Baked Mac and Cheese – decadent, comforting, and creamy mac and cheese recipe perfect as one of your Thanksgiving side dishes or a regular Sunday dinner menu item.
My holiday menu features the classics like smoked turkey and honey baked ham, but I use my Thanksgiving side dishes to explore new recipes and have fun. This is true for all sides, but my Mac and cheese. I keep it simple, I keep it cheesy, and most importantly I keep it classic! I know many have some of the most creative Mac and cheese recipes featuring ingredients like bacon, jalapenos, and lobster. My holiday playlists typically features some Angela Bofill. Her voice is as comforting as any good bowl of mac and cheese and she is so underrated, underappreciated, unsung!.
My idea of classic Mac and cheese a good melt, strong cheddar taste, and a nice crust. For me its just straight cheese, cream, pasta and simple spices. Only two cheeses, not 3, 4, 5, 6 types. I grew up on humble southern Mac and cheese that cost about $2 vs. $20. My cheeses of choice are a really good sharp cheddar and a parmesan.
What kind of cheese work best?
I generally keep it simple. First choice is a good American sharp cheddar. You can’t beat the melt and the flavor, both of which are essential to good mac and cheese. I tend to also lean towards one of the smoked versions. Two is my max number of cheese, and my second one is one of the creamier type cheeses. I’m partial to pecorino, but parmesan or gruyere are great choices as well.
Baked vs. stovetop
I’m not going to get into a debate about which is better, stovetop or baked. That’s for another day, but for three years during my days working for Kraft foods I was responsible for tracking cheese recipes consumption. Baked Mac and cheese was tops nationally, but especially in the South. I know stovetop is easier, but I’m strictly a baked Mac and cheese dude. I gotta have that crust like Nola Darling, plus that roasted pasta taste and creamy béchamel sauce are non-negotiable.
Perfect Baked Mac and Cheese Cooking tips
- Choose the right macaroni pasta. You can never go wrong with elbow, but more importantly choose a pasta that has different nooks and crannies for the cheese to find its way into. They’re good at holding the melted cheese so you get the goods with every bite
- Heavily salt the water before boiling the water
- Don’t cook beyond el dente (pasta should be cooked but chewy) because the pasta will continue to cook in the oven
- Choose a good American cheese as your base, as they tend to melt better. Take it easy on the different number of cheeses as you can end up with competing strong ones. One sharp and one creamy (gruyere, parmesan) is enough
- Shred your own cheese. Pre-shredded store bought has different types of stabilizers
- Don’t skip the roux, as it’s what gives Mac and cheese texture. Flavor your roux with pepper, bay leaves, and spices like mustard powder and paprika
- Toss the cooked pasta in butter before adding your cheese sauce. This will help the cheese stick to the pasta better
- Make that crust by mixing melted butter, bread crumbs, and cheese then topping the dish before baking
- Keep the ingredients simple. Focus on a few, high quality ones
Baked Mac and Cheese
If you add this baked mac and cheese recipe to your Thanksgiving side dishes or Sunday dinners, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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For another tasty Thanksgiving side dish recipe try this Black Rice and Sweet Potatoes Salad.
Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1/2 pound elbow macaroni or shells
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 cup sharp cheddar shredded
- 1/2 parmesan or pecorino cheese grated
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup sharp cheddar
Prepare the pasta
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water (the saltier the better) cook the pasta to al dente. Drain and put back into pot cooked in. Add butter to make it easy for the cheese sauce to stick
Make the roux
While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a sauce pan, add flour and stir constantly to a smooth consistency and it begins to brown. Add milk and cream stirring constantly until it begins to thicken. Once pretty thick move from heat and add spices (pepper, mustard powder, paprika). Remove the bay leaf. Add cheese and mix thoroughly.
Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
Make the crust
Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss with the bread crumbs and reserved cheese to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs mixture. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.