5 from 6 votes
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Homemade Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

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Craving a comforting, cheesy dish that will tantalize your taste buds? This Homemade Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe is the perfect answer! This dish not only delivers rich, velvety cheese flavors but also ensures a deliciously crispy top layer for a satisfying bite every time.

A plate of mac and cheese sitting on a white marbled countertop.

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With just a few simple ingredients and easy-to-follow steps, you’ll have a hearty meal that’s perfect for family dinners, potlucks, or casual get-togethers. Whether you’re a novice cook or an experienced chef, this recipe is designed to bring out the best in classic comfort food. 

Want more delicious mac and cheese recipes to try out?  If you loved this recipe, and you’d like some more variations of the classic, you could start with this Instant Pot Cracker Barrel copycat mac and cheese. Or for a snack version, make some Jalapeno popper mac and cheese appetizers.

Looking for another hearty meal that has that creamy goodness? Try this easy crockpot chili mac for a spicier alternative.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Rich and Velvety Texture: The combination of multiple cheeses ensures a creamy, mouth-watering experience with every bite.
  • Simple Ingredients: This recipe requires no special shopping trips and is made with pantry staples and easy-to-find ingredients.
  • Crispy Top Layer: The baked finish contrasts the creamy interior and the crunchy top.
  • Versatile Dish: Perfect for family dinners, potlucks, or casual get-togethers, making it a reliable choice for any occasion.

What’s In This Creamy Baked Mac And Cheese Recipe

Ingredients for mac and cheese sitting on a marbled countertop.
  • Uncooked Macaroni (elbow pasta): This classic pasta shape is perfect for holding onto the creamy cheese sauce, ensuring you get a deliciously cheesy bite every time.
  • Avocado Oil: Known for its high smoke point and mild flavor, avocado oil helps to sauté ingredients without overpowering the dish.
  • Gruyere Cheese: This Swiss cheese adds a creamy texture and a slightly nutty flavor that enhances the richness of the dish.
  • Cheddar Cheese: A staple in mac and cheese recipes, cheddar provides a sharp, tangy taste that pairs well with the other cheeses.
  • Mozzarella Cheese: Known for its excellent melting qualities, mozzarella adds a gooey, stretchy layer to the mac and cheese.
  • Unsalted Butter: This helps to create the roux, which is the base for the creamy cheese sauce, and it’s preferable to use unsalted to control the dish’s sodium content.
  • All Purpose Flour: Combined with butter to make a roux, flour thickens the cheese sauce, giving it a silky, smooth consistency.
  • Whole Milk: Whole milk adds richness to the sauce without making it too heavy, balancing the creaminess perfectly.
  • Heavy Cream: This adds extra creaminess and a luxurious texture to the sauce, making the dish even more satisfying.
  • Salt: Essential for seasoning, salt enhances the flavors of the ingredients and ensures the dish isn’t bland.
  • Black Pepper: Adds a subtle kick and depth of flavor, complementing the richness of the cheese.
  • Garlic Powder: Introduces a hint of garlic flavor, enhancing the dish’s overall taste without overpowering it.
  • Smoked Paprika: This spice gives a mild smokiness and a beautiful red hue to the dish, making it visually appealing and flavourful.
  • Cayenne Pepper: Just a pinch adds a touch of heat, balancing the richness of the cheese with a slight spiciness.
  • Panko Breadcrumbs: These Japanese-style breadcrumbs create a crispy, golden top layer, adding a satisfying crunch to each bite.
  • Parsley for Garnish: Fresh parsley not only adds a pop of color but also a fresh, herbaceous note to the finished dish. 

The complete list of ingredients, quantities, and instructions can be found in the printable recipe card below.

