My favourite homemade Creamy Mac and Cheese ever! Great cheese combines with a super creamy sauce, for an absolutely creamy, dreamy 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.
Cook’s Notes for Homemade 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.
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
- 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
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk recommend whole milk here you can, 3%
- 7 oz Good aged white crumbly cheddar crumbled
- 3 oz Another variety orange sharp cheddar or cold-packed cheddar grated or crumbled
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt little less if using table salt
- 1/4 tsp regular chili powder
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 oz aged cheddar grated
- 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
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.
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 10 minutes. (Don't rush this step. The mixture will not be thick, but will noticeably thicken after 8-10 minutes of cooking).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bake in the preheated 350F (175C) 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.
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Liking my little cast iron skillets? Me, too! I use them for all sort of both sweet and savoury things. You can get some for yourself here …
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