Baked Mac and Cheese – it’s amazingly cheesy, deliciously comforting and perfect for holidays and weekends! Macaroni noodles are cooked to al dente then tossed with a luxuriously creamy cheddar and gruyere sauce, then topped with crispy toasted panko and oven baked. It’s one of the ultimate side dish recipes!
My Favorite Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
This is my family’s favorite macaroni and cheese! I’ve made it several times at holidays and it’s usually the top thing that gets the most compliments and repeat requests. It’s just that good!
You just can’t go wrong with an extra saucy, classic side dish like this. Because who doesn’t love cheese??
Sure it’s pricey to buy the imported Gruyere cheese but it’s worth it. The combination of extra sharp cheddar and Gruyere makes the best macaroni and cheese!
Then we up the decadence by also adding a fair amount of butter and some half and half to the recipe. This sauce is rich!
And don’t even get me started on that panko topping. This just wouldn’t be the same with out it. That crisp textural contrast perfectly compliments the tender noodles and creamy sauce.
Add this to your holiday menu everyone will love it! And while you’re at it you may as well do a test run this weekend. I’m always looking for a reason to make this over-the-top delicious macaroni and cheese!
Ingredients Needed for Baked Macaroni and Cheese:
- Panko bread crumbs
- Dry macaroni pasta
- Salt and pepper
- Whole milk
- Half and half
- Extra sharp cheddar cheese
- Gruyere cheese
Scroll below for full printable recipe.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese:
- Preheat oven, prepare baking dish: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 13 by 9 or 12 by 8-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Toast panko: Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko and spread even, let toast, tossing frequently until golden brown. Set aside in bowl.
- Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook macaroni just to al dente according to package instructions. If it’s done early before sauce toss with a little olive oil so it doesn’t stick together.
- Make roux and sauce: In a large saucepan or medium pot melt remaining 5 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly 1 1/2 minutes. While whisking slowly pour in warmed milk and half and half. Season with 1 tsp salt (or to taste) and pepper to taste.
- Cook until thick: Cook mixture stirring constantly until thickened (it should not boil!).
- Stir in cheese off heat: Remove from heat let cool 1 minute then stir in 2 cups cheddar and 1 cup gruyere (it doesn’t need to fully melt through).
- Toss pasta with sauce: Pour drained pasta into a bowl, pour in sauce and remaining 1 cup gruyere cheese. Toss to evenly coat with sauce.
- Layer in baking dish: Pour into prepared baking dish, spread into an even layer. Sprinkle panko over top and gently spread into an even layer.
- Bake: Bake in preheated oven until edges are just barely bubbling, about 20 minutes (if top is browning during baking you can tent with foil all ovens are little different).
- Let cool just a few minutes and serve warm.
Can I Make It in Advance?
While you could prepare it in advance and bake later (keeping pasta tossed with oil and sauce separate), it is best baked just after preparing so I recommend waiting.
Can I Reheat It?
Yes this will reheat but the texture isn’t as smooth and creamy as it is just after baking. I just reheat individual portions in the microwave.
What to Serve with Macaroni and Cheese?
It’s super hearty so I like to serve with steamed or roasted vegetables (broccoli is a great choice) and lean roast chicken. But on the holidays of course that’s different. We serve with the works: stuffing, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and pie!
What’s the Best Kind of Cheese for Mac and Cheese?
My favorite blend of cheese for baked macaroni and cheese is extra sharp cheddar and Gruyere (which is a type of Swiss cheese), but you can try it with other two other types of smooth melting cheese such as:
- Monterey jack
- White cheddar
Then keep in mind some of those cheeses are more mild then others like mozzarella for instance in which you’d want to add some bold parmesan or romano cheese. You can also just use all sharp cheddar here.
Also keep in mind not all cheeses are created equal. I’ve listed the brands of cheese I like to use here. Cracker Barrel cheddar melts smoothly and has a great flavor, and I like that Murray’s Gruyere has a stronger flavor than some other brands.
Can I Use Low Fat Milk or Heavy Cream?
Low fat milk will work (1% or 2%) just reduce the amount of milk by 1/2 cup and add another 1/2 cup half and half.
If you have heavy cream on hand but no half and half, just use 1/2 cup heavy cream here and increase milk to 3 cups.
You can even make this with all whole milk (no half and half) it just won’t be quite as rich.
Tips for the Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe:
- Pre-toast the panko bread crumbs for a nice golden brown topping. Or in a pinch you can just preheat the broiler after baking and toast underneath it briefly (the skillet method just browns more evenly).
- Heat the milk and half and half before adding to the roux for a smooth mixture (heat in microwave or on stovetop).
- Don’t let the sauce mixture or baked macaroni get too hot or it will separate. This is why I bake at 325 and not too long.
- Add cheeses off heat so they don’t curdle up.
- Opt for smooth melting cheeses for a smooth sauce.
- Use a blend of flavorful cheeses for best taste (pick at least 1 bold then 1 more mild is fine).
- Add half and half or cream to make it richer.
- Serve shortly after baking for best results. The sauce is nice and creamy just after baking, but as it sits and the sauce cools naturally the fats separate a little so the sauce isn’t quite as smooth.
Looking for an Easy Stovetop Mac and Cheese?
Try my stovetop version HERE.
More Delicious Side Dish Recipes to Try:
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Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1 cup (2.5 oz) panko bread crumbs
- 6 Tbsp (3 oz) butter*, divided
- 12 oz. (3 cups) dry macaroni pasta
- 1 tsp salt, more or less to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 5 Tbsp (1.6 oz) flour
- 2 1/2 cups (590ml) whole milk, warmed**
- 1 cup (235ml) half and half, warmed**
- 2 cups (8 oz) extra sharp cheddar, shredded (I like to use Cracker Barrel)
- 2 cups (7.5 oz) Gruyere cheese, shredded, divided (I like to use Murray's)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 13 by 9 or 12 by 8-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko and spread even, let toast, tossing frequently until golden brown. Pour into a bowl so it doesn't continue to brown and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook macaroni just to al dente according to package directions (preferably add macaroni to boiling water just when you start to cook the cheese sauce in heated pan so they finish at the same time).
- In a large saucepan or medium pot melt remaining 5 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly 1 1/2 minutes. While whisking slowly pour in warmed milk and half and half. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper).
- Cook mixture stirring constantly until thickened (it should not boil!). Remove from heat let cool 1 minute then stir in 2 cups cheddar and 1 cup gruyere (it doesn't need to fully melt through).
- Pour drained pasta into a large mixing bowl (or empty pasta pot), pour in sauce and remaining 1 cup gruyere cheese. Toss to evenly coat with sauce.
- Pour into prepared baking dish, spread into an even layer. Sprinkle toasted panko over top and spread into an even layer.
- Bake in preheated oven until edges are just barely bubbling, about 20 minutes (if top is browning during baking you can tent with foil, all ovens are little different).
- Let cool just a few minutes and serve warm.