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.
- 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
- Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and mix with the Panko. Sprinkle over pasta.
- 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.
- All to sit for 5 minutes before serving with a little fresh parsley. Careful, it’s hot!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Adapted from Alton Brown.
Keywords: macaroni and cheese