Homemade Mac and Cheese

published Nov 3, 2023
Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Elbow macaroni noodles in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce, then baked until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Serves8 to 12

Prep10 minutes

Cook25 minutes to 30 minutes

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A big scoop of baked mac and cheese being taken out of the baking dish.
Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

No comfort food satisfies quite like homemade mac and cheese, with its tender noodles tucked into a rich and creamy sauce that’s baked until the cheese is golden, melted, and gooey. This cozy casserole is an integral part of traditional holiday spreads and summertime potluck buffets, but it’s also perfect for curling up with on the couch.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s always an emergency box of mac and cheese in my pantry. But if you’ve been relying on the store for all of your creamy, cheesy, noodle-ly needs, it’s time to give homemade mac and cheese a try. Here’s how to make the very best cheesy baked homemade mac and cheese.

Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • Macaroni: Pick up a one-pound box of dried elbow macaroni noodles for this homemade mac and cheese recipe.
  • Butter and flour: Unsalted butter and all-purpose flour are the building blocks of the cheese sauce. Cook the butter and flour together first to prevent lumps from forming in the sauce.
  • Milk: Use whole milk, half-and-half, or a combination of the two for a creamy cheese sauce. Low-fat milk won’t give you the rich flavor and texture you’re looking for.
  • Cheese: Cheddar cheese is the classic choice for homemade mac and cheese, although melting cheeses like Gruyère or Fontina can be substituted for a portion of the cheese. Many recipes call for sharp or extra-sharp cheddar, but medium cheddar cheese has more moisture than other cheddars, so it melts more easily and has a creamier texture.
  •  Paprika: Sprinkle paprika over the top of the mac and cheese for a bit of color.
Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

How to Make Mac and Cheese

  1. Cook the macaroni. Boiling the macaroni for 2 minutes less than the package instructions for al dente means that the noodles will be perfectly cooked (and not too soft) once the casserole comes out of the oven.
  2. Make the cheese sauce. Cook flour in melted butter until golden, slowly whisk in milk or half-and-half, bring the sauce to a boil, and cook until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in shredded cheese.
  3. Layer with more cheese. Pour half of the mac and cheese into a baking dish, add a layer of shredded cheese, top with the remaining mac and cheese, and finish with more cheese. 
  4. Bake the mac and cheese. Bake just until bubbling around the edges and the cheese melts and turns golden-brown in spots.

How Long to Bake Mac and Cheese?

Bake freshly made homemade mac and cheese in the oven for just 10 minutes or until the cheese on top melts and the edges begin to bubble. If your mac and cheese has been refrigerated, bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until heated through.

What Goes with Mac and Cheese?

Homemade mac and cheese can be a meal in itself, but here are some recipes that go well with this cheesy casserole. 

Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Elbow macaroni noodles in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce, then baked until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Serves8 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    dried elbow macaroni

  • 6 tablespoons

    (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    medium cheddar cheese (about 6 cups shredded)

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 5 cups

    whole milk or half-and-half, or a combination

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • Paprika, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter.

  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add 1 pound dried elbow macaroni and cook for 2 minutes less than package directions for al dente. Meanwhile, grate 1 1/2 pounds medium cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 6 cups). Reserve 1 cup of the cheese for sprinkling.

  3. Drain the macaroni. Melt 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in the now-empty pot over medium heat. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, and stir until it turns golden and begins to smell toasted, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

  4. Slowly whisk in 5 cups whole milk or half-and-half, 1/2 cup at a time, until no lumps of flour remain. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, whisking frequently, until the sauce is thickened and clings to the back of a spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. You may need to adjust the heat to low to prevent the milk from boiling over.

  5. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the remaining 5 cups cheese, 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and stir until the cheese is melted. Add the macaroni and stir to combine.

  6. Transfer half of the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with half of the reserved cheese. Repeat layering the remaining macaroni and cheese and shredded cheese. Sprinkle paprika over the top if desired.

  7. Bake until the mac and cheese is bubbling around the edges and the cheese on top is melted and golden brown in spots, about 10 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Stovetop method: You can also serve this creamy mac and cheese straight from the stovetop. Simply stir in all of the cheese instead of reserving a portion for sprinkling.

Ingredient variation: Other melting cheeses such as Gruyère or Fontina can be substituted for up to 8 ounces of the cheddar cheese.

Equipment variation: The mac and cheese can be divided evenly between 2 (8x8-inch) baking dishes instead.

Make ahead: Cover the unbaked, assembled mac and cheese with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Bake, still covered, at 350°F until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. The mac and cheese will lose some of its creaminess upon refrigeration, add a splash of milk during reheating to loosen the sauce.

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