Mac and Cheese

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Ultra-creamy and topped with crispy panko and herbs, this baked mac and cheese is a real crowd-pleaser.

Good homemade baked mac and cheese begins with al dente noodles and a rich sauce made from butter, flour, milk, and loads of shredded cheese. The noodles are tossed with the cheesy sauce, transferred to a baking dish, topped with crispy breadcrumbs, and then baked until bubbling and golden. Since I find most homemade mac and cheese recipes to be a bit dry, I developed this version to be ultra-creamy. The crispy panko and herb topping is inspired by the delicious mac and cheese served at Maple Ave, a little gem of a restaurant near my hometown – it absolutely makes the dish! The recipe serves four as a main dish and six as a side; if you’d like to double it for a crowd, bake the mac and cheese in a 9×13-inch dish and increase the cooking time to 30 to 35 minutes.

What you’ll need to make mac and cheese

mac and cheese ingredients

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 government-mandated quality standards. Similarly, it’s important to use authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has a lot more flavor than domestic Parmesan. You can tell if it’s the real deal by the rind, which should be 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 elbow macaroni, but any pasta that has lots of nooks and crannies will work nicely.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Boil the Noodles

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 well and rinse with cold water.

drained noodles

Step 2: Make the Cheese Sauce

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium (2-quart) pot over low heat and add the flour.

adding flour to melted butter to make roux

Stir with a whisk until the flour is combined. This mixture is called a roux.

whisking rouxContinue cooking, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. The roux will look foamy.

bubbling roux

While whisking constantly, pour in the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. This French “mother sauce” is known as béchamel, or a sauce made from a white roux and milk.

adding milk to roux

Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

adding cheese to sauce

Whisk until the cheese is completely melted; if necessary, place the pan back over low heat but do not boil. The finished cheese sauce is known as Mornay sauce, or a béchamel sauce to which shredded or grated cheese is added.

whisked cheese sauce

Step 3: Combine the Noodles with the Sauce

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce.

adding pasta to cheese sauce

Stir to combine. It will seem way too soupy and creamy – that’s okay, that’s what you want!

pasta stirred with cheese sauce

Pour into a buttered 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

pasta and sauce in baking dish

Step 4: Prepare the Crispy Topping

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and add the panko.

cooking panko in skillet

Cook, stirring often, until golden brown, and then 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.

adding herbs to golden pankoStep 5: Bake

Sprinkle the toasted panko over the pasta and cheese sauce, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano.

mac and cheese ready to bake

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.

baked mac and cheeseServe warm out of the oven 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.)

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Mac and Cheese

Ultra-creamy and topped with crispy panko and herbs, this baked mac and cheese is a real crowd-pleaser.

Servings: 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

  • ½ pound (8 ounces) macaroni, cavatappi or penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 2½ cups whole milk
  • 6 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ½ 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, ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (If the cheese doesn't fully melt off the heat, it's okay to place the pan back over low heat, but do not let the sauce boil.) Add the cooked pasta and stir well. It will be very soupy; that's good. Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside.
  4. In a small skillet 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 tablespoon 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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Comments

  • Can I use fresh thyme instead of dried on the topping?

    • — Pam on June 16, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, but you’ll need more. I’d use 1.5 teaspoons. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I use any 8 x 8″ or 9 X 9″ square baking dish?

    • — Dorothea on April 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Dorthea, I’d use an 8 x 8-inch dish. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 14, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn! You note that you’ve updated this recipe. What is different from the original? ( I made the “original” and it was outstanding! Can’t imagine how it would be improved upon!)

    Also, how many days ahead can I make this and refrigerate before baking? Is two days in the fridge too long?

    • — Susanne G. on April 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Susanne, I added just over 1/4 cup of Parmigianno-Reggiano, cut back the nutmeg from 1/4 tsp. to 1/8 tsp., called for panko instead of making your own bread crumbs, and added 1/2 tsp. of herbes de Provence. Assembling this up to two days ahead is fine, but I wouldn’t push it any longer than that (and put the bread crumb mixture on top right before baking). Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on April 13, 2022
      • Reply
  • I used seriously stinky raclette instead of cheddar and it was fabulous. Also I put about 6 oz of chopped cooked spinach in with the pasta and sauce mix which was very welcome. What a great recipe. I especially loved the crispy Panko and Parmesan topping. The only suggestion I have is to also include grams in the recipe because not everybody goes by the ounces system, and it’s hard to measure my butter in tablespoons because it comes in half kilo blocks.

