Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe combines delicious sharp cheddar and cream cheese for a flavorful and creamy cheese sauce. Before serving, top with breadcrumbs and bake. Breadcrumbs add a wonderfully crisp texture on top of the soft cheesy pasta.

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

And for this month’s savory recipe: easy baked macaroni and cheese! Or should I really call it shells & cheese?

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. 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 because 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.

Let me show you how to make this easy baked macaroni and cheese. And I promise, it easy!

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

How to Make Baked Mac & Cheese in 4 Steps

  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

Mac and Cheese Sauce

Prepare the sauce 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. 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.

What Cheese is Best for Baked Macaroni and Cheese?

For the best results, I recommend an extra sharp cheddar. You can use mostly cheddar plus another cheese for more flavor. 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.

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 and 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.

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

Looking for an epic creamy mac and cheese variation? Try my company-worthy macaroni and cheese recipe. I add bacon, sautéed spinach, and white cheddar!

More Dinner Recipes:

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Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: serves 8
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe combines delicious sharp cheddar and cream cheese for a flavorful and creamy cheese sauce. Before serving, top with breadcrumbs and bake. Breadcrumbs add a wonderfully crisp texture on top of the soft cheesy pasta.


Ingredients

  • 1 pound (450g) dry elbow pasta (or pasta shells!)
  • 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons (24g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups (720ml) whole milk*
  • 3 and 1/2 cups (14 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese*
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: salt, ground mustard, smoked paprika, and garlic powder
  • dash of hot sauce (optional)
  • 2 ounces (55g) brick-style cream cheese
  • 1 cup (90g) Panko breadcrumbs*
  • optional for serving: finely chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  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 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. Once all of the milk is added, continue to whisk. Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, whisk in the cheese until smooth. Whisk in the salt, ground mustard, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and hot sauce (if using). Cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened.
  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 greased 9×13 inch pan.
  5. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and mix with the Panko. Sprinkle over pasta.
  6. Bake pasta for 30 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!


Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: 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.
  2. Milk: 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.
  3. Cheese: 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.
  4. Breadcrumbs: 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.
  5. Adapted from Alton Brown.

Keywords: macaroni and cheese

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

93 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. 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

  3. I hear you Sally!! It’s been same here as well. On top mountain weather has been so dry and gloomy that I have no motivation to try new things so we end up with same things most nights!! This looks SUPERB!! Saving to try this weekend 🙂

  4. 🙂 🙂 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!

  5. 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!

  6.  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! 

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

  8. 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!!

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!! 🙂

  11. Hi Sally! I made this a while ago, and it was delicious, but I prefer the sauce a little more creamy….. Is there a way to make the sauce creamier without ruining such a wonderful recipe? Thank you!

      1. Thanks Sally! 🙂
        I’ll try that next time…
        Overall it was wonderful last time! My family kept going back for more! LOL!

  12. Hey Sally!

    My husband is mildly allergic to cream cheese (it makes him break out), and I was wondering if you knew of any ways to substitute the cream cheese in this recipe? Can I just skip it? I really want to make it, it looks so good!

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Daphne! You can leave out the cream cheese. I would replace with 2 Tablespoons of whole milk though.

  13. Hi Sally! I made this tonight, but decided not to bake it or use breadcrumbs. I did everything else as directed, but it has a flour-y texture underneath the creaminess of the pasta. Is that from not cooking the flour/butter paste long enough? Or is it something else? Any suggestions on how to improve my result?

    Flavor was fantastic, if a bit bland without the breadcrumbs.

  14. Made a half batch of this yesterday for a potluck get together and it turned out pretty amazing. I omitted the ground mustard since I didn’t have it on hand, but it still turned out great. I would love ideas on how to make this a bit more gooey especially for the kids, perhaps increase the milk?

  15. Planning on making this for Christmas dinner! If I have non cream cheese lovers (do they even exist) in my family can I leave it out or will that throw off the consistency? Thanks Sally!

  16. Hi Sally!

    Sorry for the silly question but when you say “8 servings” is it as a main or side dish? I am planning on making it for a New Years Eve party as a side dish for about 30 people and was wondering if tripling the recipe would be too much?

    Thank you!
    Viviana

    1. Hi Viviana! The 8 servings are for 8 (small) main dish servings. Depends how hungry you are! I would triple the recipe if serving as a side dish for 30 people.

      1. Made the recipe for a New Years Eve party with half sharp cheddar and half gruyere (followed your suggestion of buying it in blocks) and it was INCREDIBLE!!! Everyone loved it! Best Baked Mac and Cheese I have ever tasted. Thank you Sally for always having amazing recipes!! (Making your cookie cake right now )

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