Mac and Cheese

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Ultra-creamy and topped with crispy panko and herbs, this my favorite version of homemade mac and cheese.

Mac & Cheese

I find most homemade mac and cheese recipes to be a bit dry, so I developed this version to be ultra-creamy. The crispy panko and herb topping was inspired by the mac and cheese served at Maple Ave, a little gem of a restaurant near my hometown. It absolutely makes the dish!

This recipe serves four as a main dish and six as a side; if you’d like to double the recipe, bake it in a 9×13-inch baking dish and increase the cooking time to 30 to 35 minutes.

What you’ll need to make mac and cheese

how to make mac & cheese

I use three different kinds of cheese in this recipe: Gruyère, extra-sharp Cheddar, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Using more than one type of cheese adds dimension to the dish. Be sure to use an authentic Swiss-made Gruyère that bears the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) seal, which shows that the cheese is made according to strict government-mandated quality standards.

Similarly, it’s important to use authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. You can always tell if it’s the real deal by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. (If the cheese is already grated, it should be labeled “Parmigiano Reggiano,” not “Parmesan.”)

I go the traditional route with the pasta and use macaroni, but any pasta that has lots of nooks and crannies will work nicely.  Your goal is to use a shape that catches and holds onto as much of the cheesy sauce as possible.

How to make mac and cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you don’t want it fully cooked.) how to make mac & cheese Drain well and rinse with cold water. how to make mac & cheese Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium (2-quart) pot over low heat. how to make mac & cheese Add the flour. how to make mac & cheese Cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. how to make mac & cheeseWhile whisking, add the milk. how to make mac & cheeseBring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. how to make mac & cheese Off the heat, whisk in the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. how to make mac & cheese Add the cooked pasta. how to make mac & cheese Stir to combine. how to make mac & cheese Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside. how to make mac & cheeseIn a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. how to make mac & cheese Add the panko. how to make mac & cheese Cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Stir in the herbes de Provence or thyme. This step of browning the panko may seem unnecessary — you’d think it would brown in the oven — but I find it needs a head start on the stove to get really golden and crispy.

how to make mac & cheese Sprinkle the toasted panko over the pasta and cheese sauce, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. how to make mac & cheese Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. how to make mac & cheese Serve warm and enjoy. (Note: this recipe was originally posted on the blog in 2009 and updated in November of 2018. To download the original recipe, click here.)Mac & Cheese

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Mac and Cheese

Ultra-creamy and topped with crispy panko and herbs, this my favorite version of homemade mac and cheese.

Servings: 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) macaroni, cavatappi or penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 6 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 4 ounces extra sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Grease a 2-qt baking dish with butter.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you don't want it fully cooked.) Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium (2-quart) pot over low heat. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, gradually add the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside.
  4. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add the panko and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Stir in the herbes de Provence or thyme. Sprinkle the toasted panko mixture over the pasta and cheese sauce, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.
  5. Note: To reheat leftovers, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 300°F oven. Do not microwave.
  6. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: This can be frozen unbaked for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the baking instructions in the recipe.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 807
  • Fat: 45 g
  • Saturated fat: 26 g
  • Carbohydrates: 62 g
  • Sugar: 10 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 38 g
  • Sodium: 760 mg
  • Cholesterol: 130 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • It is by far the best Mac and Cheese I have ever had!!! Super tasty and rather easy to make.

    • — N.K. on October 16, 2021
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  • Oh Jenn!! My first ever attempt at making macaroni and cheese. It’s delectable and beyond my wildest expectations.

    • — Pamela C Harriman on September 28, 2021
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  • I’ve never made macaroni and cheese, and I’ve not eaten it from a box. It wasn’t something that was made when I was a child and so I have a question. I have 2% milk and some heavy cream. I don’t want to go to the store for an extra ingredient. Would that work? I’d like this to be really creamy. Thank you.

    Pamela

    • — Pamela C Harriman on September 26, 2021
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    • Hi Pamela, I haven’t tried it, but I think the combination of those should work. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on September 27, 2021
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  • Delicious!! Turned out perfectly and I love the crispy top! Thanks Jen for another great recipe!!

    • — Lyne H. on August 4, 2021
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  • I am wanting to take this to a potluck. Will the panko get soggy if I cover the hot dish and put it in a casserole tote to keep warm until serving at the potluck?

    • — Joyce on June 17, 2021
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    • Yes, it will still be good, but I do think the panko will get a bit soggy.

      • — Jenn on June 18, 2021
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  • Thank you for elevating my family’s mac & cheese experience during the past year!! We love the blend of 3 kinds of cheese and toasted panko breadcrumbs. It’s time to share this with others – would this recipe work if baked in a muffin tin? I want to serve as a finger food at an outdoor bridal shower. Please advise!

    • — KJ on May 6, 2021
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    • Hi KJ, so glad you like this! Unfortunately, I don’t think it would work in a muffin tin — I don’t think they’d hold together well enough – sorry!

