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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68 comments on “Classic Macaroni and Cheese”

  1. Thank you, Liz, for revealing that didn’t just pop out of the womb with a Mastering the Art of French Cooking already downloaded into your brain. All your dishes are always sooo perfect. So, it gives one hope that trial and error has been a part of your process, too.

    Thank you, too, for the idea of the sprinkle of dry mustard. I’m always interested in mac ‘n cheese recipes. Although, I don’t have kids of my own, mac ‘n cheese is such a winner with kids (nieces, nephews, neighbor’s kids.) Thank you for sharing your version =)

  2. Mac and Cheese is a big hit around here! I use cayenne, haven’t tried the mustard, sounds good:@)

  3. jaja, I like Kim´s comment! I still have to make a grown up version of mac and cheese, one of the orange meals my mother used to make when we lived in california. And it doesn´t have to look good, because we all know it is good! The cayenne is perfect, it´s such a flavor enhancer.

  4. Thank you for the tip on cooking the pasta past al dente. I’ve done that for different creamy dishes and never realized it was better to keep it from getting grainy.

  5. Love, love Mac and Cheese and your recipe sounds like a winner! I know all about flops as a young wife and even still today almost 4 (yes I said it) 4 decades later – eek! I once saw a chef prepare this dish and he spread the pasta out on a T-towel to completely drain after it was cooked – it really made a difference in the texture. Yum – I might have to make this for our Sunday Supper!

  6. I’m not really fond of mac but your classic mac and cheese looks so tempting I nearly grab it from our screen 😀

  7. Homemade mac and cheese is the best. I love trying new recipes and experimenting to find our favorite. Yours sounds very yummy!

  8. Mmm! Such yummy mac n cheese!!!

  9. Hmmmmm, I never knew that about cooking the noodles through! What a great tip! Thanks for a lovely recipe, Liz!

  10. Funny when I was younger I loved the Mac and Cheese in the box, but now I love homemade, so much better! I love your recipe and I love that you made your own bread crumbs!

  11. You cannot beat mac ‘n cheese! I love this classic!

  12. Love the use of bread for the topping… I totally must try this!

  13. I love Cooks’ Illustrated, don’t you? It always has such wonderful tips. Your mac and cheese looks fantastic!

  14. Macaroni and cheese is one of these US dishes I have never tasted or prepared. It sounds very basic, but your version and presentation is particularly tempting. I can imagine it very well with blanched green asparagus!

  15. Oh, how I love Mac and Cheese. Liz, your version – like always – just looks and sounds amazing!!! Thank you! ~ Bea

  16. Love the photos and how you’ve evoked macaroni memories. Loved it – especially with the good cheddar, Lz!

  17. This looks so delicious Liz! I love love Mac&Cheese and you did an amazing job!

  18. I got started here, reading through it and clicking on all the links. Found a wonderful recipe site for kidney/dialysis patients and finally got back here a few hours later! Thanks you JuanitasCochina for all the information. I can’t partake of the Mac and Cheese but I found plenty of other things I can cook and eat thanks to you.

  19. This looks wonderful! I have had a few kitchen disasters too, but sometimes that’s part of the fun. As long as most of the time it turns out 🙂

  20. Liz…what a gorgeous mac and cheese! Cooks Illustrated never ever steers me wrong…I love homemade mac and cheese, but have never tried theirs. Must fix that…and soon!

  21. And thank you Skinny Chiick forgetting me started on this morning adventure!

  22. When I read your first paragraph, it reminded me of the time my youngest was three weeks old and I threw a birthday party for my oldest, then turning three. Of course I made the cake from scratch. When the adult guests heard that, they shook their heads and one of them said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had homemade cake in my life!” I think I could have gone with a mix just that one time, and no one would have minded.

  23. Such endearing stories… and too funny on the spent more time chewing than chatting 😉 Been there, done that. And love this mac and cheese recipe. Yum on the mustard, and the bit of spice. Sounds like a winner, and beautiful photos, as always, too! 😉

  24. I experimented in my early married years too. Actually, I’m still experimenting but I’d like to think I’m now not quite as clueless. I love mac and cheese – it’s such great comfort food and everyone in the family will eat it with no complaints xx

  25. I had to smile. The first time I made a double-crust apple pie we couldn’t break through the crust to get to the apples. Thank goodness for tolerant families, eh? Heck, I still end up with a tough cut of beef sometimes and we end up chewing and chewing.

