This homemade mac and cheese recipe will be a hit with the whole family! It's insanely cheesy, so creamy, and baked with crispy breadcrumbs on top.
If your family is anything like ours, then this baked mac and cheese recipe will be a huge hit. Jack can’t get enough of it, I keep finding myself going back for more, and our kiddo has been asking for “MAC!” ever since the first time he tried it. It’s creamy, it’s cheesy, and it’s packed with gooey noodles and crispy, toasty breadcrumbs. Seriously, comfort food doesn’t get better than this.
I’ve been wanting to add a baked macaroni and cheese recipe to the blog for a while now. A few years back, I ran an Instagram poll about holiday sides, and so many of you said that homemade mac and cheese was one of your favorites. I hope this recipe makes it onto your Thanksgiving or Christmas table this year. If not, we can attest that it’s a delicious everyday dinner too. Enjoy!
Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe Ingredients
If you’re used to eating mac and cheese from a box, get ready. This homemade macaroni and cheese is on a totally different level. Here’s what makes it so great:
- Macaroni, of course! This cute elbow pasta is perfect for cradling the cheesy sauce.
- Sharp cheddar and Gruyère cheese – I LOVE this combo in my baked mac and cheese! The cheddar is tangy, the Gruyère is nutty, and both melt into an amazingly creamy sauce.
- Butter, flour, and whole milk – These ingredients form a simple béchamel sauce, the starting point for the cheese sauce in this recipe. You’ll use the butter and flour to make a roux, which will thicken the sauce. Then, you’ll whisk in the milk to give the sauce rich body.
- Garlic – For sharp depth of flavor.
- Dijon mustard – Many classic mac and cheese recipes call for mustard powder, but because I always have Dijon mustard on hand, I add it instead. It gives the sauce delicious tang.
- Smoked paprika – For a subtle smoky taste.
- Coarse breadcrumbs – To make them, just pulse a couple slices of good bread in a food processor until they’re coarsely ground. Once they toast in the oven, they create a crispy topping for the creamy mac and cheese.
- Extra-virgin olive oil – You’ll toss it with the breadcrumbs to help them crisp up as they bake.
- Pecorino cheese – Ok, yes, there are three kinds of cheese in this recipe! I add the pecorino to the breadcrumb topping to give it a salty, cheesy kick.
- And salt and pepper – To make all the flavors pop!
Find the complete recipe with measurements below.
How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Ready to make this homemade mac and cheese recipe?
Start by prepping the breadcrumb topping and cooking the pasta. Set them aside while you make the sauce.
First, you’ll make a simple béchamel sauce, a classic French sauce made from a roux and milk. To make the roux, you’ll melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour to the melted butter, and whisk continuously until the mixture turns light brown. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously.
Then, add the seasonings. Whisk in the garlic, mustard, paprika, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer, still whisking continuously.
Next, add the cheddar and Gruyère cheeses, and keep whisking until they’re melted. Cook the sauce over medium-low heat, whisking often, until it thickens slightly, about 6 to 8 minutes. You’ll end up with the creamy, cheesy deliciousness pictured above!!
Pour the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce…
…and stir to coat.
Then, assemble and bake. Transfer the cheesy noodles to an oiled baking dish, and sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping. Bake at 425°F until the topping is crisp and the cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve as a main dish with a salad or roasted broccoli or as a crowd-pleasing side dish!
This mac and cheese is best on the day it’s made, but leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Pop them in the microwave to reheat, or warm them in baking dish covered with aluminum foil in a 350°F oven.
Mac and Cheese Recipe Tips
- Undercook the pasta. Aim to boil it until it’s a minute shy of al dente, when the noodles still have a slight bite. I typically cook them for 1 minute less than the low end of the time range on the package. They’ll soften more once you mix them with the cheese sauce. If you fully cook the pasta from the start, it’ll be too soft in the final dish.
- Grate the cheese yourself. Pre-shredded cheese will not work here! It’s typically coated in anti-caking agents that will prevent you from making a really smooth and creamy cheese sauce. For the best baked macaroni and cheese, always grate the cheese yourself.
- Whisk, whisk, whisk. If you check out the recipe below, you’ll see that I tell you to whisk nearly continuously as you make the cheese sauce. Whisking is crucial for evenly dispersing the roux in the milk, yielding a thick, creamy sauce without lumps. It also helps prevent the sauce from scorching on the bottom of the pot. Don’t let that sauce simmer unattended!
- Dig in right away. This baked macaroni and cheese will have the creamiest texture when it’s right out of the oven, as the noodles will continue to absorb the cheese sauce as it sits. If you like your mac and cheese to be extra-creamy, only let it cool for a few minutes before digging in.
More Favorite Comfort Food Recipes
If you love this baked mac and cheese recipe, try one of these comfort food recipes next:
- Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Stuffed Shells
- Easy Baked Ziti
- Veggie Lasagna
- Eggplant Rollatini
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Easy Enchiladas
- Perfect Baked Potato
Homemade Mac and Cheese
- 2 cups coarse bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- ¼ cup grated pecorino cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni noodles
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
- 10 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and butter a 9x13-inch baking dish.
