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 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 macaroni 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 sharp cheddar and 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 baked mac n 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 like this Mac n Cheese
- 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
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 the 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 the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly until the sauce starts to thicken. Reduce heat and whisk occasionally, and 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 the mixture is fully heated through about 5 minutes.
- Add the pasta mixture to greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish, and sprinkle with bread crumbs if using. Broil until the topping is golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. If not using the topping, place the casserole under the broiler until the top browns slightly.
- Sprinkle with paprika for color. Cool for 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.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 578Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 20gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 96mgSodium: 903mgCarbohydrates: 42gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 25g
69 Comments on “Classic Macaroni and Cheese”
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.
This looks delish Liz!
Lovely! I can use Dreamfield’s pasta for this classic dish. I was interested to see how you made the breadcrumbs – clever!
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!
I actually like the crispy top with bread crumbs.
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.
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!
Your mac and cheese looks delicious. I’ve never made it from scratch but I’d love to try your recipe.
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!
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. 😛
Delicious take on a classic, Lizzy!
i am desperately and hopelessly in love with macaroni and cheese – yours is wonderful
You can never go wrong with a classic! Your mac & cheese looks perfect for any night of the week – love the bread crumb topping!
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 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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
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! 😉
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.
And thank you Skinny Chiick forgetting me started on this morning adventure!