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
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 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.
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.
Stir with a whisk until the flour is combined. This mixture is called a roux.
Continue cooking, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. The roux will look foamy.
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.
Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
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.
Step 3: Combine the Noodles with the Sauce
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce.
Stir to combine. It will seem way too soupy and creamy – that’s okay, that’s what you want!
Pour into a buttered 2-quart baking dish and set aside.
Step 4: Prepare the Crispy Topping
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and add the panko.
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.
Step 5: Bake
Sprinkle the toasted panko 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.
Serve 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.
- 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
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Grease a 2-qt baking dish with butter.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Note: To reheat leftovers, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 300°F oven. Do not microwave.
- 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.
- 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.
Love your recipes!!! Thank you so much for sharing them.
Quick question: I followed the recipe exactly. However, my mac and cheese had some graininess in the texture. Where did I go wrong? Many thanks again!!!!!
Hi Uma, What type/brand of Cheddar cheese did you use?
Hi Jenn, just wondering if I make this for Sunday can I prepare on Saturday and just bake on Sunday or should I complete on Saturday and just reheat on Sunday?
Love your recipes!
Hi Mary, you can go either way with this. If you just assemble it ahead, wait to add the breadcrumbs until right before you put it in the oven. Hope everyone enjoys!
For us this was good, not great. It was definitely creamy & has tons of potential. But for our family it was lacking in flavour. We felt like it could use a little bit of heat to zip it up. The nutmeg was nice but needed so much more. I will definitely use this recipe again as a base but will add a series of spices for our taste. All of that being said, I did double up on the recipe for leftovers & substituted some cream for some of the milk & didn’t use the breadcrumbs because my son isn’t a fan. So by doubling up, I’m sure I changed the flavour profile as a result. Still love Jenn’s recipes!
You mentioned that the blue pan is Emile Henry. Which size did you use in the photo? Someone mentioned that it was 13×9 but that would only be if you double the recipe? Thanks.
Hi Randi, It is a 7 x 11-inch dish. 🙂
As usual I love your recipes. I plan on making this for my son tomorrow when he comes to visit but he doesn’t like breadcrumbs on top of it usually. He’s a bit fussy when it comes to that unfortunately. Can I omit those?
Sure, that should be fine. You could make 1/2 the breadcrumb mixture and cover half of the mac and cheese with them if you’d like them as a topping. Hope that helps!
Never thought of that. Oh well, next time. Right now it’s in the oven and looking and smelling delicious. :0) Stay tuned!
Love your recipes! You have made me a better cook! Thank you.
Quick question re the Mac and Cheese recipe – I see the make ahead instructions for assembling and freezing, then thawing overnight. If I want to make this dish today, and bake tomorrow, should I simply put it in the refrigerator after it’s assembled? Should I wait to add the crumb topping until tomorrow? And should the dish sit outside on the counter for a certain period of time to come to room temperature before I bake it? Thanks!
So glad you like the recipes! Yes, after assembling this I would cover and put in the fridge. I’d wait to add the panko topping until right before you bake it. And while it’s not absolutely necessary, feel free to let it come to room temperature before you bake it. Hope you enjoy!
Hey planning on making this for Thanksgiving! How long will it take to reheat in the oven? Thank you
Hi Michaela, I would guess it would take 30 minutes give or take.
Hi! How far in advance can I make this without freezing? I want to make maybe Wednesday afternoon for Thanksgiving, and keep refrigerated until Thursday afternoon. Will that work if I wait to add the panko topping? Thanks so much!!!
Hi Sara, Yes, feel free to make it up to 2 days ahead. If you’re baking it right before serving, add breadcrumbs just before putting it in the oven. Enjoy!
Hello!!! I am making this for Thanksgiving. I bought the ingredients and then made the decision to double it. The store was out of Gruyère this time. Can I substitute with Swiss or is there a better alternative? (I have one block of Gruyère.). Thank you!!! (P.S. I love your cookbooks. I have made tons of your recipes!)
Hi Allison, Swiss will work nicely. Enjoy…and so glad you like the cookbooks! ❤️
Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!!! 🦃
I want to take this to a thanksgiving lunch where we expect about 30 people. Do I just quadruple the ingredients?
I want to know where you got that beautiful blue baking dish! And, it goes without saying, the mac and cheese is incredible!!
Glad you like it! And the baking dish is by Emile Henry.
OMG—this is the best ever!!!!!! Stop looking at other recipes and just make this. Its heavenly.
You recommend a 2 quart baking dish, but I only have a 1.5 quart. Is this likely to boil over and make a huge mess?
Hi Joy, I do think it’d be too small. You could double the recipe in a 9×13-in pan.
It is by far the best Mac and Cheese I have ever had!!! Super tasty and rather easy to make.
Oh Jenn!! My first ever attempt at making macaroni and cheese. It’s delectable and beyond my wildest expectations.
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.
Hi Pamela, I haven’t tried it, but I think the combination of those should work. Please LMK how it turns out!
Delicious!! Turned out perfectly and I love the crispy top! Thanks Jen for another great recipe!!
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?
Yes, it will still be good, but I do think the panko will get a bit soggy.
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!
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!
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!
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?
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!
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.
So glad you like the recipes! That dish is by Emile Henry.
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!
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 🙂
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!
My family absolutely loves this homemade mac and cheese. The three cheese blend and ratio of sauce to macaroni makes it rich and creamy. I use Montebello Conchiglie macaroni (I purchase it at MOM’s Organic Market) , its snail like shape with ridges holds onto the sauce beautifully. I make my bread crumb topping from left over sourdough bread that I pulse in a small food processor instead of panko. I also use paprika instead of thyme for the bread crumb topping. Thank you for the time that you put into testing your recipes, I’ve been very pleased with the results of each recipe that I’ve made!
Delicious! My boys devoured it.
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.
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!
So glad you like the recipes! I’d add the breadcrumbs right before you put the dish in the oven. Enjoy!
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!
The addition of the browned bread crumbs took this dish to a whole new level!
DO NOT SKIP!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Mac and cheese was the best we ever had! So delicious & creamy! This recipe is a keeper!
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?
Hi Barb, I think you could go either way, but I’d probably drizzle it over top. Hope you enjoy it!
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.
This is a wonderful recipe. One of my families favorites! Great flavor.
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!
I tried this and it is fabulous! I really enjoy so many of your recipes!!
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.
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.
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.
Great tip to toast the Panko breadcrumbs.
Kid-approved! Which means a lot in our house.
I have enjoyed every recipe I’ve tried from you!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Easy to make and a hit with the whole family!
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!