Substitutions and Variations

  • Pasta: If you don’t have elbow macaroni, you can substitute it with other pasta shapes like penne, fusilli, or cavatappi. These shapes also hold onto the cheese sauce nicely, providing a similar texture and bite.
  • Cheese: Feel free to experiment with different cheeses. Swap out Gruyere for Swiss cheese or Emmental. Use Colby Jack or Gouda in place of cheddar. Parmesan can also be added for an extra depth of flavor.
  • Oil: If avocado oil isn’t available, olive oil or canola oil can be used as alternatives. They also have high smoke points and won’t interfere with the flavors in the dish.
  • Milk and Cream: For a lighter version of this dish, you can use low-fat milk or half-and-half instead of whole milk and heavy cream. While it may slightly alter the creaminess, the dish will still be delicious and satisfying.
  • Spices: Customize the spice level by adjusting the amount of cayenne pepper. Add more for a spicier kick or omit it if you prefer a milder flavor. You can also add mustard powder for a tangy depth.
  • Breadcrumbs: For a gluten-free option, use gluten-free panko breadcrumbs or crushed rice cereal. If you prefer a less crunchy topping, omit the breadcrumbs altogether and bake as is.
  • Vegetables: Add some nutrition by incorporating vegetables into the dish. Broccoli, spinach, or tomatoes can be mixed into the pasta before baking for added flavour and texture.
  • Protein: Make the dish more substantial by adding cooked chicken, bacon, or sausage. These proteins not only enhance the flavor but also make the mac and cheese a complete meal. 

How To Make Baked Macaroni And Cheese (step-by-step directions)

Collage of cooking the macaroni.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13” baking dish. Set it aside. (Photo 1)
  2. Boil a large pot of water, then cook the macaroni until 1-2 minutes shy of al dente, per package instructions. It will continue cooking in the oven, so avoid overcooking. (Photo 2)
  3. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in two tablespoons of butter to coat the pasta. Set aside to cool, away from heat.
  4. Combine the shredded cheeses in a large bowl and set aside. (Photo 3)
Collage of creating sauce.
  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. (Photo 4)
  2. Add the flour, stirring constantly for one minute until well combined. (Photos 5 & 6)
  3. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth and lump-free. Then, slowly whisk in the heavy cream until the mixture is smooth. (Photo 7)
Collage of creating a cheesy sauce.
  1. Add seasonings and cook the sauce until it thickens, stirring often to prevent burning. (Photo 8 & 9)
  2. Remove from heat and mix in 3/4 of the shredded cheese. Stir until the cheese is partially melted and well combined with the sauce. (Photos 10 & 11)
Collage of creating Baked Mac and Cheese.
  1. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooled pasta in the pot. Stir to coat the noodles evenly. (Photos 12 & 13)
  2. Transfer half of the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, then add the rest of the pasta mixture on top. (Photos 14 & 15)
Collage of assembling Baked Mac and Cheese.
  1. In a medium bowl, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Mix the melted butter with breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese. (Photos 16 & 17)
  2. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the topping is golden brown. (Photo 8)
  3. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired and serve. (Photo 19)
A fork with mac and cheese.

Recipe Tips

  • Grate Your Own Cheese: Pre-shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents that can affect the smoothness of the sauce. For the best texture, grate your own cheese from blocks.
  • Use Freshly Grated Cheese: Freshly grated cheese melts better than pre-shredded cheese, ensuring a smoother, creamier sauce.
  • Don’t Overcook the Pasta: Cook the pasta just shy of al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven, absorbing more of the cheese sauce for the perfect texture.
  • Warm the Milk and Cream: Bringing the milk and cream to room temperature before adding to the roux helps prevent lumps and ensures a smoother sauce.
  • Taste the Sauce: Before combining the sauce with the pasta, taste it and adjust the seasoning if necessary. This ensures the best flavor.
  • Layer for Extra Cheesiness: Adding a layer of cheese between layers of pasta ensures every bite is extra cheesy.
  • Rest Before Serving: Let the dish sit for a few minutes after baking. This allows the sauce to thicken and set, making it easier to serve.

Alternative Cooking Methods

Instant Pot

Using an Instant Pot to make macaroni and cheese can save time and simplify the cooking process.