      • — Jenn on May 7, 2021
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  • First time making homemade Mac and cheese so i followed directions and used all listed ingredients. This came out delicious! Thanks for making it easy, I was not afraid of making the roux thanks to you!

    • — Rachel on April 27, 2021
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  • I like and have used many of your recipes, but my family’s all time favorite is Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese, but I can no longer find it on your website. I’ve often just halved it when I didn’t need large amount. I have a hard copy and I continue to use it. I know the Mac and Cheese recipe is similar, but I don’t find it quite as good as the original. Why the change?

    • — Martha on April 18, 2021
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    • Hi Martha, You’re right — this recipe was originally posted on the blog in 2009 and I updated it in November of 2018. I changed it because after having a similar version at a restaurant, I loved the panko topping and wanted to share it with readers. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on April 19, 2021
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  • Thanks very much ever for the amazing recipes. This Mac and cheese is another winner! Random question..would you mind telling where is the blue ceramic 9×13 inch pan from? I recently broke mine and in search for a nice one like yours in the photo.

    • — Christina on April 12, 2021
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    • So glad you like the recipes! That dish is by Emile Henry.

      • — Jenn on April 12, 2021
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  • This is ridiculously delicious. My husband and I like roasting broccoli and cauliflower on the side and then mixing them in when everything is done. That way you get some veggies too!

    • — Serena on March 27, 2021
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  • I made this recipe with gluten free pasta – one 12 oz box of GF elbow pasta – and used GF breadcrumbs for the topping – it was PERFECT !
    Thank you Jenn – you are the best – we have been well nourished and happy people following your recipes 🙂

    • — Lori Altabet on March 2, 2021
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    • 💗

      • — Jenn on March 3, 2021
      • Reply
    • Did you use GF flour as well? I’ve only made this the way the recipe calls, but I want to make it for my friend that is GF. Thanks!

      • — Jackie on April 8, 2021
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  • Delicious! My boys devoured it.

    • — Becky on February 19, 2021
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  • You’re my go to girl for recipes. Everything you create is the best be it main, salad, dessert etc. I have tried almost all from the web (and your cookbook). Everything receives rave reviews from my wife and friends alike. That being said, I followed this recipe to the T, even weighing all ingredients. It was extremely runny and did not have that rich cheese flavour even though I used the cheeses listed. I will be looking for a better mac & cheese.

    • — Brian F. on February 14, 2021
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  • Our family absolutely LOVES your recipes!! Quick question – if I’m making this for the superbowl, but want to prep it the night before or that morning, should I hold off on putting the toppings on until right before putting it in the oven (or should I refrigerate with the toppings on)? Thanks!

    • — Laurie C. on February 5, 2021
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    • So glad you like the recipes! I’d add the breadcrumbs right before you put the dish in the oven. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on February 7, 2021
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  • I’ve made macaroni and cheese more times in my life than I can remember and this recipe is the all time winner! The creaminess level is perfect. Depending on circumstances I’ve tripled the recipe, used half and half instead of milk for a holiday dinner, used equal amounts of cheddar and gruyere, used more cheddar than gruyere, eliminated the nutmeg, and it’s been delicious every time. Definitely a keeper!

    • — Joyce Dalessi on February 2, 2021
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  • The addition of the browned bread crumbs took this dish to a whole new level!
    DO NOT SKIP!

    • — Sarah on February 2, 2021
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  • Thank you Jenn for this recipe! This is reminiscent of a restaurant dish: sophisticated but hearty. The gruyere and thyme in the panko lends a subtlety and depth normally not found in mac n’ cheese. I did not have enough parmigiano reggiano (only about 1/2 to 3/4 of what you recommended) but it still turned out great with no need to add more salt or other flavours. I used a 9 x 13 baking dish because I did not have a smaller one, but it turned out great (baked for 25 minutes) even though it resulted in a relatively thin layer of macaroni – and bonus, more panko topping spread out.

    • — Penny on January 31, 2021
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  • Family love spicy food so used coconut milk and bit of curry paste to jazz it up a notch! Then changed out the panko for fresh bread, toasted. Awesome recipe Jenn!

    • — Gillian Foster on January 30, 2021
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  • I rarely make mac and cheese, as there are family lactose issues and they tend to be too dry and not be worth the effort. This was soo creamy, and the flavors were spot on. I think the herbs de provence adds just the right flavor – do not omit.

    • — Allise on January 30, 2021
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    • My house loves heat, but not too much. I like to add some garlic powder, paprika, and a pinch of cayenne to the bread crumbs on top to give a tiny bit of zip.

      • — CeCe on January 31, 2021
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  • Macaroni and cheese with buffalo wings? My family was very skeptical about my idea of serving macaroni and cheese with buffalo wings, not really a Canadian combo. Thank goodness I doubled the recipe, not a bite left over. Family proclaimed your Mac and Cheese their all time favorite side with wings.
    Very easy recipe. I didn’t have Panko so I substituted toasted sourdough bread crumbs sprinkled with Aleppo chili flakes. Perfect Mac and Cheese with lots of flavor and not dry or overly rich. Reheats beautifully!
    Once again Thank You for another wonderful reliable recipe.