    • — Dianne on April 11, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Dianne, Glad this was a hit! And the great majority of my recipes (including this one) include conversions to metric/weight measurements. To view them, scroll down to the recipe, and immediately under the recipe title on the right side, you’ll see a little toggle. If you move it from “cup measures” to metric, you’ll see measurements that will work for you. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on April 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • I paired this with your amazing fried chicken tenders and your honey mustard dipping sauce and garlic bread and what a hit! Thank you!!!

    • — Jen on April 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is the BEST. I’ve been trying to find the perfect, ultra creamy mac and cheese and I have found it! Thank you! My husband and I almost ate the whole pan it was so good. I didn’t follow the cheeses you listed and used what I had on hand instead (gouda, sharp cheddar, parmesan) but I think you could easily change this recipe up with any cheese. I also used preseasoned breadcrumbs which made it quick and easy.

    • — Sloane on February 8, 2022
    • Reply
  • First time making any type of home made Mac n cheese. Even this Wisconsin kid is impressed. Didn’t disappoint! Shared with a few friends as well!

    Thanks

    • — Kyle on February 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • I have made this recipe many times and it’s always a hit. I’ve also frozen it and reheated as directed and it’s equally delicious. Thanks for the advice not to reheat in the microwave. I did try it once, and you are right! It’s much better to reheat in the oven. (In the rare case there are leftovers!)

    • — Jennifer on January 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn,
    What size pan does this recipe use? What size pan is the Emile Henry?
    Thank you!
    CJ

    • — CJ on December 26, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi CJ, that’s an 11 x 7-inch pan.

      • — Jenn on December 29, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi. I am a huge fan! I have both of your cookbooks and your website is my favorite resource for recipes and learning how to cook.
    I have a question. Can this recipe be doubled and baked in one pan to feed a large crowd?
    Thanks.

    • — Kelly Harrison on December 26, 2021
    • Reply
    • Yep, the bake time may be a bit longer…and so glad you enjoy the recipes! 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 26, 2021
      • Reply
  • I am serving a vegetarian meal. Would you serve mac and cheese with garlic bread made with your recipe?

    Thanks

    • — Elizabeth on December 20, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Elizabeth, The mac and cheese and garlic bread sound really carb-heavy, so I would probably go with a salad instead. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2021
      • Reply
  • Looks delicious! Curious if you can make it without the panko? Feel like the panko may make it too heavy with everything else I plan to serve for Christmas!

    • — Valerie on December 17, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, it would be fine to omit the panko. Keep in mind that the top of the pasta will get a little crispy.

      • — Jenn on December 17, 2021
      • Reply
  • Thanks Jenn!
    I’m sure it will be another Once Upon A Chef recipe the family will love!
    Lynda

    • — Lynda on December 14, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    The mac and cheese recipe calls for 6 ounces of Gruyere cheese (about 2 cups) but 6 ounces equals approximately 3/4 of a cup. Also calls for 4 ounces of Cheddar (about 1 cup) but 4 ounces equals 1/2 a cup. Wondering which measurements I should use? Thanks, Lynda

    • — Lynda on December 13, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Lynda, the ounces you see in the recipe refer to weigh,t not volume. So if you were to weigh the Gruyere, it would come out to 6 ounces. Same goes for the cheddar – if you were to weigh what you needed, it would come out to 4 ounces. Hope that clarifies and that you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 13, 2021
      • Reply
    • Maybe this will help also……This is an excerpt from the Wisconsin Cheese website on measuring CHEESE accurately: “Weight vs. Volume -If you love cheese as much as we do, you’ll want the most accurate measurements possible. For cheese, that measurement is weight (ounces, grams). But what if your recipe only gives a volumetric measurement like cups, or if you don’t have a food scale? In that case we have some useful rules of thumb for you to follow, depending on the type of cheese you’re using. When it comes to measuring cheeses accurately, it’s all about the type of cheese.
      Soft cheeses are heavier per cup, while hard cheeses are lighter. Here’s what we recommend:
      • Soft or crumbly cheeses (e.g. feta or blue) 1 cup = 6 ounces
      • Semi-hard cheeses (e.g. cheddar or Havarti) 1 cup = 4 ounces
      • Hard cheeses (e.g. parmesan or asiago) 1 cup = 3 ounces

      • — MWB on January 2, 2022
      • Reply

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