    The mac and cheese looks delicious. Dudette is so picky about this dish she’ll only accept a bowl if she can see the blue box on the counter. I wonder if I could get away with this if I put out a blue box just for show.

  26. Do you know I have never made macaroni and cheese!! What a bad mother I am, I am sure my children would adore this recipe! Obviously I am going to have to fix this faux pas this winter… it is already getting cooler here. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  27. Yum! Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated to figure out the most complicated or the simplest recipes. This looks wonderful. You could have been writing about me in that first paragraph 🙂

  28. You can never go wrong with a classic! Your mac & cheese looks perfect for any night of the week – love the bread crumb topping!

  29. i am desperately and hopelessly in love with macaroni and cheese – yours is wonderful

  30. Delicious take on a classic, Lizzy!

  31. This is the ultimate comfort food. I gotta give this recipe a try. Thanks for the tips in cooking the pasta all the way through so I don’t get grainy pasta. 🙂 ahem….walk away and burnt the top of the pasta sounds like something familiar in my kitchen! hahaha….we all learn from our mistakes, the hard way. 😛

  32. I’m the same way Liz. I remember an apple pie pastry and it flopped completely! The English love their apple pie with cheddar cheese, so I thought why not put cheddar in the pastry! It was hard as steel and not tasty at all, brutal! But it never stopped me from trying, thank you Mom!
    This Mac and cheese sounds and looks incredible! One of my ultimate fav comfort foods and it looks like you did it! Totally YUM! Way better than KD!

  33. Lizzy,
    Your mac and cheese looks delicious. I’ve never made it from scratch but I’d love to try your recipe.
    Annamaria

  34. Liz: This is dinner time….Looking at this temptation made me want to invade my PC monitor and steal your Mac and Cheese. LOL You are so lucky that my wish cannot come true!

  35. Who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese? One of those great comfort foods – I totally love it. Great version! I often like to sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top, too. Good stuff – thanks.

  36. I actually like the crispy top with bread crumbs.

  37. I haven’t made mac & cheese in what seems like forever. I’m going to have to change that rather quickly because your photos have inspired me to get moving!

  38. Lovely! I can use Dreamfield’s pasta for this classic dish. I was interested to see how you made the breadcrumbs – clever!

  39. There are definitely foods which are not photogenic but you still did a mighty good job. Loved the story of your early cooking attempts. You’ve come a long way.

  40. Another great mac N cheese! I wish I had the waistline to be able to try out this recipe and all of the recipes I’ve been seeing. I love a good Macaroni and Cheese and this one does look delicious!

  41. A friend is always asking me “Can you make the macaroni and cheese with the crispy crumb crust?” I’ve perused through recipes, but nothing really caught me..until yours! It looks wonderfully cheesy and exactly what he’s been asking for! Definitely on my ‘to make soon’ list 🙂

  42. Mmmm… Looks way better than Kraft Dinner. Which I am have not had in a while and am sort of craving now.

  43. Lizzy, it is comforting to know that someday I might be a better cook hah! hah! I have had more than my fair share of cooking disasters and am still experiencing disasters from time to time. I am not a fan of mac and cheese but I do understand that it is a very popular dish. My partner’s kids would love this a lot 🙂

  44. I have been looking for a good macaroni and cheese recipe that uses dry mustard powder. This looks like a perfect version, thanks for sharing.

  45. Hahaha this reminds me that I have to make M&C for 40 this week! It looks nothing like yours though

  46. You said it right.. this looks lip-smacking. 🙂

  47. Mmmmmm…is there anything that says “comfort” better than homemade Mac & Cheese?

  48. Mac n Cheese is out ultimate comfort food!! We love it mix it up and make it different each time..

    Thanks for the post Liz

    Mr. & Mrs. P
    http://www.cristyandmichael.blogspot.com

  49. Perfect comfort food my friend, classic 🙂

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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