Rich and decadent baked macaroni and cheese made with a classic bechamel sauce and two types of cheese. It’s rich, creamy and a perfect side dish for holiday dinners or any time you’re craving some serious comfort food.
Table of contents
I’ve never met a mac and cheese I didn’t like, even the day-glow yellow boxed mac and cheese that was my favorite growing up. Although, in my defense, my tastes are a little more grown-up these days and I turn this homemade baked macaroni and cheese to satisfy the craving.
In case you haven’t been living on this planet for a while, please be aware that homemade macaroni and cheese is a comforting, decadent, and versatile dish. Once you know how to make it, you can go in so many flavor directions.
We’re calling on our old friend bechamel sauce for this recipe and turning it into the creamiest cheese sauce made with not one, but two types of cheese.
You make the cheese sauce and then combine it with macaroni. Into a baking dish it goes so it can bake in the oven until it’s bubbly hot with a cheesy crust.
It’s not necessarily a quick weeknight side dish (try my easy mac and cheese instead), but it’s perfect for holiday dinners or special occasion dinners. Or weekends when you need a little comfort food.
I love this baked macaroni and cheese recipe year-round, but especially during the fall and winter because it is all about the cozy.
- Unsalted butter
- All-purpose flour
- Whole milk
- Heavy cream
- Yellow onion
- Kosher salt
- Cheddar cheese, shredded
- Monterey jack cheese
How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe starts on the stovetop and finishes in the oven. The are four main steps:
- Boil the macaroni.
- Make the bechamel sauce.
- Turn it into a cheese sauce.
- Combine it all in a baking dish and bake it!
This baked macaroni and cheese starts with a creamy bechamel sauce, which is a rich white sauce.
It’s the type of sauce that can go in many directions flavor-wise depending on what you’re making.
Melted butter and flour are combined in a large pot to create a sort of paste, which will thicken the sauce once the milk and cream are added.
I used a combination of whole milk and heavy cream for the sauce. This produces an extra-rich sauce. If you want to dial it back on the richness, you can omit the cream and use all milk instead.
The sauce is flavor with onion and garlic. To make it easy, simmer the onion wedge and whole garlic in the sauce. This gives the sauce the flavor without onion pieces in the sauce. It will keep it nice and creamy.
The key to a smooth sauce is to cook it slowly. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the sauce to thicken.
All About the Cheese
You can really use any good melting cheese for this recipe, but I opt for either mild or sharp cheddar cheese and Monterey jack. The cheddar brings the flavor, and the Monterey jack melts like a dream.
Add the cheese to the sauce until it melts and – voila! – you get a smooth cheese sauce. I like to save some of the shredded cheese to sprinkle over the top.
I don’t recommend using pre-shredded cheese for this recipe. It often has additives that make the cheese more shelf-stable (like anti-clumping agents) which can cause issues in how it melts into the sauce.
Other cheese choices: Gruyere works really well in place of the cheddar. Sometimes I use extra sharp cheddar and aged white cheddar cheese instead of the Monterey jack. You can also sub Swiss cheese for the Monterey jack.
I used elbow macaroni and first boiled it for about two minutes less than what’s indicated on the package. Because this is baked macaroni and cheese you will want the pasta very al dente before adding it to the sauce. It will finish cooking in the oven.
Once it’s in the casserole dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. You’re treating yourself!
Preheat the oven and bake it for about 30 minutes, uncovered, at 375°F until it’s hot and bubbly with a bit of a chewy cheesy crust on top.
What About a Breadcrumb Topping?
I skip the breadcrumbs for this one because it’s already pretty rich and decadent. That said, feel free to mix up buttered breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs with some salt and pepper and sprinkle it over the top before you bake it.
A Few More Tips
- I go with classic elbow pasta, but you can use any short pasta shape you like. Cavatappi, penne, orecchiette, small shells, or spirals will work.
- Maybe this goes without saying, but don’t rinse the pasta when you drain it. You want the starch so it will help thicken the sauce while it bakes.
- The best mac and cheese is served right away. It will keep in the fridge for a few days, but it’s never the same when it’s reheated. It’s delicious, but not as creamy.
- Do not be afraid to sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese over the top. I do this sometimes and it’s a nice flavor enhancer.
This creamy homemade mac n cheese makes eight side dish servings – or make it a main dish for four to six. I like with a crispy salad or simple roasted veggies like broccoli on the side.
More Comfort Food Recipes
- Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta
- Braised Short Rib Mushroom Sauce with Pappardelle
- One-Pan Spaghetti Bolognese
- Sheet Pan Pineapple Ham and Veggies
Rich and decadent baked macaroni and cheese made with a classic bechamel sauce and two types of cheese. It’s rich, creamy, and a perfect side dish for holiday dinners or any time you’re craving some serious comfort food.
- 16 ounces macaroni
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 of yellow onion (one wedge)
- 2 smashed garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Boil the macaroni for two minutes less than what’s listed on the package. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
- In the same pot that you cooked the pasta, melt the butter over medium heat until frothy. Add the flour and mix it with the melted butter until there are no lumps (about 2 or 3 minutes). Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking continuously, until the mixture is smooth with no lumps.
- Add the onion wedgy and smashed garlic. Cook the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat. You don’t want it to boil, so lower the heat if necessary. It will start to thicken as it cooks.
- Discard the onion and garlic. Season the sauce with the salt and add all but 1 cup of the cheese (save the rest for the baking dish). Stir until the sauce is smooth and the cheese has melted.
- Add the macaroni to the sauce and stir to combine. The sauce may be a little loose, which is fine. It will thicken in the oven.
- Transfer the pasta and sauce to a 9×13″ baking dish. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top. Bake the mac and cheese for 15 to 20 minutes or until it’s bubbly hot and the sauce is thickened. Let it stand a few minutes before serving.
I’ve also made this with aged white cheddar cheese instead of Monterey jack and it’s delicious, but it won’t be as creamy.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 1/8 of recipe
- Calories: 556
- Sugar: 6.9g
- Sodium: 555.4mg
- Fat: 27.5g
- Saturated Fat: 16.3g
- Unsaturated Fat: 8.9g
- Trans Fat: 0.4g
- Carbohydrates: 51.9g
- Fiber: 2g
- Protein: 24.7g
- Cholesterol: 78.9g
Keywords: baked macaroni and cheese
Post, photo, and recipe updated from the archives. First published in November 2015.