Incredibly creamy and delicious Baked Mac and Cheese is topped with a buttery, crunchy Panko topping. This recipe is out of this world and is going to be the highlight of your dinner or holiday spread. Your mouth will be watering over the layers of cheese, pasta, and breadcrumb topping that’s baked until crispy!
When it comes to comfort food recipes, baked mac and cheese is definitely an all-time favorite at our house! I love quickly whipping this up and making these easy Ham and Cheese Pinwheels to go along with it. The whole family eats it right up!
This creamy, cheesy pasta dish is one that we make for so many occasions. It’s great for holidays or any time you’re craving something warm, cheesy, and delicious.
You Will Love This Recipe!
- This is an old-fashioned macaroni and cheese made with a roux and topped with a crispy breadcrumb topping! The roux is just a fancy way to say “cooked flour and butter mixture” – it is what thickens the sauce so it’s rich, creamy, and coats the pasta perfectly.
- I use three types of cheese in this recipe. The sharp cheddar adds tons of flavor, the mozzarella melts like a dream, and the Parmesan goes on top for a toasty topping with the breadcrumbs.
- We love it as a side dish – it goes great with roast turkey, baked ham, or pot roast! Sometimes we make it a main dish with a green salad on the side.
If you’ve been searching for the best baked mac and cheese, your search stops here! I can’t wait to show you how to make it – it’s destined to be a new family favorite at your house like it is at ours.
- Elbow macaroni – or you can use another short pasta shape like penne, cavatappi, or shells.
- Butter and all-purpose flour combine to make the roux which thickens the sauce.
- Half & Half and Milk – 2% or whole milk will work. Whole milk will give the cheese sauce more richness.
- Shredded sharp cheddar – it’s best to shred a block yourself instead of using pre-shredded. Your sauce will be a lot creamier!
- Shredded mozzarella – shred this yourself, too.
- Salt and black pepper
- Panko bread crumbs – these are crispier than regular breadcrumbs. They make the best crunchy topping.
- Melted butter, Shredded Parmesan, and Garlic powder finish off the topping!
How to Make It
Cook the pasta: Boil the macaroni in a large pot for one minute less than what’s listed on the package. You want it a little underdone since it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain it and set it aside.
Combine the cheese: Mix the cheddar and mozzarella cheese in a bowl. Set it aside while you make the sauce.
Make the roux: Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until well combined and bubbly hot.
Make the sauce: Whisk the milk and half and half into the butter and flour mixture. Continue whisking until it starts to bubble and thicken, about two minutes. Add the seasonings and two cups of the cheddar and mozzarella. Whisk until smooth and then add another 1 1/2 cups of cheese and whisk until the sauce is smooth.
Add the pasta: Transfer the cooked pasta to the pot with the sauce and stir until it’s evenly coated. Pour half of the mac and cheese in the baking dish. Sprinkle some cheese over the top and then pour the rest of the pasta into the pan. Top it with the rest of the cheese.
Make the topping: Mix the panko, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter in a bowl. Sprinkle the topping over the top of the pasta and sauce.
Bake! Place the baking dish in the oven and bake the mac and cheese for 30 minutes at 350°F or until it’s hot, bubbling and the topping is crispy and golden.
Pasta Tips: Elbow pasta is great but you can use other shapes, too. The best pasta for macaroni and cheese is a short type like penne, cavatappi which look like cork screws, rotini which are spirals, or try using farfalle (bowties) or shells.
Cooking Tip: Be sure to reduce the pasta boiling time by one minute. That way, your pasta is perfectly al dente once it’s done baking in the sauce.
Cheese Tips: Shred your own for best results! The bagged kind usually has ingredients that keep it from clumping – this can make your sauce grainy and not as creamy. So, shred your own with a box grater or use a food processor with the grating blade to make it really easy.
Roux Tip: The key to making the roux (flour and butter mixture) is to cook it for a few minutes to cook off the raw flour taste. So, once it’s fully mixed, cooked it for a minute or so to fully cook the flour.
You can prepare the dish ahead and wait to bake it. Assemble the mac and cheese and cover it. Leave it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it. Just keep in mind, the longer it sits the less creamy it will be when you bake it. This is because the pasta will absorb some of the sauce. For that reason, I don’t usually make it more than a few hours in advance.
You can use a lot of different kinds to make mac and cheese! Here are some that work well – try mixing and matching to make your own custom dish. Any kind of cheddar, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Colby jack, Gouda, Fontina, and even soft kinds like goat cheese and cream cheese will work.
They will keep for two to three days in the refrigerator. The leftovers are never as good as when the dish is first made – they won’t be as creamy, but they’re still good! When you warm them up, it helps to add a splash of milk or half and half to loosen up the sauce.
Make It a Meal!
Serve it with these main dishes for the best comfort food dinner!
- Pair it with easy Air Fryer Chicken Breasts and a side of Roasted Vegetables for a delicious dinner!
- We love it alongside some juicy Crock Pot Chicken Legs and Crispy Broccoli.
- Make some BBQ Ribs to go with it for a dinner your family won’t forget!
- You can’t go wrong with some Crispy Fried Chicken to go with that creamy pasta.
- We love it with some Pork Chops and Asparagus, too!
- Or serve it with some Griddle Steaks and Creamed Peas for an amazing meal.
- Make it a holiday dinner with Pineapple Glazed Ham!
I can promise this homemade baked pasta will be a hit with the kids and the adults! No one can resist a big scoop of this creamy pasta dish with that crispy topping. It will be the star of the table!
More Amazing Baked Side Dishes
Looking for more comforting side dishes? Here are a few more I love to make!
- Twice Baked Potato Casserole is just like the classic potato dish but turned into the creamiest, rich potato casserole.
- Load up on the veggies with Broccoli Cauliflower Casserole! Even the kiddos will gobble up the vegetables in this comforting side dish.
- Every holiday table needs the Best Green Bean Casserole, and my recipe is it!
Did you try this recipe and love it? Rate it, please!!!? Leave a comment and your five-star rating below – it will make my day!
If you snap a photo, please be sure to tag me on Instagram at @julieseatsandtreats or #julieseatsandtreats so I can see your delicious dish!
- 16 oz elbow macaroni cooked
- 6 Tbsp butter
- ⅓ c. all-purpose flour
- 3 c. 2% milk
- 1 c. half and half
- 3 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 ½ c. panko bread crumbs
- 4 Tbsp butter melted
- ½ c. Parmesan cheese shredded
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large 3-4 qt baking dish and set aside.
- Cook the pasta according to directions, removing it from heat one minute before the al dente cooking time is done. Drain and place in a large bowl.
- To make cheese sauce combine the shredded sharp cheddar cheese and Mozzarella cheese in a bowl, set aside.
- Put butter in a large saucepan, dutch oven or stock pot. Whisk in flour over medium heat and continue whisking for about 1 minute until bubbly and golden.
- Next, gradually whisk in the milk and half and half until smooth, making sure to continuously whisk the mixture. Continue to whisk until you see bubbles on the surface. Then continue cooking and whisking for another 2 minute. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder and whisk to combine.
- Add two cups of the cheese mixture to the saucepan and whisk until smooth. Add another 1 ½ c. of cheese mixture and continue whisking until creamy and smooth. At this point the cheese sauce should be thick.
- Stir in the cooked pasta and gently stir to combine making sure the pasta is fully coated with the cheese sauce.
- Pour half of the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining 1 ½ c. of cheese mixture and then the remaining mac and cheese.
- In a small bowl, combine panko crumbs, Parmesan cheese and melted butter for topping. Sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese. Place in a preheated oven and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.