The ultimate, creamy baked mac and cheese ever! For when only the best will do, this dish is comfort food perfection!
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 30 minutes | Total Time: 45 minutes
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!
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!).
This isn't the exact Beecher's recipe, but it is certainly based on it. Experiment with your favourite cheese and make your own signature dish. I loved the combination of a nutty, super old, crumbly white cheddar with a sharp cheese. Using two different ones gives a nice depth of cheese flavour. Add some more cheese on top, or give your mac and cheese a bit of crunch with the optional Panko or Breadcrumb topping
Here are the ingredients you will need for this recipe:
For the cheese sauce:
- All-purpose flour
- Whole milk - I recommend whole milk (3-3.5% butterfat) for the best results. 2% milk will do, in a pinch. I wouldn't go any lower in butterfat than that.
- Mature/aged white cheddar - I'm particularly fond of a cheese called Coastal, if you can find that.
- Sharp cheddar - another nice sharp cheddar to add in. A couple of cheddars makes for a more interesting cheese sauce. Alternately, I've used a cold-packed cheddar, such as McLaren's, which is super good, too.
- Chili powder - regular chili powder that you'd use for a pot of chili
- Garlic powder
For the standard topping (optional):
- Bit more grated cheddar cheese
- A pinch of chipotle chili powder
If you'd like a crunchy topping:
- Panko or regular bread crumbs
- Always start with a block of cheese and grate it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese if often coated with an anti-clumping agent, which can affect the quality of your finished sauce.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- For the ultimate, ultimate mac and cheese, mix together both the Cheese/Chili topping and the Panko topping and scatter on top before baking.
Making Ahead, Storage and Freezing
Making Ahead: You can assemble this mac and cheese ahead, by tossing the cooked pasta with the cheese sauce, then topping as desired. Cover and refrigerate. When ready to enjoy, simply bake as directed, allowing a few extra minutes if it's cold from the fridge.
Storing: Refrigerate leftovers. They will keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave or covered with foil in a 350F. oven until warmed through.
Freezing: For best results, freeze after assembling and before cooking. Alternately, you can freeze it after baking. Thaw in the fridge, then baked (if un-baked before freezing) or thaw and re-heat if already baked.
Ultimate Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 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.))
- 1/4 cup butter (salted or unsalted. If using salted, reduce the added salt below slightly)
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk (recommend whole milk here you can (3-3.5% butterfat) or you could use 2% in a pinch)
- 7 oz Mature/aged white crumbly cheddar (crumbled)
- 3 oz Sharp orange cheddar (or cold-packed cheddar, grated or crumbled)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (little less if using table salt)
- 1/4 tsp chili powder
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 oz aged cheddar (grated)
- 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
Optional Crunchy Topping:
- 2/4 cup Panko or regular bread crumbs
- 2 Tbsp Salted butter (melted)
- Bring about 8 -10 cups of water to boil in a large pot on the stove-top, over high heat. Once boiling, add a generous sprinkling of salt to the pot and add the pasta. Cook pasta for 2 minutes less than recommended on the package, or to just al dente. Drain well and rinse with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking further. *While water is boiling and pasta is cooking, you can start your cheese sauce.
- 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.
- 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 8-10 minutes. (Don't rush this step! The mixture will not get super thick, but you will notice it thicken to the point where it will nicely coat the back of a spoon after 8-10 minutes of cooking and stirring.)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the crumbled/grated 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 while you wait for the pasta to cook.
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) 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.
- Once the pasta is cook, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained well again, add it to the cheese sauce and mix gently, but thoroughly. (It might look like too much sauce/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 either the Cheese/Chili topping ingredients or mix together the panko/breadcrumbs with the melted butter and scatter over-top.
- Bake in the preheated 350F (175C) oven uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or 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.
Some of the great reviews ...
"Best Mac n Cheese recipe ever ! And my husband is a chef :-) !!!"
"I love this recipe. My go to. My family loves creamy mac and cheese"
"I have been making this recipe for over a year and get asked to make it frequently. It is the best recipe I have tried and works every time"