That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Classic Macaroni and cheese in a white bowl

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

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 in a white casserole dish with a red handled spoon

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.

 

Classic Mac & Cheese in a white dish with a red handled spoon

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.
Classic Macaroni and Cheese in a white baking dish with a red handled serving spoon

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Classic Macaroni and cheese in a white bowl

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

A lovely blend of cheeses and pasta topped with buttery bread crumbs

  • Author: Liz Berg
  • 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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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.

Notes

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.

 

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59 comments on “Classic Macaroni and Cheese”

  1. love that you mixed the cheeses, not pure cheddar!

  2. We should all be so fearless in the kitchen! We’ll never learn until we try, right? I lament all the time that my culinary skills are subpar (I’m a much better baker than a cook). I find that I’m always comparing myself to my mom and mother-in-law, both of whom are amazing cooks. I can’t never replicate their recipes. As for mac ‘n cheese, we had a bumpy introduction. I tried the Joy of Cooking’s recipe years ago and it was a disaster – the sauce curdled and was completely inedible. I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong! Today though, mac ‘n cheese and I are good friends. Your version looks amazing – I wish I had a giant scoop of it right now!

  3. I remember you revealed your failure story once and I couldn’t believe it. Everything you make looks so good and yet you tell us story about the times you used to fail. It gives me hope. Really! Especially baking in my case. This year my daughter goes to school for a little long time (no more lunch with me) and I’ll make lots of mistake to be a better baker. But before that I have to make this mac and cheese! Looks fabulous. This is my 2nd mac and cheese post today and I’m craving it already.

  4. Lizzy, your mac and cheese looks delicious:) This is one of my family’s favorite dishes. Thanks for sharing -I will be making this soon:)

  5. We’ve gotten a little snobbish and fancified with smoked gouda in our mac & cheese but sometimes the classic is the most comforting. Anytime I see a dish of it with a crunchy top, I get hungry. 🙂

  6. Ah, the early years of being a domestic diva! Thank goodness that times and we, change. Love your mac and cheese.

  7. this is so much like mine, except for the monterey jack cheese and haven’t tried Wondra. Will def have to try it. I had 7 sons who could go through a lot of mac and cheese and hubby still does. Thanks

  8. Great classic mac n cheese recipe!

  9. What a classic and delicious recipe! Truly my kind of comfort food and look at all that cheese!

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