  1. Cook the Pasta: Add the pasta and water to the Instant Pot. Seal the lid and set to manual high pressure for 4 minutes. Quick release the pressure once finished.
  2. Prepare the Sauce: Drain any remaining water from the pot, then switch to the sauté setting. Add butter and let it melt. Whisk in the flour to create a roux.
  3. Incorporate Liquids: Gradually add milk and heavy cream, whisking continuously to avoid lumps. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken.
  4. Add Cheese and Seasonings: Stir in the seasonings and 3/4 of the grated cheese until partially melted. Mix the cooked pasta back into the pot, ensuring all noodles are coated with the sauce.
  5. Serve: Once the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth, serve immediately. Optionally, transfer the mixture into an oven-safe dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese, and broil for a crispy topping.

Slow Cooker

A slow cooker provides a hands-off method to make a creamy and delicious macaroni and cheese.

  1. Combine Ingredients: Place uncooked pasta, milk, heavy cream, butter, most of the shredded cheese, and seasonings into the slow cooker. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Cook: Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and ensure even cooking.
  3. Add Rest of Cheese: About 15 minutes before serving, add the remaining cheese and stir until melted and fully incorporated.
  4. Topping: If you prefer a crispy topping, transfer the cooked mac and cheese to a baking dish, top with buttered breadcrumbs, and broil until golden brown.

Storing Tips 

Allow the dish to cool completely before storing. Transfer the leftovers to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3-5 days.

You can freeze macaroni and cheese! For best results, freeze it before baking. Assemble the dish as directed up to the point of baking. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and then with aluminum foil. Store in the freezer for up to 2 months. When ready to bake, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then bake as directed.

For refrigerated leftovers, preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the macaroni and cheese in an oven-safe dish, cover with aluminum foil to retain moisture, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. If reheating from frozen, it is recommended to thaw the dish overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

A casserole of Baked Mac and Cheese with a wooden spatula scooping it.

Serving Suggestions

Macaroni and cheese is a versatile dish that pairs well with a variety of side dishes and accompaniments. Here are some ideas:

  • Grilled Vegetables: Grilled asparagus, bell peppers, zucchini, or a medley of seasonal vegetables add a healthy, crunchy contrast to the creamy mac and cheese.
  • Garlic Bread: Warm, garlic bread rolls or breadsticks are perfect for dipping into the cheesy sauce.
  • Coleslaw: A tangy coleslaw delivers a refreshing crunch and pairs well with the creamy texture of mac and cheese.
  • Roasted Meat or Chicken: Roasted chicken, Mexican shredded chickenboneless pork chops, or steak can be hearty companions to make it a more substantial meal.
  • Soup: A bowl of tomato soup or a broth-based vegetable soup can complement the flavors and add warmth.
  • Pickles and Relishes: Tangy pickles, pickled onions, or a variety of relishes can cut through the richness and add a delightful zing.

Recipe FAQs

Can I make macaroni and cheese gluten-free?

Yes, you can make this recipe gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta and substituting the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend when making the roux. Ensure any other ingredients like breadcrumbs are also gluten-free.

How can I make my macaroni and cheese creamier?

To achieve a creamier consistency, ensure you use full-fat milk and heavy cream. Additionally, incorporating a bit of cream cheese or mascarpone into the sauce can enhance its creaminess. Avoid overcooking the pasta, as it will continue to cook in the sauce, helping it stay creamy.

Can I add vegetables or protein to the macaroni and cheese?

Absolutely! Adding cooked vegetables like broccoli, spinach, or peas can introduce extra nutrients and texture. For protein, consider mixing in cooked bacon, ham, rotisserie chicken, or even lobster for a luxurious twist.

How do I prevent my macaroni and cheese from becoming grainy?

Graininess can result from overcooking the cheese or using pre-shredded cheese with anti-caking agents. Melt the cheese slowly over low heat and use freshly grated cheese for the best texture. Additionally, ensure the milk and cream are not too cold when you add them to the roux.