    • — Elaina on January 29, 2021
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  • I have made this recipe twice now and both times it turned out fantastic. Best home made mac and cheese I have ever made. Family loved it. Very easy to make. I have recommended to many people.

    • — Carolyn Cartmill on January 29, 2021
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  • This Mac and cheese was the best we ever had! So delicious & creamy! This recipe is a keeper!

    • — Diane S on January 29, 2021
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  • This looks so delicious. I can’t wait to try it. If I wanted to add truffle oil to it, would I just drizzle the oil over the top or would it be best to toss the pasta in it before I combined the pasta with the cheese?

    • — Barb Brady on January 29, 2021
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    • Hi Barb, I think you could go either way, but I’d probably drizzle it over top. Hope you enjoy it!

      • — Jenn on January 29, 2021
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      • Thanks we added the truffle oil and it was fantastic. My friends who I was making it for are truffle fans 🙂 Very rich and delicious. Next time I’m going to try the original recipe.

        • — Barb Brady on February 5, 2021
        • Reply
  • This is a wonderful recipe. One of my families favorites! Great flavor.

    • — Helen Mehus on January 29, 2021
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  • I made this recipe exactly as written and it was a hit! I really love that this is a smaller portion recipe using just a half pound of pasta. Mac n cheese never reheats well in my opinion so it was great to have an amount that was perfect for one dinner with my family and I didn’t have any leftovers! This will be our go-to Mac n cheese recipe!

    • — Michelle F. on January 29, 2021
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  • I tried this and it is fabulous! I really enjoy so many of your recipes!!

    • — Leeleemil on January 29, 2021
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  • Mac & Cheese is comfort food for my husband. but because I am an ex-pat and didn’t grow up with Mac & Cheese, I didn’t even think about it when I planned my menus for the week.
    When I saw this recipe, I thought I would make it to make my husband happy.

    I cannot seem to handle milk for it spells digestive trouble for me, but I am okay with heavy whipping cream. So, I used heavy whipping cream instead of milk. Wasn’t sure how it will turn out, but let me tell you…. it was a major hit. My husband’s exact words after a few bites were “my tummy is dancing with happiness” 🙂 This recipe is so good and soo yummy that it is going to be our new shared “comfort food.” I can honestly say, not only did I adopt the US as my home, I am now adopting Mac & Cheese as one of my comfort foods.

    • — Nukhet Hendricks on January 29, 2021
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  • Wonderful creamy comforting grown up Mac and Cheese. I have made this many times and it is a hit always. I receive requests to make especially as the temperature drops and we need those comfort foods. Absolutely delicious with the cheese combinations. Thanks Jenn.

    • — Deborah on January 29, 2021
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  • This has become a staple at our house!! I’ve doubled the recipe many times, and I often make it the day before hosting. It reheats beautifully. My kids prefer a cheese blend with more cheddar, so I adjust the mix of cheese depending on who I am cooking for.

    • — Liz S on January 28, 2021
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  • Great tip to toast the Panko breadcrumbs.

    • — Alice Gerold on January 28, 2021
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  • Kid-approved! Which means a lot in our house.

    • — Byul Hutchinson on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I have enjoyed every recipe I’ve tried from you!

    • — Deb McDougal on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on January 28, 2021
      • Reply
  • This is the best baked mac n cheese I’ve made. Ever. Just like every single other recipe that I’ve tried of yours! Delish. The only change I made was using smoked gruyere. We love smokey flavor at our house. It was great.

    • — Jeanne on January 28, 2021
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  • I had an old recipe for Mac n cheese that I used to love but lately found it was kind of dry and bland; I made Jenn’s recipe and it was a huge hit! It’s my new mac n cheese recipe – thank you Jenn.

    • — cathleen on January 28, 2021
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  • Enjoyed this mac and cheese , especially with the type of cheese. Being lactose intolerant these cheeses are perfect. Do change it up at times using any leftover beef or adding of bacon. All good. Very tasty.

    • — Clara on January 28, 2021
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  • This is my favorite Mac and Cheese recipe by far!! I have made it on numerous occasions for my family and friends and it never disappoints. The combination of the 3 cheeses as well as the panko topping puts this dish over the top! Thanks Jen for this amazing recipe!

    • — Patty Wojnar on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Easy to make and a hit with the whole family!

    • — Angela J David on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • First time i’ve made homemade Mac and Cheese, and it was a huge hit. I was worried about making the roux, and your instructions made it incredibly easy, and successful. I followed the recipe exactly, but next time, i think i’d add more cheddar versus the gruyere for more of a bite. Thanks so much…loved it!

    • — Lynda on January 28, 2021
    • Reply

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