Muffin-Tin Mac and Cheese Cups

published Mar 8, 2023
Mac and Cheese Cups Recipe

These individual-portioned mac and cheese cups are loaded with a creamy cheddar sauce and topped with buttery breadcrumbs.

Makes12

Prep15 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 45 minutes

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Mac and cheese cups on a plate with one broken into.
Credit: Laura Rege

Whether you like stovetop boxed versions that remind you of childhood or gooey baked renditions loaded up with add-ins, macaroni and cheese is one of those classic American dishes that is the perfect balance of comforting and delicious. One fun way to eat mac and cheese is to change how it’s served. For this version, I scoop the cheesy noodles into muffin tins and bake it, which transforms them into single servings that are both adorable and easy to serve. Don’t be surprised if you find little hands grabbing them — they’re a hit with kids and work well as a great family dinner, a grab-and-go lunch or snack, or a fun potluck or birthday party dish. 

What Are Mac and Cheese Cups?

Mac and cheese cups are individual portions of macaroni and cheese that are baked in a muffin tin. The addition of an egg holds the mixture together as it bakes so that it comes out of the muffin tin in one piece.

Credit: Laura Rege

What Can You Add to Mac and Cheese Cups?

You can have fun with additions and toppings. I like adding cooked bacon to the mix, but you can stir in one-half cup of crumbled sausage, diced ham, or veggies like frozen peas or diced broccoli. After flipping the cups out of the muffin tin, sprinkle with chopped chives or scallions for a little something extra.

Can You Freeze and Reheat Mac and Cheese Cups?

I don’t recommend freezing the fully baked mac and cheese cups, as most of the sauce will absorb into the macaroni and they’ll reheat up dry and not saucy. If you want to break up the prep, you can make the cheese sauce, breadcrumb topping, and cook the macaroni up to two days in advance and refrigerate them in separate containers. When you’re ready, reheat the sauce, mix in the macaroni, top with the breadcrumbs, and bake for freshly baked mac and cheese cups.

If You’re Making Mac and Cheese Cups, a Few Tips

  • Use macaroni, not larger shaped pastas. Because you will be scooping it into the muffin tin, stick with macaroni, whose shape fits well inside the tin.
  • Cook the macaroni until a little less than al dente. Because the macaroni will continue cooking in the oven, you want to undercook it so that it doesn’t overcook and become mushy. 
  • Don’t worry if the mac and cheese mixture seems soupy. As long as you grease the muffin tin well (and don’t line it with paper liners), each cup will set up as it bakes. 
  • Allow the cups to cool first before removing from the muffin tin. Because there’s so much sauce in the mac and cheese cups, let them cool for five to 10 minutes first to allow them to set up, then run a thin knife around each one to loosen. Invert a baking sheet over the tin, then flip both over in one motion; the cups should slide right out, you just need to flip them back over. This keeps the cups whole and intact, and reduces breakage. 

Mac and Cheese Cups Recipe

These individual-portioned mac and cheese cups are loaded with a creamy cheddar sauce and topped with buttery breadcrumbs.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 45 minutes

Makes 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray

  • 8 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 cups shredded)

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup

    panko breadcrumbs

  • 8 ounces

    dried elbow macaroni (about 1 3/4 cups)

  • 2 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried ground mustard

  • 2 cups

    whole or 2% milk

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1/2 cup

    cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)

  • Optional garnishes: 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, thinly sliced scallion greens

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Meanwhile, coat a standard 12-well muffin tin with cooking spray.

  2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, shred 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups). Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Transfer 2 teaspoons of the melted butter into a small bowl, add 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs and a pinch of kosher salt, and stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened.

  3. Add 8 ounces dried elbow macaroni to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions for 1 minute less than al dente. Meanwhile, return the medium saucepan to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon dried ground mustard, and whisk for 30 seconds to cook the floury taste out.

  4. Add 2 cups whole or 2% milk and 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, and whisk until smooth. Bring to a full simmer, then remove from the heat. Add the cheese and 1 large egg and whisk until the sauce is smooth.

  5. Drain the macaroni and rinse under cold water until no longer hot. Drain well, then return to the large saucepan. Add the cheese sauce and 1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon if desired and stir until combined. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  6. Divide the mixture (it will be very saucy) evenly between the wells of the muffin tin (about 1/2 cup each). Evenly sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture (about 1 teaspoon each).

  7. Bake until the breadcrumbs are golden brown in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the muffin tin (this will help it set up and make it easier to remove).

  8. Run a thin knife around each mac and cheese cup to loosen. Invert a baking sheet over the muffin tin. Grasping both the baking sheet and muffin tin in both hands (careful, hot!), flip both over in one motion. Lift the muffin tin off the mac and cheese cups. Flip the cups (sprinkle any panko that’s fallen off back on) and garnish with 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives or thinly sliced scallion greens if desired.

Recipe Notes

Mix in options: Instead of bacon, mix in 1/2 cup cooked ham, crumbled sausage, frozen peas, or small-diced broccoli instead before baking.

Make ahead: The breadcrumb topping, cheese sauce, and macaroni can be made up to 2 days in advance, cooled, and refrigerated in separate airtight containers. Rewarm the cheese sauce over medium heat until steaming before mixing in the macaroni.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.