and thick. Whisk in the salt, ground mustard, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and hot sauce (if using).
  4. Pour the sauce over the buttered pasta. Add the cream cheese and stir everything together until the pasta is completely coated and cream cheese is melted. Scoop pasta back into skillet or a 9x13 pan.
  5. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and mix with the Panko. Sprinkle over pasta.
  6. Bake pasta for 30-35 minutes or until it is lightly browned on top and the sides are bubbling. I suggest covering the pasta halfway through bake time to prevent the top from burning.
  7. All to sit for 5 minutes before serving with a little fresh parsley. Careful, it's hot!

Make ahead tip/freezing: To make ahead of time, simply prepare the dish through step 5. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days before continuing with step 6. You can also freeze the macaroni and cheese after step 5 for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then continue with step 6. Add about 5 minutes to bake time. You can also freeze the fully baked macaroni and cheese for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bake at 400°F (204°C) for 40 minutes.

Recipe Notes:

  1. Whole milk is strongly recommended for richest tasting sauce. If needed, you can use a lower fat or nondairy milk. Keep in mind that the sauce won't be as rich.
  2. For best flavor, I recommend a sharp cheddar and to buy a block or two and grate yourself. It's freshest that way. The pre-shredded bagged cheese typically has stabilizers and a drier texture. You can also use a mix of cheddar and other favorite cheese such as Gruyere, fontina, or gouda.
  3. I used seasoned Panko, which you can find in the breadcrumb aisle at the store. You can use plain. If you use plain, feel free to add a little dried parsley, grated parmesan cheese, and some garlic powder. This is just for extra yummy flavor.

Adapted from Alton Brown

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© Sally’s Baking Addiction. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe.

Easy baked macaroni and cheese with the creamiest, most flavorful cheesy sauce! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Easy baked macaroni and cheese with the creamiest, most flavorful cheesy sauce! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

77 comments

  1. Here is a link to my favorite pad thai recipe. It’s from the book “It’s All American Food” by David Rosengarten. I usually double the amount of rice noodles, fish sauce, ketchul, chili garlic sauce and sugar. I also substitute one  14 oz container cubed tofu for the bacon and shrimp. Since my store doesn’t carry dried shrimp I leave that out. https://books.google.com/books?id=9roj3n6PNisC&pg=PT290&lpg=PT290&dq=david+rosengarten+pad+thai&source=bl&ots=9eeSYJzG9u&sig=ieg2aX03Z7fWjvy_oz4h_k_7T4k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiUxcvGhf3RAhUIrVQKHavNDk8Q6AEIKDAD#v=onepage&q=david%20rosengarten%20pad%20thai&f=false 
    Thanks for all the delicious recipes! I hope you like this one if you try it. 

  2. Homemade mac and cheese is one of my favorites! I love adding broccoli for balance.  And genius idea to add cream cheese, I’ve never tried that! 

  3. Can you prepare this ahead of time and then bake it in the evening? I am not sure if the pasta would hold up in the sauce. Thoughts!!!!! Looks very good

  4. This is going on the menu for tonight!

  5. 🙂 🙂 Hi Sally, I remember I asked you a couple years ago if you would ever post a mac n cheese recipe. And you had replied that you would love to in the future. And now that time is here! Thank you for this. Will try it soon. hugs!

  6. I get into dinner ruts allll the time!!! This mac and cheese looks DELISH

  7. Believe it or not but I never made mac and cheese and tried it only once in my life – and absolutely loved it. Need to try your recipe asap, can’t wait! 🙂

  8. This looks soo creamy and delicious!! I can’t wait to try it.

  9. Just when I go gluten free 🙁
    Looks so good!!

  10. I just made this tonight. This is by far the best baked mac n cheese I have had in my life. This is a must have recipe and I am so glad I found it.
    I normally use your baking recipes. This is the first time I have cooked one of your savory recipes.
    You have one of the best cooking websites 🙂
    Thank you for sharing!

  11. I have 2 curry recipes I love, one is made with chicken and has some peanut butter, and the other is with shrimp! Sometimes Ill use the shrimp recipe but swap it out for chicken. Either way, they’re both super easy AND SO GOOD! http://savvychef.blogspot.com/2008/12/thai-coconut-curry.html

    http://savvychef.blogspot.com/2010/06/thai-shrimp-curry.html

  12. Oh, and if you’re on a Thai kick I REALLY recommend this noodle salad as your next recipe: http://savvychef.blogspot.com/2014/10/asian-vegan-pasta-salad.html

  13.  I’m excited to try this. The cheese dipping sauce from your soft pretzel recipe makes a great mac & cheese sauce, and had been what I was using before. We like to add crumbled bacon or chunks of grilled kielbasa to ours before it bakes. Thanks for the new recipe to try! 

  14. Oh wow. I never thought of using cream cheese in the sauce. Terrific idea! I’m so going to make this later this week. Thanks so much.

  15. Made this tonight for valentines. So darn great!  Thank you. :). Hubby loved it and he is a pasta fiend. 🙂

  16. I really like home made mac and cheese I am going to try out this tonight .

  17. This macaroni and cheese is INCREDIBLE! My entire family loved it….and that doesn’t happen very often. 🙂 Thank you for an outstanding recipe!

  18. I make homemade mac n cheese all the time for comfort, and quick food. So I was reading through yours because well its yours and love anything you share. However you commented on freezing this? I’ve tried freezing mac n cheese before, but I find it really really dry when I take it out and pop into oven. The whole idea of freezing is something I can toss in over after college classes, but seems no matter how much butter or milk I add, it still dries out in freezer. I make this and freeze in seal container, so its not from freezer drying out? I was feeling maybe the noodles soak up whatever sauce is left? Any idea’s?
    Love everything and anything (most anything) that is SBA!!

    • Hey Shelli! I have frozen this baked macaroni and cheese in the past month or so, thawed it, baked it– no problems with drying out! If you’d like, you can make a little extra cheese sauce so it’s extra saucy and cheesy going into the freezer. I freeze mine in sealed containers, yep! Or a disposable casserole dish covered very tightly.

  19. This was perfect this past week for our dinner. We both had dental work and I figured it would be great to make this for our dinner because it was soft food, but also comfort food. It was perfect and delicious. Easy too. I did add fontina to the cheddar as I happened to have some I need to use up. Additionally, I did not add the cream cheese or the panko crumb topping…only to save a little on calories. I did use whole milk. I love the texture of the shells and how the gooey cheese sauce collected in the hollows. So good! Thank you.

  20. Hi Sally!
    I made this mac & cheese recipe a few nights ago for dinner & it was fantastic!!!  I used fresh (homemade) macaroni cause i’m obsessed with my pasta maker attachment for the kitchenaid (so fun!).  We really loved the flavor with all those spices!! I used 2% milk cause thats what I always have on hand & the cream cheese was reduced fat as well, & about 2/3 of the total cheese being sharp cheddar & 1/3 gouda cause I happen to have some in the fridge.  SO creamy & cheesy & yummy!! Will definitely be making this one a lot!! 🙂

  21. Just made this for dinner!! Beyond delicious! The paprika made such an appearance :). Thanks as always Sally!!

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