Best-Ever Baked Mac and Cheese Casserole Recipe
Bubbly, Crispy, Delicious Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese casserole ranks high on my list of all-time favorite comfort foods—and I'm not alone. There's just something about the taste of the homemade variety that has people longing for this dish and making it again and again. Store-bought has its place and is good in a pinch when you are strapped for time, but if you want to sink your teeth into something that is wholesome and satisfying, there's just nothing that compares to a pan of macaroni and cheese made from scratch.
And no wonder. One can make a rich and creamy white sauce, adjust the seasonings so this casserole has tons of flavor, pile on the cheese, and top it all with breadcrumbs so it has a delightful crunch. And by the time it emerges from the oven, it's golden, bubbling, crispy, and pretty much to die for.
This recipe doesn't cut corners, and it's strongly recommended that you don't either. Take the time to make the white sauce and add the breadcrumbs. There's a reason for each ingredient, and it's well worth adding them all to get the best results. And no worries—this still isn't a difficult dish to make.
If you like hearty recipes, a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese is hard to beat. And plan to make lots because you'll definitely want more than one serving.
- 1 package (8 ounces) elbow macaroni
- 1 small onion chopped fine
- 2 to 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dry mustard (depending on preference)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Onion powder, to taste
- Paprika, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 to 2 cups milk
- 1 package cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 pimientos, diced (optional)
- 1/2 to 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 3 tomatoes, sliced into wedges (optional)
If you don't have pimentos or tomatoes on hand, no worries. I don't always make this recipe with these two ingredients, and it's still every bit as good.
How to Make Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Step 1: Grease a large casserole dish. Make sure you grease the sides as well as the bottom.
Step 2: Cook macaroni until just cooked. (Do not fully cook, because it will continue cooking and expanding in the oven.)
Step 3: Saute onion in butter. Remove and set aside. Make a white sauce (roux) by whisking in 2 to 3 tablespoons flour, a pinch of dry mustard, salt, pepper, seasonings, and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in 1 to 2 cups of milk and simmer until mixture thickens. Add onions to thickened mixture.
Step 4: Layer macaroni, white sauce, grated cheese and breadcrumbs in your casserole dish. If necessary, make two layers. Top with grated cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs.
Step 5: Bake uncovered at 325˚F for 30 to 40 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and crispy around the edges. If desired, turn on broil and watch closely until the top is bubbling and crispy.
Step 6: Remove mac and cheese from oven and let sit 5 minutes.
A Velvety White Sauce Makes for a Better CasseroleClick thumbnail to view full-size
Have you ever made mac and cheese with:
A Word About When to Add Cheese
- Some cooks like to put all their grated cheese into their white sauce.
- Others cooks like to make a cheese sauce and also layer grated cheese in their casserole.
- In this recipe, I stick to the white sauce, but layer my grated cheese throughout.
Much has to do with preference, and it can be neat to try the three different methods to see which version you like best. You can easily do this with the recipe on this page.
A few minutes before removing casserole from oven, turn on broil. Watch closely so that top doesn't burn. This will add crispiness to your casserole.
- Grate and freeze your cheese ahead of time so that when you go to make mac and cheese, this is already done. Grease casserole dish for easy clean-up later. Grease along the top edge to prevent cheese sticking.
- Run a knife around the edge of the casserole dish as soon as you remove it from the oven. This prevents the cheese from sticking to the sides of the dish.
- Cut your mac and cheese into squares before the cheese hardens. This makes for easier removal for servings.
- Use a lidded casserole dish so that your casserole stays warm if you'll be serving this to a crowd. A lid also keeps casserole from drying out when stored in the fridge.
Delicious Mac-and-Cheese Extras
Some cooks like to "fancy up" their homemade mac and cheese. Once you have the basic recipe down, it is easy to add in extras.
Ham Adds a Smoky Flavor
If you have leftover ham, chop it and add it to macaroni and cheese for a great-tasting casserole to feed a hungry crowd. In the picture below, I added chopped ham into left-over mac and cheese, then topped it with more cheese before warming it in the oven for a second serving. It was every bit as good with a second reheating, and the ham imparted a smoky flavor.
chopped green peppers
chopped garlic sausage
chopped spicy sausage
Fussy Eaters and Adding Nutrition
Most kids love macaroni and cheese but as a parent, you may wish to sneak in some extra nutrition. How to do so?
- Use organic all-grain or whole-wheat macaroni.
- Grind up sunflower seeds and add them to the breadcrumbs.
- Grind up almonds and add them to the breadcrumbs.
- Add lots of green peppers.
- Add grated zucchini.
- Add finely-chopped spinach.
- Add chopped tomatoes.
Never Made Mac and Cheese?
The videos below will give you a good overview of the process.
Crispy Macaroni and Cheese
What to Do With Leftover Mac and Cheese
If you've made a large pan of macaroni and cheese and now aren't sure what to do with the left-overs, rest assured that you can reheat them. If you are worried that the noodles may expand or become mushy from a second or third reheating, there are a couple of ways around this:
- For additional heatings, uncover your dish and reheat in oven. This helps to dry things out and keeps the top of the casserole crispy.
- Another trick is to use a large oiled cookie sheet and after breaking up your ingredients, place them in a thin layer and reheat in oven. This also serves to dry the macaroni and helps combat it swelling and becoming overly mushy.
- Another delicious alternative is to break up and fry your mac and cheese on top of the stove. Because it tastes so delicious, most people don't bat an eye if the noodles overcook, but frying in a bit of oil helps them to keep their shape.
Note: If you have to freeze your leftovers, use the second method above when you go to reheat them.
Smooth Macaroni and Cheese
Do you Like Mac and Cheese Casserole?
© 2008 Athlyn Green