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Mac and cheese on a white plate garnished with parsley.
5 from 6 votes

Homemade Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe


Author: Kim Schob
Course: Main Dishes, Side Dishes
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Stove Top 5 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Yields 6 servings
Craving a comforting, cheesy dish that will tantalize your taste buds? This Homemade Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe is the perfect answer!

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound (453 ⅗ g) 16 ounce uncooked macaroni (elbow pasta)
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2 cups (264 g) shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 cups (226 g) shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups (224 g) shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup (62 ½ g) all purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups (591 ½ ml) whole milk
  • 2 cups (473 ⅙ ml) heavy cream
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ cups (90 g) Panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
  • Parsley for garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9×13” baking dish. Set it aside.
  • Boil a large pot of water, then cook the macaroni until 1-2 minutes shy of al dente, per package instructions. It will continue cooking in the oven, so avoid overcooking.
    1 pound 16 ounce uncooked macaroni (elbow pasta)
  • Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in two tablespoons of butter to coat the pasta. Set aside to cool, away from heat.
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Combine the shredded cheeses in a large bowl and set aside.
    2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese,2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese,2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
    5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Add the flour, stirring constantly for one minute until well combined.
    ½ cup all purpose flour
  • Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth and lump-free. Then, slowly whisk in the heavy cream until the mixture is smooth.
    2 ½ cups whole milk,2 cups heavy cream
  • Add seasonings and cook the sauce until it thickens, stirring often to prevent burning.
    1 ¼ teaspoons salt,1 teaspoon black pepper,1 teaspoon garlic powder,½ teaspoon smoked paprika,¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Remove from heat and mix in 3/4 of the shredded cheese. Stir until the cheese is partially melted and well combined with the sauce.
  • Pour the cheese sauce over the cooled pasta in the pot. Stir to coat the noodles evenly.
  • Transfer half of the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, then add the rest of the pasta mixture on top.
  • In a medium bowl, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Mix the melted butter with breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese.
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter,1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the topping is golden brown.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley if desired and serve.
    Parsley for garnish

Notes

  • Grate Your Own Cheese: Pre-shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents that can affect the smoothness of the sauce. For the best texture, grate your own cheese from blocks.
  • Use Freshly Grated Cheese: Freshly grated cheese melts better than pre-shredded cheese, ensuring a smoother, creamier sauce.
  • Don’t Overcook the Pasta: Cook the pasta just shy of al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven, absorbing more of the cheese sauce for the perfect texture.
  • Warm the Milk and Cream: Bringing the milk and cream to room temperature before adding to the roux helps prevent lumps and ensures a smoother sauce.
  • Taste the Sauce: Before combining the sauce with the pasta, taste it and adjust the seasoning if necessary. This ensures the best flavor.
  • Layer for Extra Cheesiness: Adding a layer of cheese between layers of pasta ensures every bite is extra cheesy.
  • Rest Before Serving: Let the dish sit for a few minutes after baking. This allows the sauce to thicken and set, making it easier to serve.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 851kcal (43%) Carbohydrates: 28g (9%) Protein: 26g (52%) Fat: 71g (109%) Saturated Fat: 42g (263%) Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g Monounsaturated Fat: 19g Trans Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 209mg (70%) Sodium: 1138mg (49%) Potassium: 346mg (10%) Fiber: 1g (4%) Sugar: 9g (10%) Vitamin A: 2546IU (51%) Vitamin C: 1mg (1%) Vitamin D: 3µg (20%) Calcium: 668mg (67%) Iron: 2mg (11%)

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6 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Your homemade creamy baked mac and cheese recipe was such a delight. The rich, velvety texture paired perfectly with the golden, crispy topping, making every bite pure comfort food bliss. I loved how straightforward the instructions were, and the end result was simply delicious. This is definitely a go-to for any cozy night in.

  2. 5 stars
    One of the best mac and cheese recipes I’ve tried. So decadent! Will definitely keep this recipe safe.

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