This Classic Macaroni and Cheese is made with a mix of cheddar, Monterey Jack and pasta topped with buttery bread crumbs. Pure comfort food!
The whole family adored my Baked Macaroni & Cheese. Cheesy and flavorful, it will feed a crowd.
Classic Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
I tend to be fearless in the kitchen. At 25 years old, I remember being tired, pregnant and nauseated and painting filo dough with melted butter to make my first baklava for a neighborhood cookout. But I also have clear memories of a couple flops from that same time period. One notable dish being a beef stroganoff when I attempted to make a more upscale version by replacing the ground beef with strips of some mystery cut of meat. We spent more time chewing than chatting during that meal.
The hubby still reminds me of that disastrous entree from time to time. And then there was the homemade mac and cheese I made for our first Lent as a married couple. It was so bland and pasty. I should have stuck with the box of Kraft Deluxe! So fast forward a couple decades. I still get nervous when I am about to make homemade macaroni and cheese. Would there be enough flavor? Would it be gluey? lumpy? or creamy? I turned to Cook’s Illustrated for a tried and true Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
How to Make a Recipe for Macaroni and Cheese
The family LOVED this homemade macaroni and cheese. Here are a few tips for making macaroni and cheese:
- PRO-Tip: Cook’s Illustrated cautions against leaving your noodles al dente, meaning “to the tooth” or slightly underdone, as it will make your end result grainy. So cook the pasta until it’s completely cooked through and your sauce will be creamy and lip-smackin’ good.
- Use your favorite pasta shape. I used elbow macaroni, but shells or other small pasta shapes work well, too.
- My pasta tends to stick together while waiting in the colander while the cheese sauce is cooking.
- To prevent a mass of pasta instead of individual pieces of macaroni, run some cool water over the pasta and use your clean hands to separate the noodles a time or two while the sauce is thickening.
- The combination of a sharp cheddar and a creamy Monterey Jack provides both flavor and creaminess. PRO-Tip: Use blocks of cheese instead of buying pre-shredded cheese. The quality is better, but if you’re short of time, packaged shredded cheese will work just fine.
- Note that your bake macaroni & cheese will have more of an orange hue if you use an orange sharp cheddar versus a white cheddar.
- A roux, or mixture of cooked flour and butter, is the thickening agent for the cheese sauce.
- PRO-Tips: I like using Wondra flour, a granulated flour from Gold Medal, that doesn’t get lumpy when you add the milk. Also, using cold milk or room temperature milk also helps prevent a lumpy sauce.
- A decent dose of dried mustard and a touch of cayenne boost the flavor, not flat and boring like my first attempt. Unfortunately, the well-cooked pasta doesn’t make for the most photogenic dish. And there’s also a problem when you walk away from the broiler and the topping turns black. Lesson learned! If that should happen to you, just scrape off the burnt crumbs, add a few more and monitor the broiling process.
- If you have a family member, like one of mine, who likes Kraft Deluxe and does not like a crumb topping, just leave it off and sprinkle with some paprika to finish off the casserole.
More Family Friendly Pasta Recipes
- Baked Cavatini
- Italian Meat Sauce
- Beef Burgundy Pasta
- Stuffed Pasta Shells
- Pasta with an Easy Sausage Sauce
- Easy Spinach Lasagna
- Penne alla Vodka
- More Pasta Recipes
Classic Macaroni and Cheese
A lovely blend of cheeses and pasta topped with buttery bread crumbs
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 20 mins
- Total Time: 40 mins
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- Category: Entree, Casserole
- Method: Mixing, Boiling, Simmering, Broiling
- Cuisine: American
For Optional Topping:
- 6 slices white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
- 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 6 pieces
For Mac and Cheese:
- 1 pound elbow macaroni (or favorite pasta shape)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon table salt
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons flour (I prefer Wondra brand which helps prevent lumps)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 5 cups milk
- 8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- Paprika, to garnish, optional
Pulse bread and butter in food processor till crumbs form, about 10-15 pulses. Set aside.
Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt to a large pot of boiling water. Cook until pasta is tender (not al dente; it should be fully cooked). Drain pasta and set aside.
In the same pot you used to boil the pasta, heat butter till it gets foamy.
Add flour, mustard, and cayenne and whisk well to combine.
Continue whisking until the flour mixture browns slightly, about 1 minute.
Slowly whisk in milk and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly until the sauce starts to thicken. Reduce heat and whisking occasionally, let the sauce thicken to the consistency of heavy cream. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese along with the 1 teaspoon salt. When cheese is melted, stir in pasta and cook till mixture is fully heated through, about 5 minutes.
Add the pasta mixture to greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish, sprinkle with bread crumbs if using. Broil until the topping is golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. If not using the topping, place casserole under the broiler until the top browns slightly. Sprinkle with paprika for color. Cool about 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.
Alternatively, you can saute the bread crumbs in butter until browned to top the macaroni and cheese. Place in a 350º oven to heat for 10 minutes before serving.