- In a small bowl, place the bread crumbs and olive oil. Toss to coat the bread crumbs, then add the pecorino cheese and toss to combine.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare the macaroni according to the package instructions, cooking it a minute shy of al dente. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking.
- In another large pot (or wash and dry the pasta pot and reuse it), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture is light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the garlic, mustard, paprika, salt, and several grinds of pepper and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously.
- Add the cheddar and Gruyère cheeses and whisk until melted. Cook, whisking often, over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat.
- Transfer to the prepared baking dish and top with the bread crumb mixture. Bake until the topping is crisp and the cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes.
Recipe adapted from Alison Roman.
This is soo good! Made it last night for a larger family dish and it was a huge hit. Hoping to get a tip for doing this as a freezer dish/make ahead?
Hi Leigha, So glad you loved it! We haven’t tried making it ahead yet, but I think it would work fine to assemble the mac and cheese (but not bake it) in advance. Then, you could refrigerate it for up to a day or freeze it for up to 3 months. Allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge, then let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. The mac and cheese will probably be less creamy this way, because the pasta will absorb the sauce as it sits. You might want to use a little less pasta so that you end up with a creamier final dish. If you try this, let us know how it goes!
So good. I used sweet paprika, as I know I don’t like smoked. Like combination of cheddar and gruyère. Next time I will make maybe 1 cup more sauce, as I like my mac and cheese creamy. Still, one of the better mac and cheese I’ve had!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I made this recipe and it is the best Mac and cheese I have had as I don’t like a lot of the homemade ones. The kids loved it and the adults. It had a crispy top and was not greasy/heavy and very flavorful. This will be added to our family recipes, thank you so much!
Hi Katie, I’m so glad this one was a hit with the family!
Is 1 pound of pasta the weight or the volume. I have a box of elbow noodles that are 12 ounces (which I see in the comments is what the recipe used to read). I am trying to figure out if I need four more ounces or if 12 ozs is accurate.
Hi Wendy, 16 ounces is a weight measurement here. You should use 1 pound of pasta.
This meal was delicious! Says my 11-year-old. We loved it. Baking it was terrific. Thank you.
I’m so glad you and your family loved the recipe!
Thanks for your great recipes! I’m looking to bring this one for thanksgiving and will be traveling the day before. Would it ruin the recipe if I cooked and assembled everything the day before and bake on thanksgiving?
Hi Tiffany, we haven’t tried making this recipe ahead, so I can’t say for sure. I imagine that the mac and cheese would be much less creamy if it sits overnight in the fridge, as the noodles will keep soaking up the sauce. If you do make it ahead, I recommend boiling the pasta slightly less, 2-3 minutes less than the low end of the package time range, so that it doesn’t soften too much in the sauce. Hope this helps!
This recipe appears to be pretty different than the one that was previously on this page … which is a bit disappointing because the previous recipe is my go-to mac and cheese recipe and I don’t have it written down anywhere. Is there anywhere that I can still find the previous recipe?
Hi Michael, Yes! You can now find that recipe here: https://www.loveandlemons.com/pesto-macaroni/ So glad you love it!
Hi Lise, You can find the previous recipe here: https://www.loveandlemons.com/pesto-macaroni/ Sorry for the confusion!
BEST MAC AND CHEESE EVER!!!! It’s very creamy, which I just ADOREE! The cheese taste is not too strong, but subtle which to me, makes a perfect max and cheese. Delish!
NOTE: for the sauce, I just make the paste then then add milk and cheese, boil that for a while (it never thickens) then I add some flour and boil it for 6. Works out well and is delicious.
Hello! The recipe calls for “3 cups 12 ounces” of macaroni elbows. I’m confused about this measurement. Can you please clarify how many cups or how many ounces total does it require?
Hi Ashley, 12 ounces should be about 3 cups. Thanks for pointing this out – there are supposed to be parenthesis around the (12 ounces), so it reads more clearly.
Thank you! I bought the ingredients and am looking forward to trying this recipe!
I don’t have whole milk will just regular low-fat milk work
Hi Piper, yep, it will!
I am so happy you enjoyed the mac and cheese! Thanks for sharing my cookbook! I really appreciate it! xo
We really had fun making it! xoxo
Excellent mac and cheese. I used gouda instead of Havarti and swirled the pesto into the dish so every bite has pesto. Thanks for posting this great recipe!
Hi Vivian, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Is there anything other than Mac we can try in this recipe?
Hi Sara, you can use small shells or orecchiette pasta if you’d like.
I want to try your Mac and Cheese…I love sweet peas. I will be the only one eating it (Hubby does not like Mac and Cheese). Can I freeze this recipe?
Hi Anna, I wouldn’t freeze it – the pasta will be mushy and the sauce won’t be as creamy. You could make a half batch and just save the 2nd portion to reheat the next day? I hope you enjoy!
Thank you for posting such a yummy looking recipe! I have now found a new blogger through you as well!
Quick question: Have you every made a roux with something other than flour. I am gluten free but would love to try this recipe. Is the roux necessary? THANKS!
Hi Emily, I think an all-purpose gluten free flour might work, but I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure. Maybe someone else will comment on this thread with a GF roux idea!
too much flour too thick
Arrowroot powder!!! Works like a charm 🙂
Gluten Free flour works. I am gluten free as well. I use gluten free krusteaz all purpose flour