My Best Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

My Best Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

In my opinion, the best creamy macaroni and cheese recipe ever! Great cheese combines with a super creamy sauce, for an absolutely dreamy, creamy mac and cheese. It’s comfort food perfection!

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a bad Macaroni and Cheese. Let’s face it, a plate of pasta and cheese sauce going to be pretty good no matter the recipe you start with. But when I enjoyed a bowl of the famous Beecher’s Macaroni and Cheese when I was in Seattle, I realized that macaroni and cheese could be more than just good – it could be really great. I think it was great for two reasons – it had lots of a wonderful creamy sauce and it was made with a really great cheese (and it makes a huge difference!).

So like all food-obsessed people, I set out to recreate it when I returned home. Turns out, the Beecher macaroni and cheese recipe is available online, so it turned out that recreating it was going to be a lot easier than I thought :) My next problem was that I was in Canada and that wonderful Beecher’s cheese isn’t available here. Thankfully, while Beecher’s is certainly great cheddar, there are a lot of other options available, as a great starting point for a perfect mac and cheese.

This isn’t the exact Beecher’s recipe, but it is certainly based on it. Of course, the cheese is different, but it is also comes about as a result of a “happy accident” I made when preparing the published Beecher’s recipe for the first time. You see, I failed to properly read the instructions and added all 4 cups of the cheese sauce to the dish, instead of the specified 2 cups. Yes, I accidentally doubled the sauce and found macaroni and cheese heaven! It should be no surprise, of course. If 2 cups of cheese sauce is good, 4 cups has to be great, right? And great it was. The combination of extra, creamy sauce with really great cheddar was perfect.

Experiment with your favourite cheeses and make your own signature dish. I loved the combination of a nutty, super old (crumbly) white cheddar with the sharp Canadian MacLaren’s Imperial cold-packed cheese. (Using two different ones gives a nice depth of cheese flavour). If you don’t have access to MacLaren’s, use a nice, sharp orange cheddar or possibly another brand of cold pack cheddar. I topped mine off with a bit of Extra Old Balderson Cheddar.

Perfect Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Cook’s Notes for My Best Creamy Mac and Cheese

To ensure your macaroni doesn’t get too soft, be sure to cook it 2 minutes less than you normally would, about 8 minutes. Rinsing well with cold water after draining will stop the cooking process and will also ensure your pasta doesn’t get too soft.

Like these little cast iron skillets? Me, too! I use them for all kinds of things, from savoury dishes to baking! You can find them on Amazon (Affiliate Link).

When crumbling your cheese, don’t leave the crumbles too large. They need to melt by only the heat from the sauce. This process of turning off the heat, then adding the cheese to melt without bottom heat, helps to ensure the cheese doesn’t become grainy and is the secret to a smooth, creamy sauce for your macaroni and cheese!


Don’t skip the chili powder or chipotle chili powder. It’s such a lovely smoky, spicy note. It complements the cheese perfectly, without over-powering it.

Add a bit more salt if you need to. Taste your cheese sauce before adding the pasta and add a bit more salt if you think it needs it. Proper salting makes all the flavours here really shine.
Perfect Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Perfect Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
 
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Cook time
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It's handy to have a scale for this recipe, to weigh the dry pasta and cheese. I've added alternate measurements where I could. Use a really great cheddar for this, as well as whole milk, if you can. It will make all the difference in the finished dish. I like to use two cheddars, a really great, aged one for most of it and then another one, a bit milder but still sharp, for a bit of depth of flavour. Experiment and find your favourite combinations.
Author:
Recipe type: Main Course
Serves: 4

Yummly
Ingredients
  • 8 oz. dry macaroni (1 2/3 cups, measured in a 2 cup glass liquid measure. Note that this measure will only work for macaroni and probably not a larger pasta shape. Weighing is recommended.)

  • Cheese Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole* milk (3%) *recommend whole milk here, if you can
  • 7 oz./200 g. a really good, really aged white crumbly cheddar, broken or chopped into small chunks (I used British Coastal Cheddar here)
  • 2 1/2 - 3 oz. of another variety orange sharp cheddar or cold-packed cheddar, grated or crumbled (I used MacLaren's Imperial Sharp Cold Pack Cheddar - You'll need about 1/4 of the container for 2.5 oz)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (little less if using table salt)
  • 1/4 tsp. (regular) chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder

  • Topping:
  • 1/2 oz. additional old cheddar, grated
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
Instructions
  1. Add water and a bit of salt to a large pot and place over high heat for the pasta. While it's heating, prepare the cheese sauce.
  2. For the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk and cook for about 2 minutes.
  3. Very slowly add the milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Once all the milk has been added, cook, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. (Don't rush this step. The mixture will not be thick, but will noticeably thicken after 8-10 minutes of cooking).
  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chili powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. (If the cheese isn't melted completely after about 3 minutes, you can put the pan back on low heat and stir until it is melted). Set aside for a minute.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F. with rack in the centre of the oven. Oil or butter an 8-inch square baking dish, an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or individual baking dishes.
  6. When the pasta water is boiling, add the macaroni and cook for 2 minutes less than the package directions indicate. (The noodles will finish cooking in the sauce in the oven). When the pasta is cooked, drain and immediately rinse well with cold water. Make sure your pasta is well drained.
  7. Add the cooked pasta and to the cheese sauce and mix gently, but thoroughly. (It might look like too much sauce or too little pasta, but trust me, it will all be good in the end). Spoon or ladle the mixture into a prepared baking dish or individual dishes. Sprinkle the top of each with a bit of additional grated sharp cheddar cheese (you don't need a lot here, as there is plenty in the sauce), then sprinkle with the chipotle chili powder.
  8. Bake in the preheated 350° F. oven uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce has bubbled up around the edges and the top has a nice golden crust. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.
Adapted from Beecher’s macaroni and cheese recipe

{Updated photos November 2016}

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31 Comments

    • Thanks Liz. In this house, mac and cheese is the comfort food of choice. It cures what’s ailing, not matter what that is ;)

  • I have tried this at Pike Place Market and made it at home with their cheeses. I do like the idea of it being extra creamy with the added sauce so I will seek out great cheese here in British Columbia and try my go to recipe once again.

  • This is great, Jennifer! I love the research you put into this :) I make a very similar recipe, but I never bake mine — we eat it straight from the pot. I should try baking it! And I should try using a nice cheese instead of just an economical one :) Yumm! It’s lunchtime!

    • I love food research ;) I usually find that the baking part dries out mac & cheese, but not this one. It’s very, very saucy before baking and just perfect after 20 min in the oven. And what a revelation it was for me to find what a difference great cheese makes (I was like you and usually just grabbed the big block of Kraft Old).

  • This really is the best macaroni & cheese I’ve ever made & it really is about good cheese. I used about 7 oz of sharp & 3 oz of coastal smoked cheese & it was perfect. You had me with the picture alone.

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Joann! I hear you about the picture. Every time I see it, I want to get up and head to the kitchen and make some ;)

  • I made this last night. It was SO GOOD. I had a stomach ache because I ate too much; it was that delicious. We used about half sharp cheddar and half pepperjack, because it was what was in the fridge! Sprinkled in some mustard and cayenne as well. Yum!!

  • The recipe looks great! However, I’m confused about the pasta measurement, is it just 1 2/3 cups or the whole box?

    • Hi Abeje, I always weigh my pasta, but to help people out who don’t have scales, after I weighed it, I put it into a 2-cup glass measure and it measured out to 1 2/3 cups. If your box happens to be 8oz. then the whole box would work, too (as long as it’s macaroni). Hope that helps.

  • I just happened to come across this this morning and decided to try it for lunch. I ended up halving it and using Penne pasta (since it was all I had on hand) and it was SO good! I’ve tried a lot of different mac and cheese recipe and this is the first one that I will absolutely be making again:)

    Thanks!

  • This was by far the best mac and cheese my fiance and I have ever made!!! I made this for my potluck lunch on Friday for work ….but instead of tossing it into the oven after we finished on the stove top I put it into a crockpot then into the over night. Then once I got into the office on Friday put the crockpot on and let it get warm. Everyone in my office LOVED IT! I actually doubled the recipe and had enough left over just for my fiance and I…which then we ate for lunch today! SO SO SO GOOD! Def. will be making again.

  • I’ve made this twice in the past ten days – an obvious hit around here. First time around, I used the Coastal Cheddar for the main cheese – Heaven! Then, last night Kerrygold Dubliner which was also great. I have several recipes for M&C in my repertoire, some using combinations of expensive cheeses and other additions. This one is a classic, I think – there’ll always be a place for it. Thanks, Jennifer!

    I saw a recent chef-hint to divide leftover refrigerated Mac & Cheese into squares in preparation for broiling w/extra grated cheese on top. Serve as lunch or as sides. I have yet to try it, but I’m intrigued because I never have much luck re-heating M&C leftovers without it separating into an oily mess.

    • It’s a big hit in my house, too! And you’re right, it’s just a great classic mac and cheese. I’ve tried it with a number of cheese combinations, but always seem to drift back to the Coastal/Imperial combination. Just hits all the right notes for me.

      Interesting idea about the leftovers. I wonder how it would work with this one, since it’s pretty saucy, but I’d certainly be game to try it ;)

  • Thanks for the recipe. I used sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack. My husband really enjoyed this and so did my kids so it’s definitely a keeper. Can’t wait to experiment with some more cheeses.

  • This is a great recipe! I would love to make it this year for Thanksgiving, how can I adapt the ingredients to serve 8-10 people?

    • Hi Chelsey, I have to be honest and say, I wouldn’t. The sauce doesn’t need it for creaminess. It’s plenty creamy enough. And it’s kind of shame (in my opinion) to start with a great cheddar and muddy up the flavours with cream cheese flavour. Now the only exception to that might be if you wanted to do a variation in sort of a jalapeno popper flavour. I’d start with a less expensive cheddar and add some cream cheese and sauteed jalapenos. That would be nice, I think.

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